Frank Donato of Pahrump, Nevada, was a lucky kid in the ’50s. “I remember my parents taking me to the drive-in movie in my father’s ’55 Chevy, which he bought new,” he wrote. Frank’s dad owned one of 185,562 ’55 Bel Air hardtops produced, and used it to take his family to one of 4,000 drive-in theaters in America. He owned the car for the rest of his life.
“I knew how much he cherished that car,” Frank said. “When he died I decided to restore it in his honor.” The body-off rotisserie restoration took 10 years, with Frank performing all the work (with the exception of the interior) by himself in his garage.
The frame was sandblasted and repainted. Tubular control arms with 2-inch lowering spindles were installed. The Posi rearend runs 3.73 gears. Front and rear antisway bars stiffen the ride, and four-wheel disc brakes improve stopping. Frank stretched the rear wheelwells into tubs for the beefy BFGoodrich tires on 15-inch Americans.
A 383 from a ’95 Impala SS replaced the stock engine. “This engine fits the theme of the car better than an LS,” Frank explained. With LS coil packs hidden in the toeboards, the 383 makes 450 hp at the rear wheels. The 4L60E trans is equipped with a shift kit.
Red and white upholstery matches the paint. Conveniences include power steering, brakes, windows, and vent windows, plus keyless entry, electric trunk release, and Vintage Air A/C.
There are about 330 drive-in theaters left in America. The number of ’55 Bel Air hardtops is harder to calculate, but Frank can be proud that the one his dad bought new is among the survivors. “This car is going to stay in my family for more generations to come.”
For more photos of
Frank Donato’s ’55 Bel Air hardtop, visit https://bit. ly/2HUjSjL.