Early Iron

Street Rodder - - Contents - Pho­tog­ra­phy pro­vided by Frank Donato

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.

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