As Terry MacRae’s sub­ur­ban garage door rolls up on its elec­tric mo­tor, the sun­light glides over the chrome bumpers and per­fect paint of a car that can’t be mis­taken for any­thing other than a ’55 Chev. The starter mo­tor coughs against a high-com­pres­sion big block, and the en­gine fires into an un­even earth­quake of an idle. Dis­turb­ing the peace down the main streets of Tau­ranga, the silky-smooth Chev stands out as an anom­aly among the hordes of plas­tic bumpers and LED lights — some­thing bet­ter suited to a world of neon and chrome de­picted on the big screen. “I’ve loved the two-door ’55 Chev sedan since see­ing it in Amer­i­can Graf­fiti when I was a teenager,” Terry rem­i­nisces. “I bet you can guess what my favourite movie is!” How­ever, as they say, good things take time. While it may have taken a bunch of clas­sic Amer­i­can cars over a few decades for Terry to ad­dress his de­sire to own a ’55 Chev two-door sedan, he was only ever go­ing to do it prop­erly when the time came. It was near-on six years ago that he ad­ver­tised this de­sire on the Wanted sec­tion of Trade Me, and found what he was look­ing for, thanks to John Pen­man, who had a cou­ple of Chevs in a con­tainer that had just ar­rived from the US.

The ’55 Terry wanted had come out of Tuc­son, Ari­zona, and hid a well-pre­served body un­der its matt black paint. “I was look­ing at build­ing a gasser-style ’55, but the car turned out to have good bones, so I de­cided to get a bit more se­ri­ous,” Terry ex­plains. ‘Se­ri­ous’ is def­i­nitely one way you could de­scribe the di­rec­tion the build took. “My mates give me shit about it be­ing a show car, but I never built it to win tro­phies or any­thing — it was put to­gether in my garage on axle stands, no fancy equip­ment or any­thing. I just had to build it right, but it has al­most reached that point of be­ing too nice to drive,” he ad­mits. He couldn’t have built it to any lesser stan­dard, though. Be­fore the ’55 got to his garage, Terry dragged it to his brother Ian’s hangar — where Ian con­ve­niently runs his panel-beat­ing busi­ness — mean­ing that the body­work could be seen to over a longer pe­riod, not to men­tion with ac­cess to plenty of equip­ment and knowl­edge. Of course, there’s no bet­ter equip­ment than a brother who spe­cial­izes in met­al­work, so Ian sure came in handy! As the build plan re­quired plenty of brawn, the job started un­der­neath, with the ad­di­tion of a bunch of sup­port rails with in­te­grated drive­shaft hoops, pro­vid­ing a hell of a lot more struc­tural rigid­ity. The old rear leaf springs were biffed in favour of a far tougher par­al­lel four-bar set-up with ad­justable coilovers on which to mount the nine-inch diff, as­sem­bled by Allen Green at En­de­vour En­gi­neer­ing. Once Ian had seen to the chas­sis fabri­ca­tion, Terry lugged the Chev home to work on the fid­dly stuff, giv­ing the front end a com­plete once-over with all new parts and in­stalling the Wil­wood brake set-up sourced through Tim Bar­well at The Krysler Shop.

Mean­while, Ian turned to the body­work. The brief here was sim­ple: stay as close to fac­tory as pos­si­ble, right down to the colour pal­ette — that’s Har­vest Gold and In­dia Ivory paint coat­ing the per­fect body­work. Much of the pol­ished trim is orig­i­nal, but it isn’t to­tally pe­riod cor­rect — Ian’s metal craft­ing also in­volved widen­ing the rear wheel tubs by four inches, and weld­ing in a smooth fire­wall with a five-inch re­cess to clear the big block of choice. For all its aes­thetic re­straint though, this is no wall­flower. “The mo­tor is a bit big­ger than I first planned, but hey, I’m glad I got it!” Terry laughs. How big? Try 582ci of bigness, built by Pres­tige Mo­tor­sports in North Carolina, US, us­ing a Dart Big M block and Lib­erty crank­shaft, H-beam rods, and JE forged pis­tons. Thanks to its enor­mous dis­place­ment, it ef­fort­lessly achieves that per­fect com­pro­mise be­tween docile streetabil­ity and facetear­ing grunt. While ev­ery­thing un­der the hood is big­ger than Texas, noth­ing is too crazy, with a Comp Cams hy­draulic roller cam, Air Flow Re­search (AFR) al­loy heads, and a 1050cfm Quick Fuel carby on an Edel­brock sin­gle­plane in­take. Ditto the trans­mis­sion — a man­u­al­ized TH400 built by A Au­to­mo­tive fed through a lazy 2500rpm stall. “A cou­ple of mates, Paul Jones and Mike Gannon, helped me put the mo­tor and trans in over a week­end. What great mates — thanks to them, this only cost me a few beers!” Terry says, de­scrib­ing the build process once the car had re­turned to his garage at home: a few late nights and many week­ends spent with good mates. The big-cube big block looks right at home in the


hole, too, as Terry went to great lengths to en­sure that it wasn’t sold short by a sloppy in­stall. At the same time, prac­ti­cal­ity took pri­or­ity. “I didn’t want there to be noth­ing in there,” he says of the san­i­tary en­gine bay. “It had to be tidy, but us­able as well.” That’s why, as clean as the bay is, the Holley fuel-pres­sure reg­u­la­tor and fil­ter are lo­cated where they are, for easy ac­cess if and when needed. The Clas­sic Per­for­mance Prod­ucts (CPP) Hy­draS­top hy­draulic brake booster looks sharp, but it was also a gam­ble taken to avoid a tra­di­tional vac­uum booster: “I’d heard about them, but had no idea if they were any good,” Terry says. “It works great!” While Terry has al­ways val­ued qual­ity over haste, in early 2017, he re­al­ized that there was a chance of com­plet­ing the build in time for his 55th birth­day in May 2018, and that sparked a push to get the thing done.

With the butch drive­shaft whipped up by ATL Bal­anc­ing and Driveline bolted in, and the me­chan­i­cal pack­age look­ing as good as it could, Glen at Eze Auto Electrics was given a hoon on the wiring, sort­ing the lot from front to back. With brand-new electrics through­out, nowhere are the fruits of Glen’s labour more vis­i­ble than in the en­gine bay, where barely a sin­gle wire can be seen. Tan­gi­ble progress was be­ing made, es­pe­cially once Shawn at Ac­tion Can­vas and Uphol­stery was handed the in­te­rior. At first glance, it mightn’t look as though too much has been done, which was the whole point. Right from the start, Terry had en­vis­aged a bare-bones in­te­rior straight from the ’60s era de­picted in Amer­i­can Graf­fiti — stock, apart from the steer­ing wheel, B&M shifter, and oblig­a­tory Moon tacho. What Shawn de­liv­ered was the ex­act kind of no-non­sense trim re­quired — un­der­stated and taste­ful. As the car be­gan to look more and more like a fin­ished ve­hi­cle, Terry found him­self bat­tling time but re­fused to cut a sin­gle cor­ner to meet the self­im­posed dead­line. He didn’t make his dead­line, but the end re­sult is all the bet­ter for it. You can’t rush per­fec­tion. “I’d look for­ward to fin­ish­ing work to get back into it, es­pe­cially if I had boxes of parts wait­ing at home, and my wife, Deb­bie, was great with it all,” he says. “I got the [LVV] cert plate re­cently, but haven’t driven it much — I’ve been wait­ing to get this photo shoot done first!” Sure, the sunny streets of Tau­ranga are a far cry from the neon boule­vards of Cal­i­for­nia, but if there’s any car to make Terry feel like a young fella from his favourite movie, this is it.

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