THE FULL MONTY
582-CUBE STREET DOMINATOR
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
HOW BIG? TRY 582 CUBES OF BIGNESS
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.