Mick Blaine’s 1955 Chevy is Nothing Like the 1956 He Set Out to Build. And He Couldn’t be Happier.
By Chris Shelton – Photography by the Author
There’s something to say about knowing exactly what you want.
“I had a 1956 Chevy Bel Air when I was a kid,” Mick Blaine says. “I guess during my second or third midlife crisis I decided to find a 1956 Chevy just like that one.” He cast his net across the country. Despite his best efforts, the best he could find was a 1955 Chevy. But it was something special. And it was practically his backyard. “I bought it on the spot.
“It had a modern V-8 and a Muncie, but it was all-original otherwise,” he continues. Delighted with his find, he tooled around in his newfound Bel Air for the following year.
“It was horrible to drive,” he laments. “Cars back then didn’t drive the way they do now. You get used to new cars, so when you step into an old car after driving a modern car, you hate it. I did, anyway.”
Mick appealed to Eddy Whipple at Whipple Motorsports Speed & Custom in Spokane to align the car with his expectations. “I gave him an outline: Keep the exterior stock except for wheels and make it drive more like a modern car,” he says. “I suspected that I wanted an Art Morrison chassis, so we started there.” It’s the company’s flagship GT Sport with all the trimmings: clean-sheet IFS with Strange coilovers, mandrel-bent frame, four-linked 9-inch rear axle, and Wilwood disc brakes.
Mick has a Corvette with an LS3. “I like that engine,” he notes. “I expected this one to look just like the one in the Corvette, and at first it did. And I’ll admit, it was ugly.
“But [Whipple] pushed for this stack induction,” he continues. “At first, I had no idea what a stack induction was, much less what it does for an engine. But I trusted [Whipple]’s judgment.” Southern Performance Systems supplied the engine with a Chevrolet Racing Hot Cam and an Inglese system. Whipple dolled it up with Clayton Machine Works rocker covers and a Concept One accessory drive. “Mick wanted a five-speed, which was great because we’re all about manual transmissions here,” Whipple says. “But if you go that far, why not a six-speed?
“At that point the car was everything anybody would’ve wanted in a car like this,” he continues. “Then he said, ‘Let’s blow it apart and make it nice.’ Our other customers thought the car was already done. I mean it came to us with a Goodguys pick sticker on the headlight! The guy’s nuts!”
The body remains so stock that Whipple had Restoration Plating in Spokane refinish the trim rather than replace it. Internally it differs only slightly, with mini-tubs, a fabricated firewall with a Tilton pedal assembly, and a clever core support. “You can buy a nice one but they’re like five or six grand and they’re not that nice,” Whipple says. “For that kind of money, we can build something way better. It hides the overflow tank, the A/C condenser and filter, and anything else we could stuff under there. Pull the cover off and you have access to everything.”
Mick admits that the build was a lighthearted battle of ideas, “… and [Whipple] won most of them,” he says, chuckling. “But when it came to paint, [Whipple] and I departed.
“The color on the car is the color the car was born with,” Mick points out. “Nobody believes it because almost nobody’s seen Autumn Bronze with Shoreline Beige.” In fact, his Internet searches produced only a couple results. “I’m sure most of them were repainted another color over the years.”
“I did not want to paint that car that color,” Whipple admits, explaining that he thought it looked too conservative. Mick found no allies at the painter’s, Platinum Unlimited in Post Falls. “Everyone in the shop tried to talk me out of it. But you don’t see that color, so I was adamant about it. And so, they kind of gave up on me.”
“We fought about the wheels too, but I won that one,” Whipple brags. “He wanted steel wheels with caps, which is a good look for most cars. But this isn’t most cars.” After much deliberation, they settled on 18×8 and 19×11 Raceline Desperados. “I don’t think we could’ve chosen a better wheel,” Whipple opines. “It kind of looks like a Chevrolet design. It matches the rest of the car.” They wear 245/40R18 and 295/35R19 Nitto NT555s.
The Whipple crew outfitted the cockpit with a cut-down 1955 wheel on a tilt column, a Classic Instruments cluster painted Shoreline Beige, and a Kenwood/Kicker audio system. After reassembly, the car went to Thomas Bidle at Bidle Upholstery. He formed all-new foam for the seats, notching the front seat for the shift stalk. He covered everything in leather that matches the paint to an uncanny degree.
All too often, the battle of wills between owners and builders sours a project. Not this one. Mick Blaine glows like a newly minted father when he talks about his 1955. “My vision of the car was not as good as [Whipple]’s,” he admits. “[Whipple] made some changes that I think enhanced the car a lot and expanded my mind. He changed things with my approval, of course. But it came out way better than the ideas that I had. Especially the engine. That was pretty much all him. I give [Whipple] a lot of credit for the car turning out this good.”
Likewise, Whipple is just as satisfied. “I love the car; I think it’s perfect,” he praises. “It’s so much fun to drive—the induction, the engine, the six-speed. All great components that work well together. I mean it’s an LS3 with a six-speed. How much better does it get? You can’t hardly drive it without getting a ticket.”
And about the color that Mick so adamantly stuck to? “Well let’s just say that I was wrong, and he was right,” Whipple says. “Not everybody likes it but those who do, they love it—including me.”
There may be something to say about knowing exactly what you want. But as this story proves, there’s something to say about keeping an open mind, too. MR