Contemporary Classic

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Classic cars have always been a hobby for Dan Harris’ family. Between his wife, daughter and son, the family owns four 1955 Chevrolet Bel Airs and several Camaros, and spends nearly every weekend on the road traveling to auto events across the state.

Wrenching on Tri-Fives is nothing new for Harris, who bought his first 1955 Bel Air when he was working at a full-service gas station as a teenager.

“When you’re that young, you don’t have the money to do it right,” he says. “I would spend weeks and months working on it, and then drive it one time and it would break down.”

While he’s now up to four Bel Airs, Harris considers his latest addition, a two-door post, to be his favorite. Purchased in 2003 from a customer of his shop, 2nd Opinion Auto Center in Fort Worth, Texas, Harris knew he wanted to do a resto mod, with hopes of creating a turnkey car that he could simply drive down the highway with little maintenance. 

“There’s a fine line on some of these cars when you start working on them more than you drive them,” he says. “I didn’t want to make more work for myself.”

The car at hand, however, was what Harris describes as “nothing but a rolling hole.” It was completely gutted and came with boxes of parts, half of which Harris says didn’t fit the car. After bringing the car to his home shop, his first move was to purchase an AGM assembly manual, the manual used during the manufacturing of the car.

“That way I could figure out what went in what hole,” he says.

Though the car had already been sandblasted and primed, Harris started by removing the body from the frame. Next, he stripped the chassis and had it sandblasted and powder coated. He removed the rusted floor pans from the front firewall to the rear firewall, electing to do whole floor pans instead of patch panels, before reinstalling and sealing them in the car.

FROM TRASH TO TURNKEY: One of his four Bel Airs, this bright red 1955 Chevy was built to be owner Dan Harris’ everyday commuter vehicle. Photo courtesy Dan Harris

With the body back on the frame, Harris installed all of the glass, added power steering, four-wheel disc brakes, air conditioning and a 700R4 transmission. The car has two-inch drop spindles and one-inch drop springs in front, and three-inch drop springs in the rear with 17-inch wheels up front and 18s in back.

For power, Harris built a Tuned Port Injected engine with six-inch connecting rods, hypereutectic pistons, a steel crankshaft and angle-plug heads. Harris says that although the car is capable of 400–450 horsepower with a carburation system, the fuel injection system chokes the engine down to about 350 horsepower. That’s OK with Harris.

“It’s less maintenance,” he says. “I work on cars Monday through Friday. When I want to enjoy one of my cars, I like to turn the key and go.”

Harris’ wife, Patricia, chose the interior appointments, settling on a checkered, houndstooth print for the original bucket seats. All of the instrumentation in the interior is still in working order; Harris even installed a CD changer in the trunk so the radio and dashboard would still look original. Finally, Harris elected to paint the car a 2002 Monte Carlo SS red, opting for a brighter hue than the red used in 1955.

Altogether, the project took three years, more than 3,000 hours and $35,000 in parts with all family members helping with the restoration at their home. Upon completing the car in 2006, the family brought it to numerous car shows, racking up 15 awards. Since then, Harris has used it as a weekend car, but has been known to use it for the long trek to the shop.

“We drive 60 miles to work each way,” he says. “We live out in the country, so when we drive that car, we drive 100-plus miles.”

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