Canaries: cute, little fluttering birdies that light up children’s eyes like Christmas and instil feelings of all-round wellbeing in even the strongest of man-hearts. They also make great death detectors. Chuck ’em in a cage and wander into a mine — if the bird kicks the bucket it’s time to leg it.
Doug Montgomery’s ’55 Chevy Bel Air isn’t a canary. It does, however, share the same colour. Okay, it’s more of a custard yellow, but custard is boring and really wouldn’t help out much with the following analogy.
If Doug’s Chevy was a canary it’d smash from its cage, charge down the mineshaft, snort in any toxic fumes, combust them in its one-billion kilowatt bowels and spit ’em out the rear drainpipe, all while accelerating so ferociously the driver would be struck with tunnel vision. Although he would already have that due to being in a tunnel.
Doug, however, would never allow his precious car to roam dangerous mines for fear of it getting dirty. You see, he is a proud man. In fact, never in all my years of auto-journalistic endeavour — okay, all three of them — have I interviewed a vehicle owner of such passion. This car could well and truly be Doug’s own flesh and blood. The man’s eyes sparkle like the clear night sky, and his smile beams brighter than one of those really powerful green laser pointers you can get on Trade Me, whenever someone brings up his pride and joy.
Doug’s owned this piece of American automotive art for the past 13 years. This beauty replaced a ’55 convertible Doug sold on. “Too much work at my age,” he reckons. Doug would rather spend his time driving his beauties (he also owns a super-sweet ’89 Chevy truck) than greasing up his elbows and getting splashed in the face with engine oil.
And drive it he does. This sweet ride brings out the boy in the old fella. Despite words of caution from engine builder Grant Rivers, Doug decided to flick on the nitrous on one of his outings and leaded his foot. “I pushed it from a standing start; when I hooked second gear she stepped sideways and I just about bitch-slapped all the poles,” Doug says with a boyish grin as he polishes his pride and joy.
So where does all this power come from? Under the custom bonnet nestles a 350ci Chevy block that has more power than George W Bush. 550hp, to be exact. Thanks to a little help from its friends Mr Weiand supercharger and Sir NOS, the car puts out another huge chunk of power.
So how does one fit all of this power inside a single automobile? You might have noticed from the photos that the bonnet isn’t exactly stock. You also may have noticed that several sentences ago I mentioned the bonnet is custom. In fact, it has a bit of history. When the blower wouldn’t fit below the standard lid, it was clear the car needed to be modified. On went a letterbox. Yup, a letterbox. Not entirely convinced this was a good idea, Doug ripped off the post box and replaced it with something equally weird: the bonnet from a Mini. And what a perfect fit. See that hump? That’s a Mini’s entire front lid — gives you an idea of the size difference between the two cars. I’m not completely convinced that Doug’s car didn’t just eat an entire Mini …
As I mentioned earlier, Doug is a proud man. But there is one thing about the car that haunts him to this very day and will do so until the end of time. You see, Doug made a mistake. A dire mistake.
Back in ’95 when Doug got his excited little hands on this ’55 Bel Air, he spotted something that he thought just didn’t look right. Strewn across the car was ornate pinstriping; a look that at the time just wasn’t ‘in’. Unfortunately, and unbeknown to Doug, this artwork was meticulously handcrafted by none other than the late Ed ‘Big Daddy’ Roth. Why is this a problem? Because in his wisdom Doug had decided to sand it all off and give the car a touch-up. Oops. Doug’s eyes turn grey and his face darkens with more gloom than the bowels of hell at even the slightest thought of what he’s done. To be honest, I think he did the right thing. Okay, the car may be worth more with the Roth touch but only because the guy’s dead. We all know artists make more dough by kicking the bucket. In my humble opinion the car looks better the way it stands now, smooth and uncluttered. So try not to be too hard on yourself, Doug.
The interior of Doug’s global-warming–inducing canary is pretty much stock. The seats, it must be said, are more comfortable than the queen’s bed (I’m guessing — she wouldn’t let me stay the night). If it wasn’t for the terrifying power of this car to keep him on his toes, I’m sure Doug would be nodding off every time he got behind the wheel. It really is the ultimate in comfort cruising — just with a bit of added nuclear power.
Do not be fooled, however. The couch-like bench seats may be ecstasy, but this car in no way drives like a cushion. Body roll is all but eliminated thanks to Monroe heavy-duty shocks and aftermarket sway bars. Tramp rods also help keep the pitch in check and maintain the beast’s ability to turn rubber into a thick, noxious fog.
And there is a lot of rubber to be burnt. The Cragar Bob Glidden signature wheels are shod with 215/60R15 Yokohamas at the front and 275/60R15 feet at the scary end.
All in all, Doug’s car is a stunning piece of automotive history. While not show-perfect, it’s a car that is used for what it was created for: being driven, not stored under a satin drop-cloth. This ’55 looks sweet, drives like Godzilla on speed and pampers you in first class luxury in its comfy cabin. The perfect car? Not until gas prices drop. A lot. But it comes pretty darned close. And after seeing photos of Doug’s previous rides you can be sure that this car — the only one he says he’ll never sell — really is the bee’s bits. Although I wish Doug had kept his ’67 Camaro for me to drool over, if nothing else.
On another note, I’d like to thank Doug for being about the coolest V8 owner I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing and boring with my absolute lack of journalistic ability. I’ve never met someone with so much enthusiasm for his own car … but you can see why. Sweet ride, Doug!
1955 Chev Bel Air
- Engine: 350ci small block Chev, four-bolt mains, JE forged pistons, Carrillo rods, Eagle 4340 steel crank, Grant Rivers cam grind, Manley inlet valves, Weiand 4-71 supercharger, NOS 300hp nitrous kit, EPC coated headers
- Driveline: GM TH400 three-speed auto, 2500rpm stall converter, manual valve body, GM 10-bolt diff, 3.08:1 final drive ratio
- Brakes: Les Hunter Outlaw four-piston calipers, Wilwood pads, Camaro rear discs
- Suspension: Monroe heavy-duty shocks, standard coil springs, aftermarket sway bars and tramp rods
- Wheels/Tyres: 15x7- and 15x8-inch Cragar Bob Glidden Signature wheels, 215/60R15 and 275/60R15 tyres
- Exterior: Modified bonnet hump, soft yellow paint by Paul Gibson
- Interior: Grant steering wheel, Kenwood head unit
- Performance: 550hp, 11.9 second quarter mile (without nitrous)
This article was originally published in NZV8 Issue No. 62. Pick up a print copy or a digital copy of the magazine below: