What a gas: 1955 Chev Bel Air

Posted in Cars
It may look like a race car of old, and it is, but this high-riding ’55 is now set for a life on the street

West Auckland’s Russell Long has it bad — he’s the absolute gearhead, hot rodder, weekend drag racer, and speed junkie our parents all warned us about. It’s not all a bad thing, as he’s a good Kiwi bloke and, through hard work and determination, has a list of cool cars to his name, with no sign of taking it easy or slowing down. Influenced and inspired by many cool cars and people in the rodding world near and far, Russell was always keen to get a ’55 Chev Gasser to build a bad ass car for both street and strip use.


“I had sold my ’41 Willys coupe (as seen in NZV8 Issue No. 15 and now in Australia) and was looking at importing a ’55 Chev Gasser from the USA when this one in Invercargill came up on Trade Me,” remembers Russell. 

It was seven years ago that the deal was done and the car was purchased from Graham Eyles, who had raced it for several seasons. Russell immediately began to alter it to suit the Gasser flavour he had in mind. Almo, a fellow Oogah Rodders member (Russell’s also in Wheels Inc) helped to raise the front suspension for the signature Gasser look. Then Lance Walsh’s Freelance Automotive (now closed) fitted wind-up windows, retractable seat belts. and a full exhaust system — the transformation from race to street was beginning.


More Gasser flavour was added when the rear wheel arches were radiused by Craig Laycock to suit the larger wheels and tyres, then Jason and Al from Autocolour Matrix tidied up the paint. While the cosmetic changes were happening, Rob Penman was called on to freshen up the engine.


The following year, the straight axle installation was carried out by Craig Laycock and Courtney Evans. It consisted of parallel leaf springs on a drilled Ford Bonus axle attached to a 4x2-inch box section chassis clip. Brendan Halpin at Rad Rides fitted a push bar and fabricated the Moon style tank on the front to finish the look. The rear suspension is classic Gasser material — a Ford nine-inch diff on ladder bars!


“I started to accumulate the parts to build a Kinsler stack-injected EFI 540-cubic-inch big-block Chev engine,” recalls Russell. However, due to windscreen visibility laws, he opted not to run the EFI injection stacks and settled for a twin four-barrel tunnel-ram intake instead. The 540 big-block project was put aside and the tunnel-rammed 454 ran an 11.6 at the Nostalgia Drags that year.

The 2012 Nostalgia Drags would be very memorable for Russell, as he purchased a high stall converter built by Auto Trans and had Dave Moyle tune the engine. “On the first run in the burnout, the front universal joint let go and shattered the transmission case,” smiles Russell, who has clearly been in rodding and racing long enough to take the bad with the good.

Repairs were carried out using a heavy-duty driveshaft from Driveshaft Specialists and a tough TH400 by Mark Sheehan. While he was at it, Russell added a Strange nodular diff head housing 4.11:1 gears and installed 31 spline axles.


With a Model A Tudor Gasser project underway, Russell decided to get the ’55 ready for sale with a new-look paint scheme well away from its existing well-known red and white two-tone paint. Jason and Neesha Tomlinson at Total Spray applied the PPG blaze red paint, giving a totally new look to the  car. This is complemented by the red-tinted windows, authentic-looking signage by Aaron Webb, and pin-striping by Charlie ‘Chaz’ Allen.

Rounding out the Gasser styling are the 10-spoke wheels on the front and Halibrand-style rear wheels, the latter wrapped in Mickey Thompson ET Streets, of course! John and Scott at Glendene Engine Reconditioners freshened up the engine and Russell had the whole car back together in time to race it at the 2014 Nostalgia Drags this year. What do you mean you wouldn’t race a car you wanted to sell? “It ran an 11.3, which I think is pretty neat for something that is completely street legal and easy to drive on the street as well as the strip,” says Russell.


Over the last seven years, the car has ticked off part of Russell’s ever-changing bucket list of fast and wild rides. Spend 10 minutes talking to this guy, and it’s easy to see where his mind is at and where it’s been. He collects the magazines, the T-shirts, the model cars, and the go-fast goodies for the full-size cars. Russell also enjoys various hot-rod sites on the internet, including the pages and people on Facebook, not to mention the fun he has on eBay! Needless to say, he’s a very passionate guy, who is so into rodding that he infects those around him. As much as we get off on remembering his past cars, such as the Willys coupe and the suede black ’33 coupe of the ’80s with a blown big block in it, we really can’t wait to see his Gasser-inspired Model A Tudor hit the road and lift the front wheels at the drags!

1955 Chev Bel Air 

Engine: 454 big block Chev, bored to 460ci, JE forged pistons, Eagle I-beam rods, LS6 forged steel crank, rectangular-port, closed-chamber, cast-iron heads, 1.7:1 roller rockers, 2.19-inch intake valves, 1.72-inch exhaust valves, solid flat tappet cam, Edelbrock twin tunnel ram, 2x 660cfm Holley carbs, MSD Pro Billet distributor, MSD 6AL ignition, Holley Blue fuel pump, Holley regulator, Fenderwell headers, custom alloy radiator

Driveline: TH400 transmission, high stall converter, Ford 9-inch diff, Strange nodular case, spool, 4.11:1 gears, Strange 31 spline axles

Suspension: Front parallel leaf springs, drilled Ford Bonus axle, custom ladder bar rear, track locator, coilover shocks

Brakes: HQ Holden booster, HQ calipers and rotors, Ford drum rear

Wheels/Tyres: 15x5-inch Dragway 10-spoke front wheels, 15x10-inch Halibrand replica rear wheels, 195/R15 front tyres, 30x12.5x15 Mickey Thompson ET Street rear tyres

Exterior: One-piece fibreglass tilt front, fibreglass boot lid, removed front bumper, radiused rear fenders, PPG blaze red paint

Chassis: 4x2-inch front clip, custom cross members

Interior: Six-point cage, ’70s era Mopar bucket seats, Grant steering wheel, Hurst shifter, SW gauges

Performance: 11.3 second quarter-mile