The trophy they gave to Don Gira’s 1956 Chevy at the 2020 Grand National Roadster Show said it right on the front: Radical Hardtop/Sedan 5559. For Don, radical wasn’t always the plan—it’s just where things went with his middle year Tri-Five Chevy.
Gira is more than a car guy. “I’m addicted to adrenaline,” he told us, and he has always been into any machine that moves under the power of an engine. In addition to his long lifetime list of street cars, he’s raced all kinds of drag cars at all the historic Southern California tracks. His passion goes beyond four wheels and solid ground. He’s raced dirt bikes and drag boats, and flown planes.
Gira spotted the raw material for this project, half covered and parked alongside a house, while taking a detour on his work commute. Not for sale, the owner told him the first and second time he asked about it. The third time, he brought along enough cash to strike a deal. He discovered that the Chevy, a 210 sedan, had been set up for drag racing, but Gira wasn’t planning to build another adrenaline delivery system. This time, his goal was to turn it into a cool low-key cruiser.
The first modification made was a 3-inch top chop—or rather an attempted chop. “After three months of prodding the body shop where the car was, I went to look at the car and I was shocked,” he said. “It was cut in all the wrong places and they couldn’t figure out how to put it back together.”
He got his car out of that shop as fast as he could and started looking for a builder who could fix the botched top. Somebody recommended JV Enterprises in Azusa, California. Once Vince Borzilieri and his builders got the top started, more ideas started bubbling up and the project was on the road to something beyond what Gira had dreamed of. And with a bold 3 inches sliced out of the top, the lower portion of the body had to keep up with a few modifications.
Starting in front, the Chevy’s jutting front bumper was replaced with a customized and flipped Studebaker bumper (a remnant from the 1953 Stude project featured in Street Rodder last year). The rear bumper was reshaped and flush-mounted to the body and modified for the tailpipes. The hood and deck were partially shaved, and the rear hood corners were radiused. The doors were also shaved of handles and locks, replaced by remote openers, and the diagonal “paint divider” side trim was removed to visually emphasize the profile. The factory drip rails were replaced with cleaner-looking molded-in 1934 Ford-style rain guards
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Paint color and wheel style are probably the two biggest factors in creating a custom car’s personality. During the Chevy project, the builder and the owner went around on both choices before making the final decisions. With the wheels and tires, it was a matter of rim diameter and sidewall width. The ultimate choice was 17- and 18-inch Rambler 10-spokes from U.S. Mags with 205/50R17 Delinte Thunder D7 radials in front and massive 345/35R18 Mickey Thompson ET Street S/S tires packing the rear wheelwells. Gira knew he wanted a one-tone scheme with a red shade of paint for the car, but it took about 15 or 20 variations before they found the perfect custom mix.
JV Enterprises added custom X-members to the stock framerails and completely upgraded the Chevy’s suspension. Tubular A-arms from Performance Online, 2-inch dropped spindles, RideTech springs, and QA1 adjustable shocks improve the ride and rake in the front. The TDS 9-inch rearend is loaded with 3.73:1 gears with limited slip. Aldan coilovers iron out road wrinkle and help put the car in the weeds. For stopping, 13-inch Corvette discs were installed front and rear, plumbed to dual Corvette master cylinders and 8-inch boosters.
725-hp Blown LS
Gira’s a big-block fan, so we suspect that a few decades ago, this hot rod would have ended up with a Rat motor in the engine compartment and a blower rising through the hood. He didn’t want to cut the hood, but he still got the blown engine, a Chevy LS built by JMS Racing Engines. The Eaton supercharger is mounted on a hand-built aluminum intake manifold. Air moves through a K&N air cleaner and 92mm throttle body. The cylinders were bored 0.030-over and packed with 10.5:1 J.E. Pistons. The FiTech ignition system fires up the hot rod LS, and Hedman headers draw the exhaust to custom pipes, corked by MagnaFlow mufflers. A JV Enterprises aluminum radiator and Spal fan keep the engine cool. The engine’s horsepower rating is 725 at 6,500 rpm. Performance Gear in Azusa assembled the Chevy five-speed with a McLeod clutch.
After taking a tape measure to the Chevy’s interior and to the cabin of his 2002 Cadillac Eldorado, Gira found out the widths were practically equal, so Eldo six-way power seats were chosen for the ’56. The seat structure leaves plenty of headroom in the inside the chopped Chevy. JV Enterprises upholstered the interior in egg wheel white vinyl. The armrests were positioned at the same height as the Cadillac Fleetwood console for the sake of ergonomics. Door controls are hidden under the armrests, with mechanical door buttons installed at the quarter windows. The console holds the controls for the Vintage Air A/C and the Nakamichi NA3030 receiver (wired to Alpine speakers). The Budnik steering wheel tops a Flaming River tilt column.
It all combines to create a contemporary custom Chevy that the Grand National Roadster Show—and just about everybody who sees Don Gira’s 1956 210 sedan—would call “radical.”
10 Details That Got This 1956 Chevy Sedan Into the Hot Rod Photo Studio
- Overall redesign of classic Tri-Five styling
- On the ground stance
- Confident 3-inch chop
- Custom mix Axalta paint
- Low-key use of exterior trim
- Just-right wheel size
- Fat 345-series Mickey Thompson rear rubber
- Blown LS engine
- Cadillac Eldorado buckets for comfort
- Immaculate square-weave carpeted trunk