As the turquoise machine rumbles past you, something in the car guy universe seems slightly out of place. It looks like a typical 1955 Chevy, and a glance at the interior reveals nothing unusual. The classic two-tone paint is right out of the Eisenhower era, yet your car guy senses are telling you the moon and stars are not quite aligned. The exhaust note is distinctive—different. Owner Gary Kollofski (there's your first hint) parks the car, pulls the driver's door handle to exit, and the door opens from the front—wow, didn't see that coming. Then he releases the stock location hood latch, and the hood tilts forward. That's a subtle hint of something we've seen before, but what is revealed is totally different. Your eye quickly counts six exhaust pipes on one side—wait, that's a V12! A quick memory scan of domestic hot rod engines uncovers no hits. You draw a blank. Gary's seen that look many times. A bystander asks, "Is that a Viper engine?"
"No," Gary says. "The Viper is a V10."
"Is it two V6s welded together?" It's a great question, but Gary shakes his head in the negative. The Chevrolet script is puzzling—and a ruse.
Thankfully, Gary doesn't leave the questioners hanging; the engine is an Italian marine V12 displacing a massive 730ci and is a hemi-headed pushrod beast that he has modified with a homemade intake manifold sporting a trio of Holley carburetors. "I was going to make up a story," Gary says, "about how this was a one-off Chevrolet engineering prototype that never made it production." Frankly, this 1955 doesn't need embellishment. The details that make up this 1955 are plenty impressive in their own right. In fact, we don't have enough pages to list every engineering detail that Gary and his friends have incorporated into this 1955. And Gary is building an even wilder 1957 Chevy—you can see that car in this month's This Guy's Garage.
This tale demands we first fill in some essential history. For those fortunate to have attended the inaugural 1977 Car Craft Street Machine Nationals in Indianapolis, those chosen few were treated to the display of what we have to call one of the most awesome 1955 Chevys ever built. Today, it might not turn as many heads, but almost 40 years ago, Gary Kollofski set the street machine world aflame. That jet-black 1955 two-door sedan with its 6-71 supercharged 440ci big-block Chevy and massive tires stuffed under the low-slung rear quarter-panels was a ground-breaking machine that has forever cemented Minnesotan Gary Kollofski's name with 1955 Chevys. A couple of years later, he built a bright-yellow, twin-turbocharged small-block 1936 Willys that was again light years ahead of its time. And then Gary disappeared from the street car scene. "I got into buying and selling boats and marine equipment," Gary says. So after he retired from teaching high-school math, he decided to resurrect the black 1955. He found the original body, but it had been chopped and neglected, and the Detroit area owner wanted way too much for what remained of his original car. "I entertained the idea of re-creating the black 1955," Gary mused, but eventually he came upon a better idea.
Five years ago, Gary purchased a pair of monster Italian BPM marine engines, which led to stuffing one of those 730ci V12s into another 1955 Chevy. He located a really nice California original inline-six cylinder 1955 and actually drove it for a short time before tearing into the car. This began a relationship with Dale Pelvit, whom Gary originally conspired with to build the custom headers necessary to complete the V12 swap into the Roadster Shop chassis. The next big hurdle was to somehow connect the BPM bellhousing pattern to the GM 4L80E overdrive automatic. Bendtsen's Speed Gems in Ham Lake, Minnesota (Transmissionadapters.com) built a custom adapter and the trans to mate to the Italian engine. That was the beginning of what became a four-year quest to complete the Tri-Five, including, Gary says, "over a year and half in the body shop."
We'll only be able to touch on a few of the more significant changes that Gary and Dale have rubbed into the 1955. Among the most obvious is the unique hood hinge package. Photos and descriptions only begin to do it justice. Dale started by building a full-scale mockup of the front portion of the hood to be used on his workbench, so he could simulate the front-opening portion of the hood so that it would clear the grille and allow the hood to rotate completely forward. "Most front-hinged hoods," Dale says, "only open about 45 degrees, but this one opens to a complete 90 degrees." The hood can be opened singly, or the entire front clip tilts forward with the hood open or closed, or the hood, front fender, and bumper can be quickly removed with pit pins. With the engine exposed, it becomes obvious the firewall has been recessed 12 inches in the center and 8 inches on each side. Gary also didn't want the master cylinder to protrude into the engine compartment, so he turned it 90 degrees, which required more of Dale's custom rocker arm linkage magic.
Because the V12 engine is a longer powerplant, the front seat was relocated 8 inches rearward and put a premium on underdash room. This required relocating the majority of the A/C system under the rear seat. Dale built custom ducting into the floor pan that moves cooling air through the evaporators and chilled air to dual outlets on the custom console. This was accomplished with Vintage Air components.
You could spend hours investigating the detail and craftsmanship that went into Gary's 1955, which is why it was easy to select it as the Best of Show award winner at the 2013 Car Craft Summer Nationals in St. Paul, Minnesota. What's even more amazing is that Gary has not stopped there. As we mentioned, his 1957 is well on its way, and it's even more unique than the 1955. As a hint, think a pair of V12s for power. It's clear that Gary likes a challenge, even if he has to set it for himself.