Ted Toki has done the work. You can tell he's built a lot of engines, raced everything, and been everywhere. He can't tell you who the next American Idol is, but who cares? If you can get his attention, he has the answer to every car-related question from decades of firsthand experience. He's holed up at Westside Performance in West Los Angeles, California, most days, wrenching on impossible cars without a lift or a pit. He's the one kneading a shop towel as another customer's rumpity street machine echoes down the alley.
Ted rowed over from Hawaii in 1966 as a fresh gearhead to hang out at local haunts like Van Nuys Boulevard and a speed shop in West L.A. called the Chrome House that later became one of the many Service Center chain stores. After school, Ted opened a business in the back as a sublet from Service Center and started building hot rods. In 1988 he bought the store and created Westside Performance.
Why do you care? Ted is also the guy who came up with the idea to put a 4.00-inch-stroke crank in a 350 block in the Aug. '09 issue. With Edelbrock E-Street heads, the engine barked out 481-lb-ft, 429 hp, and gleamed with twin carbs and chrome trinkets everywhere. We couldn't resist finding a street machine to give the pig a proper test. Ted's '55 Chevy was the perfect car.
Ted has always had straight-axle Tri-Five Chevys, and every time there was nothing to do, a good deal would pop up and he would have to buy another. In the late '80s he was looking for a pre-abused car that he could drive on the street and use on the track, drilling, cutting, and fitting anything he wanted to without raising the ire of the resto guys. Ted traded labor on a transmission swap for this fiberglass-nosed '55 that was perfect for use as a bed to break in engines and test combos on the track. Twenty years later, it is still doing it.
Just after we'd hatched the plan to drop the engine in the '55, we heard that the Van Nuys cruise had restarted in the San Fernando Valley. Ted had cruised the circuit many times in the '55 when the action was huge, so we left his shop at 5 p.m. on a Wednesday and crawled through L.A. rush hour traffic on our way to the Valley. It was the second week of September and it sweltered, but the temp gauge read 180 degrees all night. For the '55, it was like coming home.