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.
Who: Ted Toki
What: '55 Chevrolet straight-axle Gasser
Short-block: It's a 350 with a 4.00-inch crank. Check out how we did it in the Aug. and Dec. '09 issues of CC.
Heads: We ran stock heads for the baseline, then Eric Solomon plopped on a set of Edelbrock E-Street heads. The engine picked up about 75 hp.
Intake: Hey, guys just like multiple carbs. The intake is an Edelbrock Dual-Quad RPM Air-Gap with two 500-cfm Thunder Series AVS carburetors.
Valvetrain: The cam is a circle track grind from Comp that Ted chose to match to the original iron heads. It has 236/238 duration at 0.050 with 0.501/0.501 lift on a 108 LSA. Try PN 12-647-5 in the catalog.
Transmission: It's a TH400 built by Mike's Transmission in Lancaster, California, and a regular street/strip job with a Continental P1-P2 converter that stalls to 2,800 rpm. Wires run from the shift light to a magnetic solenoid of unknown origin that pops the B&M Pro Stick from First to Second when the light comes on. It's kind of like an air shifter without the price or the bottle.
Rearend: The '55 had a '50s Olds/Pontiac rearend, but it was too hard to find gearsets and limited-slip differentials, so Ted swapped in an 8.5-inch 10-bolt until it started bending gears and breaking axles. Next up was a 12-bolt from an Impala that Ted cut and welded to use '69 Camaro axles and press-on bearings. Currently, it has a 4.11:1 gearset.
Suspension: The car has run 9s with stock '55 Chevy leaf springs and modified front bushings, an extra wrap on the springs, and Westside-made slapper bars. The best 60-foot is 1.32 on a set of slicks.
Straight axle: The car came with the setup, but the axle was mounted below the leaf. Ted put the axle above the leaf to lower the car and ran it that way.
He then rotated the axle back to add caster to make the car go straight. When he'd hit a bump, the car would shimmy until you pulled over. Ted added a steering damper and the problem went away.
Brakes: In the front, the '55 has G-body rotors with Camaro calipers and a '40 Ford spindle. "It's street rod stuff." In the rear, it uses a common aluminum drum from a junkyard G-body.
Meats: For race day, Ted added a set of 10-inch Weld rims with 3.5-inch back and 11.5/30R15 M/T ET Street tires.
Skinnies: The fronts are 15x4-inch Center Lines with some 165 cheapos.
Paint and body: The front end is thick 'glass from the '60s reinforced with plywood, making the car weigh 3,350 pounds with no driver. It might be lighter with an OE hood and fenders. The rest of the car is real steel. It was left in primer for a couple of years because the radii on the wheelwells were cut as a series of straight lines and looked beyond bad. Paul at the now-defunct Domino Auto Body radiused the wells and mixed up a bunch of extra paint colors that equated to the yellow you see now. The late Wayne Hodge added the flames and graphics. Over the last 10 years, Ted's daughter has touched up the paint.
Interior: The interior is all business, with Jaz polyethylene buckets, two 15-pound nitrous bottles, and a wheel to hang on to.
Thanks: The guys at Westside, George Diagne, Eric Solomon, Jeremy White, Dave Tenhauten, Yannik Sire, Eddie from Kartek, Garrick Preece at Kelly's Block Welding, and Ted's daughter.
Top 10 Lessons Taught by the '55
1. Nitrous cars like taller gears, so the 4.88s are gone and it has 4.11 with a 30-inch tire.
2. Once you go into the 9s with nitrous, stock Chevy rods bend, but they don't break.
3. Never use a rev limiter on a nitrous engine.
4. Cast cranks can take as much power as the block can take. Eventually, the main caps start to walk and bounce.
5. If you are careful, you will never break a cast crank or a stock block.
6. With nitrous, jets are not as important as correct engine timing.
7. Standard headers with a 2.5-inch collector are enough to make 10-second nitrous power.
8. If you blow a header gasket, chances are good that you've blown the electrode off of the plug in that cylinder.
9. You can learn what breaks and what does not through thousands of dragstrip runs and real street experience.
10. The 10-bolt worked until the car got into the 10s.