Ron Cherry: Return to Rodding with a ‘55 Chevy
Special to The Union
The second car that Mick Cresci owned was a ’55 Chevy. Although he had owned a rather staid ’57 Olds given to him by his grandparents, the Chevy was a lighter car with a hotter engine, important for performance.
When he bought it for $35, the car had no engine or trans and he dropped in a 409 CID engine and 4-speed trans. This was a very cool car for a high-schooler like Mike and great for drag racing. Then he joined the Navy, married Maxine and then started a family.
Hot cars were trumped by practicality and Mike opted out of the hot rod scene. But he never forgot that ’55 Chevy.
Decades later, once the kids were grown and the budget less tight, Mike decided he’d like to get back into performance cars and began looking around. At a car show in Pleasanton in November of 1999, he came upon one for sale that looked interesting.
It was a ’55 Chevy 210 two-door post, painted in what looked like original Skyline Blue and India Ivory with a set of old-style, five-spoke American Mags. It had a bored out 406 CID small-block Chevy engine with a Turbo 350 auto trans, A/C, power steering and power brakes, with discs in front.
It was being sold by a fellow out of Santa Rosa named Rick Mullen. The body was in great condition and it was a decent car all around at a decent price. The deal was made and, once again, Mike owned a cool ’55 Chevy.
As often happens with car guys, it wasn’t that long before Mike decided to make some changes to his Chevy. The engine was getting tired and smoking some, so he dropped in a GM 383 CID stroker crate engine. That started the ball rolling, and more changes followed. They were done over a number of years, Mike said, “a little bit here and a little bit there.”
He swapped out the trans for a 700R auto with overdrive. For better off-the-line performance, he put in a 10-inch posi rearend with lower-ratio 3.73:1 gears and added rear disc brakes to bring it to a stop. Although he kept the stock suspension, he completely went through it. For cooling, he opted for a Griffin aluminum radiator and replaced the old air conditioner with a more efficient one. All the windows were replaced with tinted glass.
Inside, he left the stock, gray bench seat, but added a tilt steering wheel and changed the AM/FM/CD stereo to a better-sounding one. On the exterior, he replaced much of the chrome, including the front bumper.
“I pretty much changed everything since I bought it, except for the color and the wheels.”
He went for keeping the look of the ’55s he knew and loved in high school, while gaining modern performance and comfort.
Mike did all this in a small garage in San Francisco. But he wasn’t totally alone.
“I try to do everything myself,” he said. “But my son is a Ford mechanic and helped; or I seemed to help him.”
His two sons inherited his car gene, both owning modern and classic Mustangs. But Mike doesn’t mind that they don’t own Chevys. “I like cars, not just one in particular. I just like hot rods,” he said.
Since finishing the Chevy, Mike and Maxine have gone to many shows and on a number of cruises, including ones to Las Vegas, Oregon and Hot August Nights in Reno.
“It’s not a trailer queen,” Mike noted, referring to cars that are just hauled to shows on trailers and never driven.
He often goes to cruise night at Mel’s Diner in Auburn and Auburn Cruise Nite. He enjoys the casual hanging out like he did with high school buddies in his first ’55 Chevy, which explains why he has also gone to Cars and Coffee, which is at the Kmart shopping center off McKnight Way from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. every Saturday.
When Mike and Maxine moved up here in 2010, they went to the Roamin Angels “Cruisin’ the Pines” Car Show at the fairgrounds. One of the club members working there looked familiar.
It was Rick Mullen, who had sold him the car and had since moved to Grass Valley. His wife Margie told Mike that she had liked that ’55 and hadn’t wanted Rick to sell it.
“I told her she could have a ride any time.” They are all now friends.
Since moving to Gold Country, Mike has gotten more into hot rods, a disease that grows more severe with age. He recently finished a 1300-square-foot shop with two four-post lifts and is working on a ’72 Chevy pickup. He also is planning to get his ’55 on the lift.
“It’s basically finished, but there’s always something to do. I’d like to put in a 20-gallon stainless steel gas tank to get more range. After I put in the lower gears, my mileage dropped and 16 gallons isn’t enough.”
That’s sort of a hot rodder’s motto: “There’s always something to do.”
Ron Cherry’s three books, including the Morg Mahoney detective series, are available on Kindle and in print copy at Amazon. For more about his writing, go to http://www.rlcherry.com.
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