Owner /Historian: Larry Frees
The '55 Chevy sport coupe that was to eventually become known as Mr. Chevy first appeared in 1963 at Menard Auto Sales in Ruma , Illinois. It was harvest gold (yellow) & india ivory (white) that had been repainted gold with a white roll and pleat interior. It is said to have come from southeast Missouri, possibly the Perryville area.
It was bought by Van Heck who was only 15 at the time so it was titled in his mothers name. The car had a 283, 3speed on the floor. When Van turned 16 he drove the car a year or so until the motor blew up. It was at this time, around 1965 that the car was fitted with a 327, 4 speed. Also around this time Van bought a '57 Corvette which he rebuilt with a Mako Shark kit also 327, 4 speed, this car was silver. This car only lasted a couple months. Van was just north of Ruma headed south running 100 mph or so when a rabbit ran in front of him and he swerved to avoid it, according to Van. The Corvette was totaled.
Back to Mr. Chevy. In 1967 Van started collecting parts and building the '55 hardtop to it's current configuration. It was at this time Van built a nice brick shop which he called Vans Speed Shop. He rebuilt the car in classic gasser style. He did not alter the original hardtop body in any way. It was built with a high stance that sat over the rear wheels so he did not have to open the rear wheel wells. He did put a subframe on the front of the car with a CAE chrome straight axle. The car was fitted with ET polished aluminum wheels, 8.5 x 15 rears and 3.5 x 15 fronts. Firestone tires all four corners. The white roll & pleat interior was sold and replaced with a white metallic diamond tuft interior by Russel Schleicher. A fiberglass front end was fitted and the body was repainted gold by Roger Kruse. A 327 engine was built featuring such cutting edge refinements as roller rockers, Isky solid roller cam, and spin on engine oil filter. The spin on filter at the time was so new that the cartridge it used is HP1, a filter number usually associated with Chrysler and Ford, Chevrolet had not yet designed their own cartridge. Hilborn fuel injection was the induction and Hooker fender well headers were the exhaust. The transmission was a Borg Warner 4-speed with a Hurst shifter. The Hurst shifter was the model that was designed to fit around the bench seat, left over from the previous configuration. The rear end was a Pontiac (Dana) posi-trac with 5:56 gears. The car featured extensive use of chrome including the rear end, driveshaft, springs, ladder bars, and wheelie bars. Also, the interior had liberal doses of chrome including roll bar, glove compartment door, ashtray, and window mouldings.
The car was built as a show car/race car. In 1968 Van received an "Award for Excellence" from Hot Rod Magazine Show Series. Van raced the car at atleast six drag strips in the midwest St. Louis area up until 1976. Known strips are Alton Raceway, St. Louis International Raceway, and Nashville in IL. St. Genevieve drag strip, Pevely, and MAR (Mid America Raceways) in MO. Van had approximately a dozen trophies from racing during this time. Van had a '55 Chevy 1-1/2 ton truck also painted gold to match the car which he hauled the car at the time. The truck also had a matching white metallic diamond tuft interior to match the car.
The last time the car was raced was the summer of '76. There were no liscense plates on the truck but the last state inspection as indicated by the state inspection sticker verifies this. The best that can be determined was that Van was at International dragway at East St. Louis, IL. He broke a universal joint and twisted the driveshaft in two pieces. He threw both halves of the driveshaft in the trunk denting the trunk floor and cracking the top of the tartop battery. He loaded the car on the car hauler and headed home. About a mile north of Smithton, Il. a car pulled out in front of him and he hit the car. It smashed the front bumper and mangled the left front fender of the truck. When Van got home he unloaded the car and parked the truck in a shed. He drained the coolant and took the two freeze plugs out of the left side of the engine, he also drained the fuel tank. He left the Delco battery in the trunk and even left the Hurst shift glove inside the car. Van never touched the car again. For the next thirty years Van still played with things mechanical including racing several stock cars.
Van was killed in a traffic accident in January of 2006. His estate was sold and "Mr. Chevy" as the car had been known was found in the exact condition as the last day it was raced in 1976. Everything was sold including a sign that was commonly seen in the garage window; Vans Speed Shop, CLOSED, gone racin'.
My plans for "Mr. Chevy" are to clean up 30 years of dust and dirt and display it exactly as it was the last day it was raced.