Family Time: This 1955 Chevy Is A Chip Off The Old Block

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It seems that speed gained through high performance vehicles is ingrained in Brian Niemen. Niemen’s father, Wesley Nieman, was a local drag race champion. He drove a 1934 Ford 4-door Sedan with an Oldsmobile 425 engine equipped with dual quads and zoomie headers, as well as a B-Gas 1940 Willys coupe with a small-block Chevy and a 4-speed tranny.

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They just don’t style cars like they used to.

At the ripe old age of 45, Niemen, who hails from Rochester, New York, has had a succession of high performance rides himself. He was 15 when he purchased his first car, a 1971 Oldsmobile Cutlass. Niemen says that he gained a lot of mechanical and bodywork practice with it and the result is that he drove it to school his senior year and won first place in the very first car show he entered.

That early success was followed in 1988 with a 1968 Camaro RS that Niemen bought from a friend of his fathers. The car was a mostly stock with a 350 (not original), 4-speed trans, and 12-bolt rear. Niemen says that he drove it all summer and had a blast, but that winter he took the 350 out and put in a 355ci, 400hp small block backed with a Muncie 4 speed and 4:11 posi rearend. He also included some race ready Weld Racing wheels. He used that as his daily driver on nice days for the next summer, and also raced it some.

main3The car won many awards that year at shows and was really fast; best ET in the ¼ mile was 11.98 and he could drive that car anywhere. He  loved the fact that his buddies were racing automobiles with big stall converters and he was racing and beating them with an old school 4 speed.

By this time, other priorities were taking center stage and when his baby girl, Ashley, was born in 1991 he decided to sell the Camaro.

In 1996, Niemen purchased a Pro Street 1955 Chevy Bel Air 2-door sedan with a big block 468 cu in automatic with a transmission brake and a Dana 60 rearend. It was all black and according to Niemen, “totally bad ass”. Then the opportunity came along in 1998 to buy a 1957 Chevy 2-door hardtop, all stock with air conditioning. It was more of a family oriented car, that he thought was the best of both worlds.

Producing 455hp, the 468ci Chevrolet engine features Speed Pro forged pistons and rings, Chevrolet Oval Port heads, an Isky hydraulic camshaft and Comp Cams stainless steel rockers. The compression ratio comes out at 10:1.

Producing 455hp, the 468ci Chevrolet engine features Speed Pro forged pistons and rings, Chevrolet Oval Port heads, an Isky hydraulic camshaft and Comp Cams stainless steel rockers. The compression ratio comes out at 10:1.

Both cars were very clean and Niemen had a blast driving them and showing them, and racing the black ’55. But in 2000, he sold everything and moved into a new house. The first thing he did was to set up the garage the way he wanted. But he says that it was very weird to walk out in the garage and not see a classic car, as he had one since he was 15.

In 2001, Niemen decided that he needed to start looking for what he wanted, and wouldn’t settle for anything less. What he wanted was a 1955 Chevy 2 door sedan 210 model with a 4-speed, and a very clean body. He says that he didn’t really care if it even had an engine in it. There were a couple in the area but none that really fit the bill. There was one that he had really liked but it was a long way from his Rochester stomping grounds, but Niemen figured what the heck.

Niemen and his brother got there about 9:00 pm that night and within 10 minutes he knew this was the car. Niemen says it was super clean with all original sheet metal from California, with only 44k miles on the clock. It had nice paint, but the 1973 vintage 468ci Chevrolet engine needed some finishing. They made a deal and once again Niemen had a classic car in his garage.

The 750cfm Barry Grant Speed Demon carburetor and Edelbrock Victor Jr. Intake manifold feed the engine, and a Be Cool radiator keeps everything, well…cool.

Once the car was home, Niemen started in on the engine. He kept the stock crank and rods, but replaced the hardware with ARP studs. Next came the Speed Pro forged pistons and rings, which are topped off with Chevrolet Oval Port 049 heads that had the castings port matched. Niemen says the compression ratio rates out at 10 to 1.  

Niemen then installed the Isky hydraulic camshaft (.553/.578 ex  .275 int./.284 ex.) and Comp Cams stainless steel rockers. A TRW double roller timing chain and a B&M billet pulley system and Moroso notched oil pan completed the scene.

Looking under the car, one sees a Tremec TKO 500 transmission that is equipped with a Centerforce Dual Friction clutch system, encased with a Lakewood bell housing. A set of Earl Williams Headers connects to the 3-inch Flowmaster mufflers and a Moroso notched oil pan completed the scene.

Looking under the car, one sees a Tremec TKO 500 transmission that is equipped with a Centerforce Dual Friction clutch system, encased with a Lakewood bell housing. A set of Earl Williams Headers connects to the 3-inch Flowmaster mufflers and a Moroso notched oil pan completed the scene.

Fuel starvation won’t be a problem with the 750cfm Barry Grant Speed Demon carburetor and Edelbrock Victor Jr. Intake manifold combination while clean air is taken care of with a Billet Specialties housing encased K&N Filter.

The aluminum cast valve covers also come from Billet Specialties. Spark is provided with an MSD ignition system and HEI distributor. Getting the spent fuel out is done with a set of Earl Williams Headers (2-inch tubes) that connect to 3-inch custom Flowmaster mufflers.  

All together, Niemen has estimated power to be at a healthy 550hp, which is plenty to propel the big ‘55 to eye watering speeds. 

Helping to get that power to the ground is first done with a Tremec TKO 500 transmission that has been equipped with a Centerforce Dual Friction clutch system, all of which is encased with a Lakewood bell housing. The driveshaft is a 1350 series Steel Driveshaft by Fleet Pride out of Rochester, New York.

The rearend is a Ford 9-inch that has been equipped with a posi unit and Richmond 4:10 Gears. Putting a little safety into the mix are the Wilwood rear disc brakes.

Putting that power to the ground are the 275/60R15 Mickey Thompson street radial tires that wrap the 15X8 Torq-Thrust II’s. Wilwood disc brakes are found at the ends of the Ford 9-inch rearend.

Putting that power to the ground are the 275/60R15 Mickey Thompson street radial tires that wrap the 15X8 Torq-Thrust II’s. Wilwood disc brakes are found at the ends of the Ford 9-inch rearend.

Next, Niemen had to get the car setting right, so by using 2-inch McGaughy dropped spindles and 6 cylinder front coil springs, he had the front end sitting perfect. GM disc brakes are used up front.

Niemen ended up using Posies de-arched springs for the rear…again just the look he wanted. QA1 adjustable shocks keep the peace on both ends of the car, but anti-sway bars purchased from Ecklers make things even more right up front.

Niemen says that the car was starting to come together very nice, but the wheels with the car weren’t quite what I wanted, so he used American Racing Torque Thrust II’s (15X6) and put some BF Goodrich 205/70R15 rubber up front on them.

After very careful measuring of the stock rear wheel tubs and spring location, Niemen wedged in some 15X8 Torq-Thrust II’s that feature 275/60R15 Mickey Thompson street radial tires.

Inside, Niemen used 1982 Camaro bucket seats in place of the stock bench. They have been covered with dark and light gray Velour upholstery. The stock ’55 instruments are still there, but they have been enhanced with a Classic Instruments tach and gauge cluster.

The steering wheel appears stock, but it’s actually a 15-inch replacement steering wheel but there’s no mistaking the ball topping the iconic Hurst 5-Speed floor shifter.

Fast is great, but you have to have nice tunes too, so a Custom Autosound USA 1 stereo with am/fm cassette has been wired up to the Memphis Audio speakers. Speaking of wiring, a Painless Wiring system is used throughout. As with the rest of the car, everything was installed by Nieman himself.

Niemen says that the paint actually looked good, but while touching up some some scratches and chips, he got a little carried away and went through a few thin spots, so he decided just to re-shoot the car.

Niemen did the prep and paintwork at the truck shop where he’s employed at, and says that he lucked out on perfect conditions the weekend he applied the Ferrari Rosso Corsa Red/PG Lacquer.

The stock ’55 instruments are still there, but they have been enhanced with a Classic Instruments tach and gauge cluster. 1982 Camaro bucket seats take the place of the stock bench. They have been covered with dark and light gray Velour upholstery.

The car came out amazing, but Niemen gives a lot of credit to the previous owner, Tim, for doing all the right prep work and giving the car a great base paint job. When putting all the stainless molding back on the car, Niemen says that he really looked at it and said to himself that he needed to break some of the red up.

Along with many of the pieces that he used on the build, Niemen had some Bel Air side moldings laying around, and when he held it up next to the car he said it just looked nice with the white insert in the center. So on it went.

Giving the car a better look at a dark road are the Rodworx Tri-bar headlights that use an H-4 halogen bulb. The rear bulbs have been replaced with LED units to give everyone behind the Chevy a heads up when needed.

“My dad always had a classic Chevy in the garage,” says Niemen. “He purchased a 1967 Corvette convertible in 1977. It took him 20 years to complete but it came out amazing, a show winner. I am so glad I was able to help him in the later years to complete the car. He’s the one who got me into cars. I remember him taking me to the Car Craft Nationals when I was a teenager. Ever since then, all I thought about was hot rods and learning how to restore and build them.”

Photography by Andy Gallo

Photography by Andy Gallo

Sadly, Wesley Nieman passed away while Niemen was building his ’55 and never got to see the finished job.

But Niemen is very happy with how his car turned out, and even though he misses spending time with his dad, Niemen is trying to forward that on to his own son, Aiden. Aiden thinks it’s the coolest thing when Niemen picks him up from school in the ‘55.

“I’ve been trying to hit as many car shows and cruise nights as I can,” says Niemen, “or just taking the car out on a Sunday morning drive, and my son has been right by my side for many of them.” It looks like a new tradition is starting.

About the author

Matt Emery

As an editor of Drive! and Classic Trucks magazines and staff editor on titles such as Dirt Sports, Off Road, and 4 Stroke Dirt Bikes, Matt Emery at one or another covered everything from the Baja 1000 to NASCAR, NHRA to the Bonneville salt flats and the Easter Jeep Safari to motocross. He now freelances to the Power Automedia online publications, among his many ventures.
Read My Articles

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