Pennsylvania native, Mike Achenbach, has owned and raced a variety of impeccable and quick race cars during his time in the sport, but they all pale in comparison to the one he recently rolled into his shop.
Achenbach, who has been competing with the Northeast Outlaw Pro Modified Association in recent seasons, took delivery last week of a truly stunning 1955 Chevrolet out of the Jerry Bickel Race Cars facility — one traditionally known for Pro Mod and Pro Stock-style machines, not custom drag-radial cars — that is as much a work of art as it is a mechanical marvel. Achenbach set out some two years ago to build an outlaw drag radial-style car — and something a bit different from the rest — for radial racing and street duty. The car fits the Pro 275 ruleset, but because Mike wanted it to be a driver — or at least capable of such — he chose a Pro Line Racing, conventional-headed big-block engine, punched it out to 628 cubic-inches, and paired it with two 98mm Precision turbochargers.
While Achenbach is a relative newcomer to heads-up drag racing, he’s gone all-in on the sport with unrivaled enthusiasm and drive.
“I’ve been messing around in racing for a while… I’ve got a couple of Nova’s and Camaro’s, and I’d just run local stuff around the area,” Mike explains. “These cars run in the sevens, but I bought a Rick Jones Camaro and got into the Pro Mod stuff and I live it now. It’s in my blood. It’s hard to run these cars, and it’s a lot of work away from the track that people don’t see.”
After his foray into big-tire racing, the appeal of the red-hot world of drag radial racing caught his attention.
“When I was a kid, I always liked the 55s. I saw a black one at Cecil County and it was just so awesome. I told my wife I wanted to build one… I wanted something that nobody else has. We started the build a couple of years ago… I thought Jerry could do the best job building that, as far as what he has there with all his guys. I flew out and met with him, gave him a breakdown of what I wanted to do, and they got the chassis done. Then I ended up changing so much because I wanted the best of everything on this car. I was going to run 275, but I also wanted a street car. I just wanted something that nobody else had… and it’s one heck of a piece,” he says.
Bickel’s camp began with a real steel body — roof, quarter panels, and deck lid, and built a double framerail chassis within. The aforementioned 628-inch Pro Line mill — with a custom dual-inlet intake manifold unique to this car on top — rests between the pipes, with the capability of delivering over 4,000 horsepower. It’s backed by an M&M Turbo 400 and converter. A custom Bickel housing is mated to a Lazarus billet third member with an 11-inch ring gear. Menscer shocks and struts are located all the way around, and FuelTech’s entire complement of components provides the instructions, starting with the FT600 ECU/dash and FTSpark coil ignition system.
Mechanically magnificent, the car’s exterior is what really turns heads. Achenbach hired renowned artist Jeff Hoskins to lay the colors on the ’55 and apply his world-class airbrushing talents. The end product features a completely one-off, custom candy paint that changes tone in the sunlight; a mesmerizing brandy color upfront, and a shimmering silver pearl hue in the rear. Elsewhere, every detail has been airbrushed to perfection, from the factory-appearing emblems on the exterior to the minute recreation of a factory ’55 dash.
“I gave Jeff Hoskins basically a blank check and turned him loose and said, ‘do it as if it was yours,’ and he kept it quiet for quite a while until my brother got some pictures. Jeff was on pins and needles for me to see it… It’s just crazy the detail. Every bolt we could put in it is titanium. You could look at it for hours on end and keep finding more detail that was put into it,” Mike says.
Mike adds, “when you get it out in the sun, it’s off the wall. Jeff sent me a bunch of paint swatches and I didn’t like any of them. Then he mixed a bunch of stuff from House of Kolor and came out with this crazy paint. It goes from a dark brandy to a dark red, and there’s a lot of metallic in it. It’s even a black color when it’s not in the sunlight. It’s just nuts…the dash is all Chevy emblems. People are asking me how I can even race this car. They look at it and they say they’ve never seen anything like it.”
Achenbach and Bickel originally intended to put roll-up windows in the car, but because the setup was going to weigh more than they wished, a compromise was made to install the windows with Dzus fasteners so they can be removed for cruising, and then quickly put back in for storage or racing. All told, the car weighs just 2,675-pounds.
Mike remains uncertain of the ’55s future — his focus rests on his Pro Modified program, and Pro 275 action may take a backseat. He also wouldn’t rule out drag-and-drive style events, which were part of his initial roadmap for the build.
“Drag Week was part of my plan when building this car, but then I got tied up in the Pro Modified stuff. I really want to focus on my Pro Mod deal. I want to win a championship in the NEOPMA. This was the first year we’ve run with them, and we were number two in points before we crashed in Maryland and got bumped down. My goal coming out next year is to win that title. So I don’t know what I’m going to do with this thing just yet.”
Whether it turns a tire or not, Achenbach’s ’55 has already turned plenty of heads. Ours included.