On his 16th birthday, in 1967, Rod Kline Sr. purchased a 1955 Chevy two door Sedan with a little help from his parents. Fifty-four years later, he and his son, Rod Jr., are both enjoying the same ‘55, which they’ve hot rodded to perfection, despite some serious obstacles.
Rod Jr. (Rod from here on out) told me “the story changes a little bit as we get older” but it’s a cool story in any iteration. Rod Sr. (who Rod Jr. calls Pops) wanted to buy the ’55 Chevy for his birthday. Pops’ parents agreed to pay half. “It was either $150 each or $300 each,” Rod told me. But either way Pops was able to buy the Chevy, which he picked up on his birthday.
(That’s Pops getting the car on his birthday, and heading off to his Senior breakfast at high school in the pictures below.)
Pops, frequently accompanied by his best friend Jim, enjoyed the car immensely, and that included a lot of hot rodding. The Chevy got a gasser-style front end, a high rise manifold, and a set of Cragar mags. It was the vehicle he used for his job during high school, and I have no doubt it was the coolest pizza delivery vehicle in all of Southern California.
Lots of memories were made with the ‘55 in those days. There was the time Pops and Jim beat the firewall with a sledge hammer to fit a 454 big block in it. The time they drove through a barbed-wire fence into a field during an acceleration contest with another car. And there was more than one race on famed Fullerton Road.
After he got married, Pops sold some of his vehicles, including a 1968 Rally Sport Camaro and flat bottom boat, so he could buy a house. But he kept the ‘55 throughout the years, sometimes towing it from house to house as he moved. Rod says Pops always had the goal of rebuilding the ’55 with his children.
When Rod was born his introduction to hot rodding started early. “We’d go to car shows all the time,” Rod told me, “including the Pomona swap meet. I’d help him work on my mom’s car or his truck. His friends with hot rods who would come and hang out. The neighbor kids used to come over too.” (Rod told me that a lot of kids he grew up with are still in the area. When they see the Chevy now they tell him how awesome it turned out.)
It was Rod’s freshman year in high school when Pops said they should rebuild the ‘55 for Rod to drive, “We’ve got four years,” Pops told Rod, “let’s rebuild this so you can drive it around your senior year like I did.”
They started a tradition back then: Car Night. Rod and Pops would regularly schedule a day or two to work on the ‘55 after school and work. And they still do. Car Night agendas range from extensive mechanical projects to just planning their next steps.
Rod still looks forward to Car Night just as much as he did back in high school, when he’d wait for Pops to come home. “I’d have my dirty clothes on ready to work,” he told me. “I’d be sitting there, staring at the Chevy. I’d put a milk crate in it and pretend like I was driving around town.”
To pay for the work they were going to do on the Chevy, Rod and Pops would do side jobs. They’d complete handyman jobs around town to build up the car fund.
Their original plan was to restore it to stock condition. But one day one of Pops’ buddies came over with a blown ‘38 Ford roadster. The friend invited Rod to go for a ride around the block.
“We were hot rodding around the neighborhood,” Rod recalled, “and I came back and I said ‘Pops, we’re not going to go stock. We need to put some power in this thing!’”
Pops worked in the construction industry so he got some scaffolding and 4x4s and brought them home. He and Rod jacked up the ‘55 in their garage and took it completely apart. When they pulled the frame out, the scaffolding collapsed and the body was bent slightly, especially at the rear wheel wells.
They were able to build a complete rolling chassis pretty quickly, complete with a 350 small block and a 12 bolt rear end. Rod was taking an auto body class in high school and they let him bring in some parts from the car. In addition to repairs, Rod did some extensive shaving on the body panels, including the Chevy scripts and the antenna hole.
That’s when they hit the first, and by far the most significant, obstacle. Pops was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer. He had to undergo extensive treatment, and was bedridden for a year. The money in the car fund had to be used to help with family expenses. Fortunately, the treatments were successful, and Pops has been cancer-free for over 15 years now. “He’s healthy,” Rod told me, “and has a lot of energy.”
Once Pops got back on his feet, he and Rod started to build up the fund again. That’s when Rod’s sister Ashleigh announced she was getting married. The money in the car fund had to be repurposed again – this time for a much happier reason – Ashleigh’s wedding.
It was now 2015 and the ’55 Chevy had been sitting for several years. Undeterred, Rod and Pops went to work finishing the build.
The 350 had been running when they first started working on the car back in Rod’s high school days. Since it had been sitting for so many years, they decided to put it on a dyno to evaluate its condition. The condition turned out to be not so good – the small block blew a rod on the dyno.
Rod tried talking Pops into replacing it with an LS, but Pops declined. Rod told me that Pops said “I don’t know a lot about them. I know a lot about small blocks and carbureted engines. I want to be able to work on this with you. Let’s go get a stroker.”
Hardcore Racing Engines in Upland, California built the 383 cubic inch small block, which is based on a 350 bored 0.060 over. The 383 has a 750 cfm Holley carb built by Performance Carb in Ontario mounted on an Edelbrock manifold. Fuel is supplied by a 25 gallon gas tank from Classic Performance Products.
An ACES electronic ignition system, including distributor, coil pack, and plug wires, provides the spark. Exhaust is handled by a set of custom headers from Williams Classic Chassis that feed 3” pipes with an X pipe and Black Widow Venom 250 mufflers. A Matson radiator and electric fans keep everything cool.
When they put the new engine on the dyno, the results were much better. The small block put out 450 horsepower and 468 ft-lbs of torque. All the connecting rods stayed in place.
The ’55 has a 700R4 Stage 2 overdrive automatic transmission, with a 2200 stall speed converter, that drives a Currie Enterprise Ford 9″ rear with 3.55 gears. With the overdrive in the transmission, the small block is turning just 2100 rpm at 70 mph.
The upper control arms are just about the only stock suspension part left on the car. Rod’s got QA1 coil overs and Heidts 2” drop spindles up front. Leaf springs still hold up the rear end, and Rod is planning to swap out the current air shocks for adjustable shocks in the near future.
There are Wilwood disc brakes all around. The suspension gives the car a great stance, highlighted by a set of U.S. Mags Billet wheels – 17″ in front and 18″ on the back. Power steering and power brakes make cruising easy.
With the mechanics pretty much done, the Klines turned their attention to the body. The final body work was probably the biggest hassle they had to deal with throughout the build.
The Chevy had been at a body shop for a long time just before Ashleigh’s wedding but the body shop was only able to do minor body work, undercoating and painting the firewall, but they did not progress much after that. Rod found out the shop was going under and he rescued the ’55 Chevy just in time before the shop was locked up.
Then they trailered the car to Rod’s Uncle in Arizona where he played a big part in getting the 55 Chevy’s doors, trunk, fenders and hood aligned as well as preparing all the body work for paint. He was even able to paint the dash, the inner fenders and door jambs.
Anxious to get the car painted, Rod took it to a guy who was supposed to paint it in a month or two. It took a lot longer. “We took it to him in late 2018,” Rod said, “and got it back early 2020.” It took a long time and there were lots of hassles, but the end result is well worth it.
The body is all steel. Pops kept all the original front end sheet metal back when he installed that fiberglass gasser front end. Rod’s plan was to paint the car all gray, but he wanted Pops to have some input as well. Pops wanted two-tone, and he wanted it to include some Chevy Hugger Orange because he had owned a ‘69 El Camino in that color.
One complication with the two-tone paint scheme was the chrome side trim that separates the two colors on 210 model Sedans. When the car fell off the scaffolding back in their garage, the rear quarter panels were bent and had to be replaced. Rod replaced them with panels that did not have holes for the 210 model side molding chrome, because Rod was going to shave the entire car.
The solution? Rod found a local tattoo artist who airbrushed the chrome molding on the Chevy’s rear fenders. Combined with House of Color Galaxy Grey the Chevy looks stunning. “I wanted something different,” Rod said, “something that would stand out.” He’s certainly accomplished that.
Rod had proposed to his wife Cori in September of 2019. It was now January, 2020, and the Kline’s primary goal was to have the car ready in time for Rod’s wedding in August. Pops got married in a friend’s ‘55 Chevy – his wasn’t running at that time – and he wanted Rod to have his ‘55.
The car’s mechanical, body, and paint work was complete. It just needed some wiring, interior work, and final tuning. They called JV Enterprises in Azusa. In January, 2020, they were completely booked up. But as the pandemic hit, several customers cancelled their work. The shop said they had some room. Pops made it clear: “I need this thing at the front of the line. I need it by August. It’s got to be there.”
On August 7, the shop called. “Come get it. It’s done.”
The ‘55 was built to be driven, and the interior JV Enterprise installed reflects that. The front seats are power bucket seats from a Lexus. They’ve been wrapped in gray leather with orange stitching to match the paint. The 700R4 is controlled by a Idid-It Steering column shifter mounted behind an American Retro 15″ wheel on the tilt steering column Rod installed. The Chevy has new black carpet in the interior and trunk.
Dakota Digital gauges keep track of what’s going on under the hood. A Vintage Air system keeps the Klines cool in the Southern Cal summers. A custom center console and original-style arm rests on the doors provide additional comfort. Rod plans to upgrade the current Kenwood sound system sometime soon.
Pops’s birthday is July 28, and they just missed getting the ‘55 back on what would have been the 53rd anniversary of when he originally got it. But it was delivered in time for Rod’s 35th birthday, and most importantly, in time for his wedding. They were even able to re-register it with the same ‘Rods 55’ license plates that Pops had in 1983.
Since the ’55 has been a part of the Kline family since 1967, it was not surprising when Rod told me it is still a family favorite. Rod and his wife love to take it out cruising and to car shows. They installed the necessary seat belts for a child car seat and Pops frequently takes Rod’s nephew Mason to pre-school in it. There’s even a video of Mason saying “Papa do a burnout!”
With Mason enjoying the Chevy so much, Rod’s sister Ashleigh has made a complete 180 about how she feels about the car. “My sister used to talk crap about it all the time,” Rod told me. “She’d say ‘I’m not driving that piece of junk!’ I made her sign a piece of paper saying ‘I will never ride or be seen in this piece of junk.’ Now she appreciates it. Her son is getting to enjoy it.”
And Rod and Cori will soon be adding another family member to the ‘55’s fan club, as they just found out she’s pregnant. “Now that my wife and I are having one,” Rod said, “it will be cool to do that with my own kid.”
So much of what makes the ’55 special are the memories Pops has with it. “It’s crazy that he kept it all these years,” Rod said. “He’s not a hoarder. But he just decided ‘I’m keeping this. It was my first car.’”
Rod loves the stories Pops recounts while they’re working on the Chevy. He’ll see a dent or scratch and can remember the story of how it got there. ”It’s pretty cool to have him reminisce on what memories he has and share those,” Rod said.
Until the ‘55 was completed, Rod drove a series of pretty stock four and six cylinder cars. That was on purpose. “I wanted this car to be my first hot rod,” he said. “I didn’t drive any other hot rod or classic car. I’m almost thankful I got it so many years later. I probably would have crashed it or done something stupid with it when I was younger.”
More than anything, the Klines love to drive the’55 . Rod told me Pops says “This is what it’s for. You need to enjoy it. I want you to enjoy it just like I did.”
And Rod is working to spread his love for Tri Five Chevys outside his family as well. “I’d like to pass on the Tri Five cars to the younger generation,” he said.
He runs Tri Five accounts on Instagram, YouTube (Tri-Five Era) and Facebook. The ‘55 was featured in the Danchuk 2021 calendar and they may use it in some future ads. Rod and the ‘55 were also the subject of the very first Currie Garage video on YouTube. (Click here to see the video.)
The outreach for Tri Fives and hot rodding is great, but in the end, it all comes down to family for the Klines. “I’ve been pretty fortunate,” Rod said. “We’ve got a nice camaraderie with the family.”
Seems like lots of memories are still being made with the ‘55.