You might have already seen the clickbait on your Facebook feed, "A $500,000 dollar 1955 Chevy built by Tom Nelson at Nelson Racing Engines (NRE)!" It's not fake news—owner Matt Swanson
NRE "...poured the hours into this thing" to get every detail perfect and match his son Jack's vision for a street sleeper that looks like something from 1955. After we heard about the re-chromes, the changes, the repaints, and hundreds of hours of metalwork, we began to see where the money went. Then we heard about how they knocked down the crowns on the fenders, doors, and quarters just to get light line perfect, then built a screaming, big-inch LS that looks old but makes 700hp. Now we are believers.
Matt Swanson is from Turlock, California, a small town south of Modesto made popular in our world by the George Lucas movie American Graffiti. Swanson was in high school during the zenith of main-street cruising and drive-ins, living in the town made for it. The car he chose for late-night shenanigans was, of course, a 1955 Chevy. The plates stated "1TRIK55" and the rearend was narrowed for what he calls "wrinkle walls." All state-of-the-art in 1983.
Like in most cities, Turlock's cruising scene was killed in the early 1990s by city councils and police. Swanson sold the '55 for a wedding ring and focused on family and the livestock-feed business that was started by his father in 1971.
Today, Swanson has four children and several thriving agriculture endeavors. His son, Jack, had seen photos of the '55 and wanted one for his 16th birthday. Dad went to Barrett-Jackson and purchased one from none other than Richard Rawlings from Gas Monkey Garage. Shortly after, he found himself in front of Tom Nelson, owner of NRE, with a modest wish list that would soon spin out of control.
The car was blown apart, the body dipped, and the rust fixed before being powdercoated semi-gloss black as a primer. "Most of the time was spent doing metalwork," Nelson says. "The entire body was heated and shrunk to 1 inch by hand to get a constant body crown around the entire car." It was looking like a nice restomod, then came the extra requests.
"I wanted a new frame, great brakes, show paint, and a great engine," Swanson says. "Nelson would take it apart, put it back together, and take it apart again. Jack wanted it to look like a real '55 Chevy—but a sleeper, with crank windows and steel wheels."
On top of a level of purity required to both perform and look like an old car, the timeline had to be 14 months so the car could be ready for Jack's 16th birthday.
But wait. Isn't Tom Nelson known for building turbo engines? Nelson is from the same era as Swanson, but instead of Turlock, he was raised in the San Fernando Valley, the West Coast cradle of street racing. Back then, Nelson was into viscous nitrous small-blocks in a lightweight Nova that was less cruise and more business. Therefore, when he was told to keep the engine bay clean and original-looking, he deleted the basket of snakes plumbing and a set of twins and went for a hidden 500 shot with eight foggers on top of a rowdy 700-NA-horsepower LS.
Stare at this for a minute. The bumper was cut, sectioned, and rolled—then straightened and chromed. The rear bumper on a '55 is tough because there are several different angles that need to be shaped at the same time. We'll leave it at that.