The Hot Ones – A Guide to Tri-Five Chevy Parts
It can be difficult to pinpoint one specific reason for the popularity of Tri-Five Chevrolet’s 1955, ’56, and ’57 models. The ’55 was an all-new design that seemed sportier and more youthful compared to the pedestrian models prior. Also, the introduction of the 265c.i. small-block V-8 certainly perked up the performance of the new model.
Or is it simply that so many were produced (just short of five million units) that it was easy for hot rodders to get their hands on one to build and race? It’s probably a combination of all those elements, but no matter your opinion you cannot deny the love of the Tri-five Chevy in the hot rodding world.
Today, you can pretty much build an entire ’55-’57 Chevy without using an original Chevrolet component. From complete bodies and chassis, to interior trim and moldings, there are enough parts to build and personalize a Tri-five to be exactly like you envision. We learned that companies are still designing new parts to help Tri-five fans build the car or their dreams, whether it’s restored or modified in any style. Take a look!
A New Era
Craving for modern instrumentation but still want a factory appearance for your ’55 or ’56 Chevy? The Bel Era III direct-fit gauge package from Classic Instruments is right up your alley! The assembly features an easy-to-program electronic speedometer, fuel gauge, oil pressure, temperature, and volt gauge all in a stock-appearing unit. The cluster features bright LED lighting with a built-in dimmer, turn signals, high-beam indicator, and an additional warning indicator. Best of all, the Bel Era III works with any fuel pump sending unit and accepts signals from ECM speed sensors so no other controllers are required. Available in three colors, the packages also have optional gear indicators and a matching clock available.
Real Deal Steel
You can’t beat the benefits of lower cruising rpm thanks to an overdrive transmission. In most cases, these modern transmissions such as a Tremec T56, 4L80E, or the newer six-speed automatics will require modifications to the tunnel. Real Deal Steel now offers a larger trans tunnel to help clear the extra girth of a modern OD trans. The new tunnels, formed of 16-gauge steel, are two inches larger and will work with stock or recessed firewalls. The enlarged tunnels are also available on any new Real Deal Steel body.
Restore or Restomod
Some like their Tri-fives stock, while others prefer to see things modified. Regardless of where you stand (or drive), American Autowire has you covered. For the restoration lovers, their Factory Fit product line provides harnesses that are handmade from the original GM blueprints and tooling! For gearheads looking to power EFI, electric fans, fuel pumps or power windows, their Classic Update Series fits the bill. These systems are based on a modern ATO fuse panel and will replace every bit of wiring on your Chevy, including the correct taillight assemblies and sockets, switches, steering column connections and more!
To Everything, Turn…
With more than 60 years on their clocks, there are many parts that need replacing on Tri-fives to make them safe, reliable cruisers. One of the most important systems to consider for a rebuild or update is the old Saginaw steering box. Thanks to Borgeson and their Steering Box Rebuild Kits, you can retain the factory housing but update it with new internal components to bring it back to a tight, like-new feel. Kits are available in both 16:1 and 24:1 ratios with your choice of the original long input shaft or a shortened input shaft for use with aftermarket steering columns.
Four Seasons Radiator
If you’re looking for a complete cooling system for your Tri-five, look no further than Four Seasons Radiator. Their system comes with a highly efficient cross-flow aluminum radiator, dual electric fans, shroud and relays, a transmission cooler, overflow reservoir, and even a new A/C condenser! The entire assembly is even available polished for an incredible show-ready installation. FSR, based in Gallaway, Tennessee, has been building radiators for more than 40 years and specializes in full custom builds.
Stock but Not!
Dakota Digital’s new RTX series of instrumentation focuses on retaining a stock appearance and design elements but once you hit the power switch, the LED backlights glow to life and hidden features come to life! The original-styled three gauges are in place, but a tach, oil pressure, and voltage readout are supplied through hidden LED bars! A high-definition message center can be configured to your liking, as well as the backlighting colors. The RTX series is also available for ’55 and ’56 models.
Wouldn’t it be cool to have a big, tall Tri-five that could keep pace with a modern muscle car? Fatman Fabrication offers a full frame to slide under your Chevy that’ll make it handle and ride like new. The 3×4-inch, 0.188-inch thick rails are complemented with a fully closed X-member creating a rigid foundation. Their proven IFS design is used up front while a 9-inch rearend is supported out back with a Prolink four-bar system. RideTech coil-overs are used on each corner along with a pair of heavy-duty sway bars. Engine mounts are available for any Chevy engine and a removable trans mount makes installation easy.
One of the simple pleasures of riding in a Tri-five is reaching for the vent window crank to crack open the little wing window to feel the breeze. Unfortunately, in many cases the glass is cracked or the frame is tweaked and the window is non-op. Classic Industries recently developed a new reproduction vent window assembly for all models, including wagons and Nomads. Each assembly includes a new vent frame with clear, green tint or gray custom tinted glass installed. Now you have no excuse not to get those fun little windows working.
Cold Case Radiators
When Tri-fives rolled off the assembly line, the radiator could be in two positions depending on the engine. For six-cylinder engines, the radiator was positioned in front of the core support and for the new small-block V8, the radiator was placed behind the core support. Cold Case Radiators offers both designs in an aluminum assembly that was designed to look like a factory unit (once painted, it’s tough to tell!). Each radiator is 100-percent TIG welded and pressure tested. Sixteen corrugated fins per inch provide increased surface area creating more thermal transfer resulting in cool performance.
In many Tri-five builds, there’s a good chance the firewall is going to need to be replaced due to rust, shoddy repairs, or for a cleaner appearance. Direct Sheetmetal understands the need for a new firewall and developed a great-looking Custom Curved Firewall specifically for the three-year Chevy run. The assembly is crafted from 16-gauge cold-rolled steel with a custom curved top for a unique appearance. They also built-in a 4-inch setback for extra engine and distributor clearance. Direct Sheetmetal is a one-stop shop for floorboards and transmission covers to help complete your build.
No Limit Engineering
With their history of making old trucks handle like sports cars, it’s no surprise that No Limit Engineering has developed a chassis to make a shoebox handle like it’s on rails. Their Pro 5 Chassis starts with stronger rails and an X-member designed to reduce chassis flex, producing a smooth ride with confident handling. The standard chassis includes a torque arm rear suspension and Wide Ride front system. RideTech coil-overs are incorporated along with a new Moser rearend housing and 31-spline axles. If you prefer the nose-high stance of a gasser, No Limit also offers a complete gasser chassis or front stub assembly.
Sure Fit Cooling
Vintage Air pioneered the concept of bolt-in full-function heat/cool/defrost systems for Tri-five Chevys and their latest Gen IV SureFit Systems are designed specifically for each model year. The systems are fully electronic (no more cables), which is achieved through a trick conversion kit that retains the OEM control panel. Additional features include infinite blower speed adjustment, high-volume defrost, and “just right” temperature adjustments delivered through separate heat and cool coils with a blend-air door.
Not far from the famous Rosa’s Cantina that Marty Robinson sang about years ago, you’ll find the stainless steel tank craftsmen of Rick’s Tanks. Rick’s offers a 16-gallon and 22-gallon tank for Tri-fives or can custom build a unit to your specs. The tanks are hand-made and feature a unique baffle assembly to eliminate fuel starvation. The fuel pump mount can accept one or two pumps and features hearty -8 ORB supply and return ports. Each tank is supplied with stainless mounting straps and hardware and will accept any aftermarket sending unit.
Sit On It
A comfy seat makes all the difference on road trips and at cruise nights. Glide Engineering offers a couple different seats for Tri-fives, including a direct-fit replacement split bench as well as a pair of correctly sized buckets. Both seats will bolt to the factory outer seat holes to ease installation and are handmade with top quality metal for a lifetime of durability. The springs are designed to never sag for guaranteed comfort and sharp looks. Glide also offers seat foam for all of their seats and prides themselves on their USA-built products and customer service.
Long Roof Seals
Wagons have proven themselves as big, fun family cruisers. Tri-five wagons have plenty of glass to give everyone in the car a scenic view, but those big windows leave the opportunity for leaks and road noise. Steele Rubber now offers rear side window weatherstrips specifically made to seal the long glass of a 150, 210 or two-door wagon. The seals are molded from EPDM rubber for durability and were designed from the factory originals with properly molded corners for a precise fit. Each set includes the left and right seals for the rear side windows.
Bright Lights, Big Chevy
Distracted drivers are all around, so why not update your taillamps and front marker lights to a brighter LED set from Digi-Tails. Not only does the LED technology from Digi-Tails produce a much brighter light, but they also illuminate in a fully sequential manner to really get the attention of anyone driving behind your Chevy. (They can also be set to simply turn on/off.) Each kit is designed for the specific application and is supplied with everything you need to upgrade from standard bulbs to bright LED technology. The lights meet or exceed DOT and SAE requirements.
Classic Performance Products
Take advantage of modern engineering and stopping performance with a set of drop spindles designed with a fifth-gen Corvette style sealed bearing assembly. The spindles are designed to bolt on to your Tri-five and accept the factory steering arms and ball joints for ease of installation, plus the sealed bearing hub assembly will eliminate caliper piston push-back to produce a much more consistent pedal feel and braking performance. The new spindles are available from CPP at just $269 for a pair or as a complete brake kit that includes slotted or drilled rotors, calipers finished in a red or black powder coat, and mounting hardware.
Woody’s Hot Rodz
Full Body Drop Top
The Tri-five experts at Woody’s Hot Rodz can help you build a complete car from scratch! They offer a number of complete chassis and all-new bodies for ’55 or ’57 models. The latest addition to the lineup of bodies is a ’56 convertible! The bodies are officially licensed by Chevrolet Performance and are hand assembled in the USA with great attention to every detail including more high-strength spot welds. Each assembly is crafted out of corrosion-resistant high-strength steel with a white epoxy coating throughout and is ready for final bodywork and paint.
Whether you’re making the move to electronic fuel injection or sticking with a carb, eventually your Tri-five is going to need a new gas tank. Tanks Inc. offers a full line of bolt-in tanks for Tri-fives that can accept electric fuel pumps to support EFI. A GPA-series pump fits into the tank and Tanks offers a number of pumps ranging from 109 to 450 LPH. For your fuel gauge, the tanks accept a five-hole sending unit and different resistance values are available for your gauge choice. A nice feature is the recessed mount where the sending unit and pump module fit in place to ease installation connections.
When you really want to stand apart and experience a smooth ride with amazing handling, look to HEIDTS for a complete, bolt-in independent rear suspension setup. The Pro-G IRS is based on a cast 9-inch center section surrounded with tubular control arms. Wilwood rotors and calipers are also mounted with a set of 31-spline axle shafts. The Pro-G IRS is a true bolt-in system for ’55-’57 Chevys, so it can even be installed in cars that are already complete and on the road.
There’s a number of advantages to going with a new steering column coupled with a shifter from ididit. First, there’s the comfort of eight tilt positions and the column shifter provides more space across the front seat. Ididit offers its columns for three- or four-speed automatics and the columns are designed to work with the original dash indicator (new pattern indicators are sold separately). Columns feature an extended lower shaft to lessen the angle going to front-steer rack setups. Columns are available in black powder coat, chrome, and paintable steel finishes.
Grip the Street
Looking for bang for your buck? RideTech’s StreetGRIP coil springs are designed to lower the front end for a better stance, plus they’ll improve the handling and ride quality of your Tri-five! The dual-rate springs deliver a comfortable ride while cruising down the highway, then the higher rate comes in to play when cornering loads increase. RideTech worked tirelessly to develop ideal spring rates for small block/LS applications as well as heavier big block cars. For best results, RideTech offers matching monotube shock absorbers with adjustable rebound as well as matching rear leaf springs. They also offer a complete StreetGRIP suspension package for Tri-fives.
Art Morrison Enterprises
Framed for Performance
Hot rodders expect their old Chevys to handle horsepower they were never intended to have, corner with wide, sticky tires, and to stop like a new car. If you have these kinds of expectations for your Tri-five, you better start with a GT Sport Chassis from Art Morrison Enterprises and fit with their Multilink IRS system. Not to be confused with early-style Jaguar, Corvette, or other aftermarket double-A-arm designs, AME’s Multilink IRS is more akin to what’s found on supercars from Ferrari, Lamborghini, and BMW, which improves tracking under varying road conditions, offers more adjustability, and a provides a significant reduction in unsprung weight.
When you’re looking for a new radiator, you may save time, money and any extra hassles by going to one source for all your cooling needs. AutoRad offers a Tri-five system that comes with their efficient aluminum radiator, a new core support, two 14-inch fans, an overflow bottle, an A/C condenser, and in this example, an air-to-air intercooler with external trans cooler. (If there’s anything else you need, we can’t think of it!) Each hand-crafted AutoRad unit is furnace brazed, making the entire core become one. This process provides a much more reliable and consistent seal than a standard soldered joint.
Seat belts weren’t even offered as factory options in Tri-fives, though they were sold as a dealer accessory. Today, we wouldn’t dream of taking a drive to the grocery store without a seat belt! SeatBeltsPlus offers a three-point conversion belt kit specifically designed for Tri-five Chevys (bench or bucket seats). The belts feature a vintage-style chrome lift latch and come in a variety of colors to match any factory interior color option. The belts are made, tested, and certified in the USA to meet all Federal safety guidelines.
Precision Replacement Parts
If you want to keep the noise and water out of your Chevy, consider starting with a new set of door weatherstrips. Precision Replacement Parts offers these ozone-resistant EPDM rubber seals for hardtop and convertible Tri-fives. Their door seals are easy to install thanks to pre-applied clips for a secure fit and nice finish. (Shown are the ’55-’57 hardtop, 210 and convertible weatherstrips.) Precision also designs and manufactures a long list of other Tri-five Chevy seals, from door bumpers to quarter panel drain plugs.
Get in SPEC
You could wrestle with a weak, twisted, 60-year old frame and update it for modern driving, or you could replace it with a stronger, lighter, performance-based SPEC Tri-five chassis from Roadster Shop. The SPEC series is Roadster Shop’s most affordable chassis but still benefits from the latest in manufacturing technology and features like a performance-based IFS, rack-and-pinion steering, and four-bar rear suspension. CNC-located body mounts make for easy installation, with no floor modifications required for most applications.
Racks and Columns
Steering technology has come a long way since Tri-fives were new. One company that’s been leading the way with steering upgrades is Flaming River. Flaming River offers tilt steering column updates for each model and also offers complete Rack and Pinion Cradle Kits to give your old Chevy a crisp, smooth steering feel. These direct-fit Cradle Kits are available as manual or power steering and are supplied with all mounting hardware, a new pump and bracket, and universal joints so you can finish the conversion in your garage.
Shafer’s Classic Reproductions
Shafer’s Classic Reproduction can help you install an all new exhaust system designed specifically for your Tri-five. They offer kits for engines with classic rams-horn manifolds or headers and are available for small- or big-block engines. Each kit is designed to accommodate aftermarket shock bar kits. Full systems are available in aluminized steel or 304-stainless material and you can choose to have the pipes exit at the rear bumper or turn out to the corner. Each kit is supplied with hangers and clamps for a complete installation.
There are so many distinctive elements about each year of the Tri-five Chevy series, with one major point being the taillights. For ’56, the light assembly is like a piece of art with the large chrome housing, contrasting black lines, and stellar lamp placement. Danchuk offers brand new assemblies cast from virgin zinc and completely hand massaged to make sure the casting is smooth and contoured before being plated in chrome. The assemblies are then finished with correctly pressed-in light sockets, bulbs, gaskets, studs, screws, seals, and for the finishing touch, a set of their Made-in-the-USA lenses.
Street or Track Time
Do you have a vision for your Tri-five to be sitting low with an aggressive stance where it looks fast sitting still? Look up the Extreme Chassis from Speedtech Performance for a complete chassis that will deliver the performance and prowess that you want. Speedtech uses their proprietary geometry in order to get the best results out of their chassis and suspension components. The chassis is CAD designed, laser cut, formed on CNCs and welded together in their St. George, Utah, facility. Engine mount options are available for LS, LT and BBC and the chassis will accept 315 front and 345 rear tires.
Scott’s Hot Rods
Give it a Clip
Looking for overall handling upgrades but not wanting to commit to an entire chassis? Scott’s Hotrods ‘n Customs offers a complete front clip that replaces the stock frame from the firewall forward. The new rails even come with the factory bumper and core support mounting holes so your stock sheet metal will bolt back in place. Scott’s front clip is based around fully adjustable upper A-arms and is available with either coil-overs or air bags. Rack-and-pinion steering is provided and each clip is assembled to meet your plans for stance, width, power and driving style.
Lower and Smoother
Looking for a bolt-on system to give your Tri-five a better stance combined with an improved ride? Belltech offers a lowering kit for 150, 210 and Bel Air models that includes coil and leaf springs to bring your car to an ideal height. A set of their Street Performance Shocks are also included, along with a front and rear sway bar. Once bolted on, your Chevy will feel more responsive, smoother, and be much safer to drive.
Auto Custom Carpets
It used to be that station wagons were used as parts cars, beaters, or storage containers. These days it’s great to see them being built into fun rods for the whole family to enjoy. Auto Custom Carpets, Inc. feels the same way and offers carpet kits for all the Tri-five wagons. ACC has provided the enthusiasts with the best quality carpets, floormats, trunk mats and sound deadeners for more than four decades. When it’s time to update the carpet in your ’55, ’56 or ’57 Chevy, give them a call.