Henry Contreras' 1955 Chevrolet

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An early version of Henry's Chevrolet was featured on the cover of Hot Rod Magazine January 1957 along with Jim Ashley's 1955 Chevrolet.
Henry posing with the Chevy, proudly showing off his Rogues car club jacket. Photo courtesy of Henry Contreras.
An early photo of Henry's Chevrolet developed in July of 1957. Photo courtesy of Dan Contreras.
Photo courtesy of Dan Contreras.
Henry's Chevrolet as it appeared when it was featured in Trend Book 143 Restyle Your Car in 1957.
The Chevrolet as it appeared when it was featured in Custom Cars May 1959. Restyled by Branson's Custom Shop, this version featured a bumperless front end design.
When Henry's Chevrolet was featured in Custom Cars May 1959 it sported a Brilliant Red paint job. Photo courtesy of Henry Contreras.
Photo courtesy of Henry Contreras.
A photo of Henry's Chevrolet developed in January of 1962. Painted Blue metallic, this version sported a tube grille and what seems to be gold painted wheels. The lake pipes are also gone by now. Photo courtesy of Dan Contreras.
Photo courtesy of Dan Contreras.
A Blue version of the Chevrolet dressed up with chromed wheels. Photo courtesy of Henry Contreras.
Photo courtesy of Dan Contreras.
Photo courtesy of Dan Contreras.
Photo courtesy of Henry Contreras.
Photo courtesy of Henry Contreras.
The Blue version of the car still ran the rear bumper. Photo courtesy of Dan Contreras.
Photo courtesy of Henry Contreras.
Photo courtesy of Henry Contreras.
Photo courtesy of Henry Contreras.
Photo courtesy of Dan Contreras.
Photo courtesy of Henry Contreras.
Photo courtesy of Dan Contreras.
Photo courtesy of Dan Contreras.
A Red version of the car. This version ra a DeSoto grille bar. Photo courtesy of Henry Contreras.
Photo courtesy of Dan Contreras.
A photo of the Chevrolet dated July 1967. This version featured white roof. Photo courtesy of Dan Contreras.
Photo courtesy of Dan Contreras.
Photo courtesy of Dan Contreras.
Photo courtesy of Dan Contreras.
Photo courtesy of Dan Contreras.
Photo courtesy of Dan Contreras.
Photo courtesy of Dan Contreras.
Photo courtesy of Henry Contreras.
Photo courtesy of Dan Contreras.
Photo courtesy of Dan Contreras.
Photo courtesy of Henry Contreras.
Photo courtesy of Henry Contreras.
Photo courtesy of Dan Contreras.
Photo courtesy of Henry Contreras.
Photo courtesy of Henry Contreras.
Photo courtesy of Henry Contreras.
Photo courtesy of Henry Contreras.
Photo courtesy of Henry Contreras.
Photo courtesy of Henry Contreras.
Photo courtesy of Henry Contreras.
Photo courtesy of Henry Contreras.
Photo courtesy of Henry Contreras.
Photo courtesy of Henry Contreras.
Photo courtesy of Henry Contreras.
A later version of the car running wire wheels. Photo courtesy of Dan Contreras.
Photo courtesy of Dan Contreras.
Photo courtesy of Henry Contreras.
A Purple version of the car. Photo courtesy of Henry Contreras.
Photo courtesy of Dan Contreras.
A photo of the Purple version dated May 1972. Photo courtesy of Henry Contreras.
Henry in 2012, wearing his old Rogues of Long Beach jacket. Photo courtesy of Henry Contreras.
The Chevrolet as it sat in March of 2013, while Ron Gomez owned it. Photo courtesy of Henry Contreras.
Photo courtesy of Henry Contreras.
Photo courtesy of Henry Contreras.
Photo courtesy of Henry Contreras.
Photo courtesy of Henry Contreras.
Photo courtesy of Freeman Automotive Design.
A photo of the Chevrolet taken at Freeman Automotive Design in September of 2016. Photo courtesy of Freeman Automotive Design.
The Chevrolet as it sat in November of 2016. Photo courtesy of Anthony Tzortzoudakis.

1955 Chevrolet Bel Air restyled by Branson's Custom Shop for Rogues of Long Beach member Henry Contreras of Norwalk, California.


Hot Rod Magazine Cover Car

An early version of Henry's Chevrolet, featuring a two-tone paint job, was featured on the cover of Hot Rod Magazine January 1957. This version sported a custom grille made from a 1954 Pontiac center grille bar that had been fit with two roadster headlights turned around to form bullets. Cavity in the grille was constructed from round tubing. The hood was nosed, peaked and louvered, and the doorhandles were shaved. This version of the car was also featured in Trend Book 143 Restyle Your Car.[1]


"Magic Doors"

Henry had pushbuttons installed under the dash to open the doors from the inside. On the outside, on the chrome strip that starts on the door and continues along the quarter, Henry installed a thin piece of rubber on the door part of the chrome strip. The rubber was trimmed to the size of the strip. On the two fastener studs that held it to the body, they taped a part of the stud, so that when they bolted the chrome strip to the door it was insulated. Then they double nut one stud and ran a 12 volt wire from the fuse box to the door chrome strip. This made the chrome strip hot, but as it was insulated nothing would happen. They then installed the door solenoids with little cables to the door latch inside the door. They wired the solenoids so when you shorted them, they would be activated. In order to activate the solenoids, you had to short out the chrome strip on the door that was hot, to the strip on the rear quarter panel that was grounded. What Henry then would do to open the door was to take a key or coin and short the door strip in the gap between the door and quarter panel. That would suck in the solenoid plunger, pull the cable and open the door latch. Henry remembers that nobody would figure out how he opened the doors. Everyone looked for push buttons under the rocker panels, pushing the chrome strip and so on. In order to fool people off, Henry would hide a coin in his hand, and act like he was pushing on something to throw them off. The guys would them get on their hands and knees to feel under the car because they thought he was doing it with his foot.[2] The car was lowered by C'ing the frame, cutting coils and removing leafs.[3]


Restyled by Branson's Custom Shop

Henry's good friend Joe Navarro worked at Branson's Custom Shop, and it was Joe that painted the car. The paint job on Henry's Chevrolet was Joe's first Candy Paint Job.[2] The car went through several version, and it didn't take long before Henry removed the vertical side trim pieces and installed a pair of 1956 Packard taillight lenses. The rear fenders were extended 6 inches during the operation. Round rod was used to french-in and smooth the taillight openings. Up front, the parking lights were shaved, and the front bumper was replaced with a gravel pan that featured two bumperettes. Side pipes that ran along the rocker panels were also installed along with a brand new interior. The upholstery featured rolled and pleated setas, doors panels, kick panels and floor. This version was lacquered a brilliant red, and can be seen in Custom Cars May 1959.[3]


Rogues of Long Beach

Henry's club, the Rogues of Long Beach was a pretty good sized club, and in order to become a member, you had to have a nice ride. Primered cars were not accepted, unless it was in a customizing stage. If that was the case, you had a certain time to finish the car. Henry and his friends used to cruise Bellflower Blvd in Bellflower, and they hang out at the Clock drive in restaurant.[2]


Changes

Later on, the car received a Blue paint job. The blue version didn't have lake pipes, and it was upgraded with a more modern tube grille and chromed wheels. After that the car received a Red paint job and a DeSoto grille. This version ran a rolled pan in the rear instead of a bumper. The rolled pan featured an inset license plate and integrated chromed strips. The roof was later painted white. Another incarnation of this version was Purple with a white roof.


Sold to Ron Gomez

Henry sold the Chevrolet to Ron Gomez of Los Angeles, California. Ron still owned the car in 2013. By then the car had been sitting for many years, and it needed a lot of work. Ron's intention was to restore the car after he had completed a Packard he was building.[2]


Freeman Automotive Design

In 2016 Ron Gomez sold the Chevrolet to Sam Freeman and Richard Mann of Freeman Automotive Design in Santa Barbara, California. November the same year Sam told Kustomrama that he and Richard are working on the car, restoring it back to one of the later versions; "We don't want to undo all the custom body work, so it will be one of the later versions of the car, but it will look different from anything that has been done to it so far. We will talk to Henry Contreras to see what he likes about the car, and what he would like to see done with it. We want to make it like the car would be if he still owned it and kept working on it." During the restoration, Sam and Richard upgraded the chassis, installing sway bars front and back, along with a triangulated four link in the back in order to make the old custom drive and handle better.[4]


Magazine Features and Appearances

Hot Rod Magazine January 1957
Trend Book 143 Restyle Your Car
Custom Cars May 1959


Further Reading

Click here to visit Freeman Automotive Design's website

References



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