Lingenfelter's 21st Century Classic: 1955 Chevy Stepside
With a GM Performance Parts’ E-ROD engine and a TrailBlazer SS chassis, this 1955 Chevy is more modern than vintage and points to a greener era of performance
Don’t let the appearance of this 1955 Chevy Stepside fool you. Beneath its classic skin is a truck as modern as anything rolling off the assembly lines today, including a GM Performance Parts 5.3L V-8 E-ROD powertrain that is supported by enough emissions equipment to make the Sierra Club say, “Hey, we don’t smell a thing!”
That environmentally friendly engine is nestled in a late-model TrailBlazer SS frame, which serves as the foundation on which the vintage body is mounted. To be more specific, it’s a vintage-looking body, because its panels weren’t originally stamped out in 1955. It is one of Dynacorn’s Chevy 3100 Series reproduction bodies, which carries its own vehicle identification number.
“The only actual parts from a 1955 Chevy truck on the entire vehicle are the seat frame and the brake pedal,” says Mike Copeland, operations manager at Lingenfelter Performance Engineering (lingenfelter.com), which built the truck in partnership with GM Performance Parts (gmperformanceparts.com). “Everything about this truck is brand-new from GM, GM-licensed reproduction vendors or aftermarket performance manufacturers.”
Indeed, marrying the E-ROD powertrain with the reproduction body answers the question many enthusiasts will face as they try to build hot rods in the future, particularly in California, where “special construction” vehicles with a new vehicle identification number must use a CARB-blessed powertrain that meets modern emissions standards. That may not mean much to enthusiasts with late-model trucks, but the increasingly stringent laws in the Golden State—and others around the country—are making it tougher to modify existing engines or install high-performance replacement engines.
“The tougher regulations are a fact of life, but the E-ROD systems demonstrate that performance and the spirit of hot rodding can co-exist with them,” says Dr. Jamie Meyer, GM Performance Parts’ product integration manager. “When Lingenfelter told us their idea for building a modern ’55 truck, we thought the E-ROD powertrain would be a perfect fit.”
Currently, there are no E-ROD engines that are certified for use in special construction vehicles in California such as street rods, Cobra replicas, etc., but Dr. Meyer tells us that GM Performance Parts is working on it. To date, they’ve secured CARB certification for an LS3-based E-ROD system for use in OBD-I-and-earlier vehicles (pre-1996). The less-expensive 5.3L version used in the Lingenfelter truck also received its CARB certification as we were writing this story.
What distinguishes the E-ROD package from other crate engines in GMPP’s portfolio is the full complement of emissions equipment, including catalytic converters and even an evaporative emissions canister to be incorporated with the fuel filler. The engine itself is based on the 5.3L LS engine (replete with variable valve timing) that is found in the Chevy Silverado, among other GM fullsize trucks and SUVs. It has an iron block and aluminum heads and the metric displacement is the cubic inches equivalent of the classic Chevy 327 small-block. It is rated at 315 hp and 335 lb-ft of torque.
By the way: Regardless of whether the E-ROD 5.3L package is immediately available, GMPP just released a new deluxe crate engine version of the same core, production–based 5.3L engine, with 326 horses and 350 lb-ft, that includes a calibrated engine controller, oxygen sensors and just about everything else you need to retrofit it in a pre-LS–era truck. No emissions equipment, though.
In the Lingenfelter truck, the E-ROD 5.3L is backed by GMPP’s 4L65-E electronic automatic transmission, which is controlled by the new GMPP SuperMatic Transmission Controller. For the do-it-yourself builders, the engine, as well as the 5.3L deluxe kit, and the transmission controllers are pre-calibrated and when installed without modifications, they require no further professional tuning. That means plug ’em in and turn the key.
As we mentioned, the engine and trans were installed in a TrailBlazer SS chassis, which was a cinch, because the TrailBlazer SS was powered by an LS V-8, albeit a 400 hp 6.0L engine, but that wasn’t an E-ROD engine. Builder Copeland says the dimensions of the chassis aligned with the 1955 body surprisingly closely. For example, the wheelbase of the ’55 was 114 inches, while the TrailBlazer’s was 113 inches. For reference, a fullsize 2011 Silverado’s wheelbase is a much-longer 119 inches. “A little trimming was required here and there on the ends of the frame, but for the most part, the ’55 body was a great fit on the TrailBlazer SS chassis,” says Copeland.
The benefits of transplanting the vintage body onto a late-model chassis include modern suspension, steering and brake systems, along with its rack-and-pinion steering and four-wheel disc brakes. Copeland had the chassis components tweaked, too, with a set of Eibach lowering springs and the addition of a GM 9.5-inch rearend that was filled with an Eaton limited-slip diff and a set of 4.10 gears. It rides on painted 17-inch steel wheels from a new Silverado, which had to be modified to fit the different bolt pattern of the TrailBlazer’s axles. The performance and drivability of a modern truck matched with the style of a classic seems very much like having that proverbial cake and eating it, too. During our photo shoot, the Chevy started, idled and drove with the ease and comfort of a showroom-fresh Silverado.
And while the Lingenfelter ’55 has the immediate look of a vintage truck, it incorporates a number of subtle styling updates, thanks to the input of General Motors designer Dave Ross, who lent his services to the project. The most obvious and dramatic is a custom grille, which has a prominent cross bar that houses a large gold Bow Tie emblem from a late-model Silverado. Other touches include a hidden gas door (located on the backside of the left-rear fender) and smoothed trim. The rear bumper was also flipped upside down, so the stock cut-out for the license plate could be used as the exit point of a pair of 3-inch exhaust outlets. To the credit of Ross and the build team, they retained enough chrome bits to accent its vintage style. Many of the exterior trim parts were sourced from Classic Industries.
Given the E-ROD powertrain’s environmentally friendly intent, it’s no surprise that green was selected for the truck’s exterior color. It’s a custom hue mixed by Wanda Paint and is accented with a cream color on the bumpers, wheels and roof. Even the wooden bed planks were tinted green when stained.
The green theme continues on the inside, with the verdant seat upholstery and door panel inserts. They came from C.A.R.S. Inc., which also contributed other trim items, while an ididit tilting steering column was installed with a Grant steering wheel. The shifter for the electronically controlled four-speed automatic was adapted from the stock tall, chrome-stick shifter you’d expect to see atop a Fifties-vintage three-speed manual. There’s also a neatly integrated air conditioning/heater system from Vintage Air, an audio system that uses stock-type controls and a Painless wiring system that was incorporated to take care of everything the engine and transmission controller harnesses didn’t.
The cream color that is used as a contrasting accent on the exterior serves as the primary color on the interior’s exposed steel elements, such as the dashboard, doors and roof. And like the exterior, careful use of chrome trim—the door handles, window cranks and gauge panel—adds richness and classic style.
The excellent attention to detail seems even more impressive when you learn the construction of the truck was put on an accelerated schedule last year, so that it could debut at the 2010 SEMA Show. And while the Dynacorn body provided a great start, it required some massaging before all the panels lined up satisfactorily. Copeland even had to contend with a windshield that broke at the last minute, during the assembly stage. A dash down to Ohio from the project shop’s Brighton, Michigan, location produced a replacement with seconds to spare.
More than the sum of its parts, the Lingenfelter truck incorporates traditional custom touches that complement its production–based running gear. A look under the hood, for example, reveals only the engine, a Be-Cool radiator and the engine and transmission controllers. In classic, hot-rod–style, the firewall was smoothed and the brake booster was moved beneath the floorboards and mounted to the frame. The bumper bolts were shaved and filled, too. Copeland and his crew also took pains to ensure the Chevy had the right stance, with a mild rake that looks great. If this truck is the future of hot rodding and high-performance, we’re ready, willing, and excited to participate.