A Camaro, a Mustang, or a Nova can be made into a great racecar, but not everybody wants to build these rather commonplace models. Arizona native, Jim Rivera, idolized a different automobile: the iconic 1955 Chevrolet, and that’s what he wanted for a racecar. Joe’s shoebox is a twin-turbo animal with a big-block Chevy that’s still driven on the street, just as the automotive god’s intended.
Jim really found the high-performance life on accident when he was still young. With his innate mechanical aptitude, Jim started working on other people’s cars and found it was something he was really good at. Working on cars became his means of paying the bills and it later helped him achieve his ultimate goal of buying a 1955 Chevy that he could build for himself.
Jim never sought out drag racing as a hobby, but was sucked into the sport thanks to some outside persuasion from his peers.
“It’s all my friends’ fault that I got into drag racing. We all had cars that we thought were badass and that led to the competitive side of me coming out. One thing led to another and we started going to the track to see who was the fastest. After I started drag racing that was it — I was hooked and haven’t looked back. The feeling you get from racing and doing well is what keeps me coming back. It’s a validation of my hard work, time spent, and money invested in what I’ve built that makes it fun,” Jim states.
The drag racing bug had bitten Jim very hard, so he continued spinning wrenches to fund his hobby. Jim’s heart was still set on owning a 1955 Chevy and there was nothing that could change his mind. His obsession with the classic Chevy is fairly simple and Jim has no problem explaining it.
“The ’55 is the ultimate cool car in my eyes. The shape is just perfect…nothing beats a ’55 Chevy on the ground when it comes to looks. Now, they’re as aerodynamic as a brick, and they’re heavy, but that doesn’t bother me at all. There’s something about the car that just attracts me to it and you’ll never change my mind that there’s a better-looking car out there. You can keep all of those high-end exotic cars…I’d rather have this classic piece of iron any day of the week,” Jim says.
Jim had his eye on a particular ’55 for many years. The car in question had been sitting behind a used car lot in his city for decades untouched. Jim would proposition the owner of the car lot on a regular basis about buying it, but the answer was always “no”…until one day it wasn’t.
“In 1995 the owner of the car finally said yes when I asked him about it. I was so happy when it finally happened. The car sat in the same spot on that lot from 1961 until the day I purchased it. It had sunk into the ground so much that there was dirt in the trunk and back seat. The car was all there except for the carburetor, but it was pretty beat up. It took four hours to try and winch it out with a tow truck. The tow truck driver wanted to give up because he didn’t want to burn up his winch. Finally, the car started to move and we got it out,” Jim says.
For just $500 Joe had finally purchased his dream car; it was in rough shape, but that didn’t dampen his enthusiasm one bit. He immediately got to work on the Chevy fixing every issue he could and adding high-performance parts when he could afford them. The shoebox’s first incarnation was a small block-powered machine with a big supercharger and stock suspension. Jim had the time of his life building the car but found out quickly that trying to go fast on small tires with that suspension was going to be an issue.
So, he went back to working on the car, saving up for parts and perfecting his machine as much as the funds became available. Eventually, Jim back-halved the car so he could put big tires under it to go with a potent small-block combination that fed on plenty of nitrous. Jim finally figured the car out and got it car running into the 8.40’s in the 1/4-mile at 160 mph, ripping off impressive wheelstands all the while. The car was still street-driven in this form and had a full interior.
Jim wanted to go faster with his Chevy and there was only one way to do that: move to a big-block engine. Joe purchased a 555 cubic-inch big-block Chevy from a friend that was using it in a Pro Mod. The engine is based around a World Products Merlin block with Dart Big Chief heads. Inside is a Cola crankshaft, GRP connecting rods, and Ross pistons. The valvetrain features parts from COMP Cams and T&D Machine Products. Quillin Motorsports converted the Brodix Big Duke intake for EFI and added a set of Precision injectors. Fueling is handled by an Aeromotive fuel pump and a Weldon cable drive system.
Boost is funneled into the engine thanks to a pair of Precision Gen1 91mm billet wheel turbos. The boosted air is chilled by a cold side that Jim built himself. Tony Williams built the headers and hot-side parts that host the Boost Solutions blow-off valves, along with the 60mm Turbosmart wastegates. Dusty Bradford assisted Jimwith selecting the right PTC torque converter to work with this combination and the Neil’s Racing Transmissions Powerglide. So far this combination has netted Jim a 5.00 1/8-mile e.t. on just 19-pounds of boost using E85 fuel.
Jim’s Chevy still rides on the basic stock front suspension, with the addition of shocks from Menscer Motorsports. In the rear, you’ll find a Chris Alston’s Chassisworks 4-link system with a Dana 60 rear end. Power is transferred to the Mickey Thompson tires via a Strange Engineering spool and 40-spline axles. Jim added a set of double-adjustable VariShocks to the Chevy to round out the rear suspension. Strange Engineering brakes live at each corner of the car to help Joe bring it to a stop, whether on the track or on his local streets.
When you look at Jim’s ’55, it’s easy to forget that it’s still a street car; it weighs in at 3,649-pounds with Joe in the seat and is capable of running deep into the 4-second zone at the track. But it is also right at home going to a local car show without any issues. Having that ability to do all things well was something that Jim wanted to maintain, even after making the switch to the twin-turbo big-block combination.
“It’s still a street car; going full-on racecar wasn’t the best choice for a 1955 Chevy. I’ve kept it a street car because when I drive it on the street I love seeing the looks on people’s faces. It makes me feel awesome to drive it to work, to car shows, to dinner…it’s just that feeling you get when you’ve got something special. People love seeing the car and tell me stories about their own ’55, and I enjoy that…it’s cool to bring great memories back for people,” Jim says.
Jim has spent decades working on his ’55 and is always looking for ways to improve it. When he moved to the big-block, he finally decided to pull the stereo out of the dash, along with all of the speakers to help the car’s performance. The journey has been a great one for Joe and he’s thankful for everyone who’s been a part of it.
“Serving as the president of Arizona’s Fastest Street Cars has allowed me to meet so many people and it’s all because of this car. The racing family is one of the best things about this sport and I’ve got an extensive one thanks to racing with the Super Chevy Show and the PSCA over the years. I’ve also had great people like Dusty Bradford and Travis Quillin that I’ve met because of this car and they’ve played a big role in making it what it is. At the end of the day, it’s all of these connections that make the time, money, and effort worth it for me,” Jim explains.
Jim Rivera really has made the most out of the opportunity he was given to purchase his dream car. All his years of working on other people’s cars paid off and allowed him to create a machine that is exactly what he wanted. It really shouldn’t be a surprise that he still drives his ’55 Chevy on the streets as much as he does — it gives him more time to enjoy the car above and beyond those 5-second passes it makes on the track.