The Gold Digger – This ’55 Chevy Gasser Will Race Again

By D. Brian Smith

Photography: Harry Meister & Ryan Brown

The Gold Digger's journey began back in 2001 when a Mr. Ryan Brown had just crashed his 1967 Chevy Malibu. A young man, he was contemplating the meaning of life and wondering how he might rebuild his dream car on a budget while also going to college. His insurance broker, Leigh Ring, phoned and asked if Ryan wanted to buy his son's 1955 Chevy. It was too much of a restoration for them, Mr. Ring explained, so Ryan drove over to the Ring's house to see if he could broker a deal for the 1955 Chevy 210.

Finding a Good Home for the '55 Chevy

The old car was weathered and cluttered with various items. Curious about the fate of the car if he didn't make the purchase, Ryan inquired with Leigh. Learning that it would be sold to another buyer, Ryan reached out to his best friend Derek. Urging Derek and his father to swiftly secure the '55 Chevy with just $500 and a trailer, Derek, his dad, and Ryan eagerly embarked on the mission to claim the vintage muscle machine that had seen better days.

Wheeling, Dealing, & Sweat Equity for the '55 Chevy

Looking ahead eight years, Ryan had just sold a Cadillac DTS convertible to Derek. Soon after, Derek asked Ryan if he could custom fiberglass in his dash like a surfboard, and how much the fabrication work would cost. Ryan seized the opportunity and replied in jest with, "How about that '55?" Derek's intriguing response was, "We will see." Ryan fabricated a beautiful and sleek fiberglass dash for his buddy's new Cadillac DTS. On payday Derek told Ryan to give him an additional $200 and the '55 would be his. Both buddies were excited to seal the deal, and Derek made Ryan promise that he could never sell the '55 to anyone else.

Without giving Derek any time to change his mind, Ryan, his dad Rick, and grandpa Earl arrived at Derek's house in Fontana, CA to get the car. It was in a swamped-out condition of neglect rusting away. The body was sitting backwards on the car's frame with a telephone pole resting between the two components. When the trio attempted to move the body, they realized that the telephone pole had just about destroyed the rusted-out rockers and bottom quarters. Ryan ignored all the bad and reveled in the good, since he was the new owner of a 1955 Chevy 210 in 2010! Earl told him that he'd never finish the car.

Challenge Accepted - Finding Parts Old & New

In addition to the '55 Chevy acquisition, 2010 was a triumphant year for Mr. Ryan Brown. He had just turned 30 years old. He became married, and the young couple's first daughter was born. Ryan bombed around town in a 1942 Chevy hot rod truck at that time and needed an extra seat for his growing family. He began to stack parts and going to yearly Danchuk blemish sales and working every overtime shift as well as putting every moment into keeping his fleet of daily drivers and toys on the road, whether paved or dirt. Another kid came into the Brown family nest. The growing family then moved to Glendora from San Bernardino in 2015.

Eight Weeks to the '55 Gasser's Finish Line

Having accumulated a collection of both new and used '55 parts, Ryan had meticulously crafted the rolling chassis and drivetrain in preparation for the Gold Digger project. With a lull in his work in the demolition industry, he set his sights on completing the car before the arrival of his third daughter, due in April 2015. Commencing the '55 Chevy project finish in January, Ryan dedicated eight weeks to bodywork, painting, and final assembly. By March 2015, the car emerged as a gasser, just as his third daughter made her timely entrance in April. Regularly visiting Irwindale drag strip for the Thunder Test & Tune, Ryan's dedication paid off when the Gold Digger clinched the Gasser Wars magazine editor's choice award at the Mooneyes Christmas party in December 2015!

100-Mile Daily Commute in a '55 Chevy Gasser

The Brown family's life changed once again when they moved to the high desert to a small town in beautiful Phelan, CA. Ryan commuted some 50 miles to Lancaster, CA from Phelan, across the very rugged desert back roads, in a roaring '55 Chevy gasser gold streaking through the desert, with the Joshua tree lined tarmac forming a picturesque though blurred gold dust backdrop. The Brown's live 2.5 miles down an unmaintained red dirt road. This sort of five days, 500 miles plus per-week punishment was hard on the Gold Digger. Despite the harsh conditions, the Gold Digger showcased its resilience, conquering both racetracks and daily commutes with unwavering determination.

Above: Ryan built the gasser's roll cage using designs he found in auto enthusiast magazines over the years. It's a simple four-point structure with a B-pillar hoop and two back bars. The gasser's first engine/trans/rear end is depicted in this photo (and in several other photos). An El Monte junk yard sourced 454 big block V8 swapped with 1996 fuelie 454 heads for $600, a big cam, and an Edelbrock Victor Jr tunnel ram aluminum intake manifold with dual Holley 660 cubic foot per minute (cfm) center squirter carbs made for a strong engine. It was backed by a 4L80E GM automatic transmission with a manual valve body, trans brake, and a 3.89:1 ratio spooled nine-inch Ford rear end/axle, custom built by Currie Enterprises.

Dreaming Bigger for the '55

Ryan thus decided to build a dream engine for his '55 gasser, so he could do some big wheelies. Those wishes cost Ryan an abundant amount of cash, with the learning curve being a demanding and an ever-so-expensive 1/4-mile track being the proving ground for his education. Ryan began racing the car in 2021. He added the E85 petrol set up for the Chevy and shortly after the blower (read supercharger). His gasser clocked an impressive 10.32 seconds at 132mph for the 1/4-mile run and a swift 6.32 seconds at 109mph for the 1/8-mile pass.

The Quest for More Speed - Costly

Ryan has had the engine rebuilt several times since 2022 and used up two engines, a drive shaft, and a rear end in the process. When his Outlaw Gassers So Cal car racing club asked him to go put on a show at the Muscle Cars at the Strip 2024 Las Vegas event, he happily agreed. It was a rainy weekend camping trip at Las Vegas Raceway. The group of 16 gassers had dwindled to six. Ryan wanted to put on a good show for the never surrender crowd of drag racing fans that were undeterred by the rain. He saw a sleek '64 Nova gasser in the tech lanes. He approached the owner and invited him to run with Ryan's Outlaw Gassers racing club.

Muscle Cars at the Strip - Las Vegas Motor Speedway - Thursday, March 14 through Sunday March 17, 2024

Impressed by Ray Mohoff's 1964 Nova gasser's impeccable fit and finish, Ryan eagerly anticipated lining up with his new friend at the starting line for some photo ops and staging. However, their plans hit a snag when Mother Nature intervened. Originally scheduled for an eight am run on Saturday morning, Ryan and Ray, part of the exhibition class, faced delays due to the persistent rain that only allowed for a rescheduled run at five pm after the track had finally dried off.

Above: The Brown family enjoys some quality time with their '55 Chevy gasser.

Close to the appointed staging time, Ray roared over in his Nova. Ryan and his wife took their three daughters over to the stands to watch, and Ray and he drove over to staging. While waiting to be called to the track, the two fast friends (double meaning intended) became better acquainted by talking about racing, their cars, and life before they were called over to the water box. They decided that they would perform long burnouts and some dry hops before trying out some crowd-pleasing wheelies. The two were racing in the exhibition class, so they figured they should really put on an exciting show. They also talked about shutting the cars down at 1/8-mile, though neither intended to lift.

Above: Lead photo and other drag racing photos without incident provided courtesy of Harry Meister, professional photographer. Thank you, Mr. Meister. Most other photos provided by the Brown family.

Christmas Tree Green Means Go!

Ryan recalled that as the race started, his car responded well, gripping the track, and lunging forward. This start was unusual for Ryan, since his gasser typically does a huge wheel stand leaving the starting line.

With Ray confidently leading the race, Ryan pressed down on the accelerator and approached the Nova at the 660-foot mark. Checking all the vitals - good oil pressure, 4psi of boost, AFR reading at 8.1 on both sides - he floored it, catching up. Suddenly, the engine burped and shut off, sending Ryan into a spin towards the passenger side. As he crossed the line sideways, Ryan braced himself, trying to avoid hitting the wall or Ray. The car spun to the right, then to the left, completing a full 360. Ryan attempted to regain control but ended up flipping, landing on the passenger side roof, and then spun around upside down on the gasser’s lid.

Ryan shared, "Witnessing my beloved BDS scoop getting crushed, the car finally came to a stop. I immediately thought FIRE. I undid the safety harness and dropped to the ground. I couldn’t fit through the windshield; it was now a chop top. So, I tried the driver door handle. The door popped, so I kicked it open, got out, and threw my hands up thanking God I’ve been spared. My focus now was to get to my girls and wife. The track safety safari was excellent. I was checked out and released with my car, and we went back to the pits. It was there that the fire storm of people wanting to help and hear what happened came over. My wife and kids were crying, and I assured them that this is why I spent so much time on the car to make it safe and calmed them down."

Video of the Race - There Is a Strong Kinship in Drag Racing

Ray found Ryan at this point in the pits, and the two racers talked. Ryan explained, "He looked me in my eyes, held out his hand, and said 'I have a body, and it's yours if you want it.' Shaking his hand, I was confused and excited. I contacted Ray on Monday, when we got back and thanked him for the experience and wished him well. He asked when I was coming to get the car and sent me a video. The Bel Air body was awesome, looked straight, and was on a rolling cart."

Ryan headed out on a Tuesday morning in March of 2024 to get it, and it now sits in his shop. Ray's intension was to provide Ryan with a body to be a donor car for Gold Digger. However, the donor '55 Bel Air hardtop body is too nice to be cut up and taken apart, so Ryan has decided to build two gassers. The Gold Digger will be restored to its former glory. It will return to hot rod duty for his family of five - which includes his wife Jill and their three daughters. The hardtop Belair will be a full-on lightweight racing gasser. The two '55's will be making their debut at a track very soon!

Ryan said, "I Thank Ray and Karen Mohoff for their generosity and heart healing ability!" This selfless act holds a special place in his heart, alongside the precious moments of witnessing his children's birth and marrying his wife, Jill. In honor of Mohoff Racing, both cars will proudly bear a dedication. Ryan eagerly anticipates taking both gassers to the drag strip with his family in the near future.

Above: Gold Digger was a daily driven 1955 Chevy gasser until 2021. Ryan would swap the Firestone cheater slicks for some Hoosiers drag racing meats and go racing. The current drivetrain is a 671 Mooneyham 3% overdriven blower (supercharger) through dual Dominator four-barrel carburetors on the 496-cubic inch Mk IV Big Block Chevy V8 engine that's bored .060 over. The rat motor is equipped with Dart aluminum cylinder heads and a Jesel roller valvetrain. Mike's Transmission, in Lancaster, CA, supplied the Ultimate TH400 automatic trans, that is equipped with an A1 converter with a 5,300 RPM stall, a reverse valve body, and a Kilduff lightning rod shifter.

Classic Industries is the Tri-Five Chevy Place for Parts

Whether you're building two 1955 Chevys for street, show, and/or drag strip go like Ryan, Jill, and The Birds (their three daughters), the must visit place to find Chevrolet components is at Classic Industries. From the shop Chevy page highlighted just above, you can then select 1955-57 Bel Air1955-57 210, or 1955-57 150 shopping pages. You can also enhance your online search for 1955-56-57 Chevrolet Parts & Accessories by clicking the highlighted title below and obtaining a pdf version and/or a printed version of the Classic Industries 1955-56-57 Chevrolet Parts & Accessories catalog.

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