Chevy's magical 'Milestone Cars'

by Larry D'Argis . Dec 22 2017
Photos by Larry D’Argis / Winnipeg Free PressMarcel Jeanson found his 1956 Chevy hardtop in 1992. He’d always liked the look of that style of car, but he thought it might have been more than he could afford. His wife told him he had to buy it. Twenty-five years later, he still has it.

Photos by Larry D’Argis / Winnipeg Free Press

Marcel Jeanson found his 1956 Chevy hardtop in 1992. He’d always liked the look of that style of car, but he thought it might have been more than he could afford. His wife told him he had to buy it. Twenty-five years later, he still has it.

The 1955 to 1957 Chevrolets have long been sought-after classics. The middle child 1956 model received a minor restyle over the ’55 offering, which included a new full-width grille with rectangular park lamps and ribbed taillight housings with domed lenses. The driver’s side housing also had a latch that, when tripped, allowed the whole light assembly to tilt back on a hinge, allowing access to the gas tank filler neck. Available in three series, the base One-Ten, middle-priced Two-Ten line and the luxurious Bel Air, the ’56 Chevy was right with the times.

When Chevrolet advertised “the hot one’s even hotter” for 1956, they weren’t exaggerating. Along with a minor restyling, the Chevy was now packing an even greater punch with its small-block V-8. The 265-cubic-inch engine, equipped with the “Power-Pack” option, was now rated at 205 horsepower — 25 more than the ’55 model. With the V-8 weighing less than the six-cylinder engine, the resulting power-to-weight ratio made the “hot one” a solid performer in the low-price field.

While the luxurious Bel Air, with added stainless trim and richly appointed interior fabrics, continued as the top model in the Chevrolet lineup — 128,382 were produced — the Two-Ten was almost as posh, and at a more affordable price. Honestly, the price difference between the two models was only $113, but the $2,063 Two-Ten hardtop found only 18,616 buyers.

Marcel Jeanson of Lorette, Man., has always liked the tri-five Chevys of the ’50s.

“In the early 1990s a couple of my friends got a ’56 and a ’57 Chevy to restore and I started to look for one for myself,” Jeanson says.

Following a lead in May 1992, from an Auto Trader ad, he found a ’56 Chevy Two-Ten hardtop. Offered for sale by Fedoruk’s Used Cars & Trucks, located in Headingley, Man., Jeanson arranged to have a look at the car on a Sunday evening on Pembina Highway, at the local Sunday Night Cruise Night at the Pony Corral Restaurant.

“It was in extremely good shape, but I thought it might be more than I could afford, until my wife Lilliane said, ‘No you have to buy it,’” Jeanson says.

Powered by a newer 283-cubic-inch V-8 and four-speed manual transmission and 12-bolt positraction rear axle, the blue ’56 Chevy proved to be a good buy, and the Jeansons used the car to cruise the next eight summers. The only additions were an under-hood mural by Fawcett Signs and the installation of the factory hood and trunk emblems by Denis Gobeil at Good “N” Tensions in St. Adolph, Man.

By 2000, the Chevy was showing the wear and tear, so Jeanson, his son Marcel Jr. and son-in-law Denis Champagne stripped the car to its basic body on frame for a restoration. A member of the 567 Club of Manitoba since 1992, Jeanson had club members Jim Beilby weld in two new floor pans and Bill Dickson install a new GM 605 power steering box.

The remainder of the body work and paint preparation was done by Kenny Lang Autobody and the Chevy was finished in a new coat of Midnight Blue Poly paint. Jeanson did most of the polishing on the stainless trim, apart from a few pieces. They and the bumpers were replated by Riverview Plating.

Under the hood, the old 283 V-8 was replaced by a rebuilt 350-cubic-inch V-8 crate motor with H.E.I. electronic ignition, chrome alternator, Edelbrock aluminum intake manifold and Quadra Jet four-barrel carburetor and aluminum radiator for added cooling. Exhaust duties are handled with a set of Patriot tube headers, leading to a 2.5-inch custom dual exhaust system with Dynamax mufflers and three-inch chrome exhaust tips. The M21 four-speed manual gearbox was swapped out for a 700R4 overdrive automatic transmission and B&M Megashifter, turning the Chevy into a real highway friendly ride.

Chassis upgrades include two-inch dropped front spindles with power front disc brakes, new rear shock mounts and Crager five-spoke chrome wheels shod with Road Max Delta GT radial tires.

Inside the passenger compartment, the old ’70s style diamond-tufted vinyl upholstery was tossed in favour of new custom white vinyl upholstery featuring sculpted door panels, custom centre console and finished trunk by Omer Gautron at Omer’s Upholstering. Added features include tinted windshield, dual side-view mirrors, electric windshield wipers, four-speaker Bluetooth sound system with power amp, 12-inch subwoofer, Sun tachometer and a trio of AutoMeter gauges to keep track of under-hood engine functions.

With all of the reassembly work looked after by Jeanson, his son and son-in-law, it was a true family project.

“It sees lots of use for weddings, anniversaries and plenty of out-of-town cruises each summer, and we plan to keep driving it and enjoying it,” Jeanson says.

Today, the 1955 to 1957 Chevrolets are some of the most desirable collector cars around and are rated as “Milestone Cars” by the Milestone Car Society. Today, whether you’re looking to restore one to showroom condition or modify it for use as a modern street machine, the demand for these vehicles is intense.

A solid bonus is that the restoration and hot rod industry has every part you will ever need to make it happen.