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Hobbies have a way of changing course or, if they stay reasonably on course, they certainly can rise to all new levels. Back in 1971, when Norm Rons bought his first Chevy, the finished product you see in this story isn’t the direction that Norm started to go with his car hobby. Originally, Norm thought it might be fun to do some drag racing.
When he came across the ‘56 Chevy Bel Air 2-door hardtop in Mitchell, SD, Norm figured it would make a great car to go drag racing. The turquoise and white Chevy was powered with the standard 265 V-8 and Powerglide transmission, and looked pretty good upon casual inspection. The seller was asking $750 for the car, but Norm eventually negotiated a price of $600. As sometimes happens, Norm later found that the car had serious rust issues; that would be dealt with later, but for now, Norm was going racing.
After several weeks of work, the ’56 was set up for the drag strip. A small block 327, tunnel ram, dual 4-barrel carbs, 4-speed transmission and all the appropriate racing parts of the day prepared the car for the strip. In the 1972 and ’73 seasons Norm raced the Chevy in E/Modified Production, always a very tough class back in the day. Those that have gone drag racing know that racing is hard on cars, and Modified Production is certainly worse than some milder classes. As the racing wore on, countless parts were broken and racing expenses were through the roof! After two seasons Norm found that he “couldn’t compete with the Omaha guys”, and drag racing was just too expensive for him at the time. The Bel Air was retired from racing.
Norm later moved from the area for several years and the ’56 was parked for an extensive time, but fortunately, Norm kept the car. Eventually, he found that he was in a position in life where he could do an extensive build on the old ’56 Chevy and turn it into an impressive show car/street machine. In 1995, with that goal in mind, the former race car was sent to the guys at the Renner Garage.
When Norm turned the car over to Kevin Brende and Keith Peterson he didn’t have an exact plan for how the car should look. He primarily knew that he wanted it to be red and white. A lot of collaborating went on between Norm, Kevin, and Keith as the project began, and the builders were given wide discretion as to what the car should be when finished.
As noted previously, the ‘56 had substantial rust issues when Norm bought it. During the restoration, all rusty areas were cut out and totally replaced with new sheet metal. It was a three year project to totally rebuild, upgrade and enhance the finished product.
The car is painted ’96 Corvette Torch Red and ’95 Buick white, which is complimented by the gorgeous red leather custom interior crafted by The Recovery Room, in Omaha, NE. The powertrain includes a Chevy ZZ4 (350) crate motor with dual 4-barrel carbs producing 355 horsepower. A 700R transmission, and a 9-inch Ford rear end loaded with 4.10 gears complete the powertrain. The car rides on air suspension and Boyd Coddington Wheels. Billet aluminum, chrome, and custom touches abound everywhere you look!
The car was completed in 1998 and Norm showed it extensively for the next several years. It won “Best Tri-Five” at four of its first five shows in 1999, including events in Chicago and Denver. Later, in 2004, it won “Outstanding Attention to Detail” and First In Class at the Super Chevy Show in Denver. Super Chevy Show wins are prestigious, and this ‘56 Chevy is most deserving! Norm recently retired the car from the major show circuit, but the car is stunning and gets serious attention wherever it goes.
The other star of this story is Norm’s beautiful 1957 Chevy 210 2-door sedan. Norm was in Stickney, SD, selling insurance in 1999 when he spotted the ’57 at the home of a client’s neighbor. This car started life with a 6-cylinder and a 3-speed transmission and was “a really solid car”. It wasn’t quite the bargain the ’56 was initially; Norm tells me he had to pay “pretty good money” to buy this one!
After the fabulous job they did on his ’56 Chevy, Norm again chose the Renner Garage to do this build. The project started in 2010 and was completed in 2013. Once again, Corvette “Torch Red” is the chosen color for this Chevy (no white this time), and the red leather bucket seat interior matches perfectly. A heavy dose of billet aluminum, stainless steel, and chrome further accent the interior and under the hood.
Speaking of under the hood, Norm went with a little hotter engine in this car. Local area sprint car racer, Steve Ballenger, built a strong 383 stroker engine with all the right internals to produce “around 525 horsepower”. (It does sound nasty!) That’s coupled to a TH400 transmission with a 3500 rpm stall converter sending the power to a 9” Ford rear end. Norm was looking for an upgrade in the suspension department on this car, so he wisely chose an Art Morrison chassis. The Art Morrison chassis with the associated upgraded suspension parts results in an excellent riding and handling performance car. Intro Custom Wheels (18”front and 20” rear) complete the exterior look, and the whole thing is brought to a stop with Wilwood brakes. This car is not only beautiful, it’s quick and handles well too!
Following completion of the car in 2013, Norm showed it extensively in the tri-state area in 2013 and again in 2015, skipping the 2014 season. In 2013, the car won five Best In Show awards in six entries; pretty impressive, I’d say. Norm is starting to bring both of the cars out to a few more cruise nights and local shows these days, and they always draw a crowd.
In visiting with Norm, he commented several times on the great work that was done at the Renner Garage. Norm spends particular compliments to Rocky Thompson, the painter there, for his fine paint work with the DuPont paints used on both cars. He’s one happy guy with these two fine looking Torch Red “tri-five” Chevys! Having said all that, only one question remains: is there a red ‘55 Chevy in your future, Norm?