Root Beer Chevy
Jerry and Bobbi McMillen have had their fair share of noteworthy street rods in their 51 years of marriage. The cars range from a 1923 T-bucket roadster to 1930s and ’40s vintage Chevy and Ford coupes and sedans and even an Oldsmobile.
But though they enjoyed all of their cars, their Candy Apple Root Beer 1956 Chevy 210 sedan may be the one street rod they never get rid of.
“This is going to be the last one,” says Bobbi. “This one is a keeper.”
They have owned the distinctive Chevy for about a year and a half, but have found it meets all their needs.
“A friend of mine, Jerry Krob, told me about the car. Johnny Fletcher had built it and had only put 4,000 miles on it and was wanting to sell it,” said Jerry. All the body work had been done and a gorgeous paint job had been applied by David Holt Jr. and the Chevy was roadworthy.
It reminded Jerry McMillen of a similar ’56 Chevy 210 sedan he had owned many years ago, before he met his wife.
“That one was green,” he recalled. But he very nearly lost his life in that Chevy when a horse being led on a rope behind an approaching vehicle spooked and crashed into his car.
He was hospitalized with head and neck injuries for two months and the car was totaled. That was in 1963. He met Bobbi the next year and it wasn’t long before they were married.
All through the years, the thought of finding another ’56 210 sedan had stayed in the back of his mind, despite the traumatic way he lost the first one.
“I was thinking I would get me a nice-riding ’56 again,” he said. “I had been looking at them on the Internet, but when you got there, they were never what they were supposed to be and I had spent all that money going to look at them and I was disappointed.”
So it was almost like fate when this slick ’56 two-door showed up right here in Wichita.
“I decided I was going to have that car,” Jerry said. “I would just have to do my personal touches to it.”
One of the big changes would be the transmission.
“It was a 4-speed car and I’m not a 4-speed man … been there, done that, getting too old to shift gears,” McMillen said. So in place of the manual transmission, he opted for a 700R4 automatic overdrive. “It shifts into overdrive at 40 mph,” he noted, adding that it makes cruising at highway speeds effortless and economical.
Although some street rodders have urged him to install a late model LS1 engine, McMillen found the old-school 327 Chevy V-8 under the hood more than adequate.
“It gets me from here to there and looks good,” he explains. He did have to replace the existing exhaust headers with stock cast iron ram’s head manifolds when he lowered the front end of the car about three inches with adjustable QA1 coilover shock absorbers.
The rolling stock also needed some updating according to McMillen, who removed the Halibrand wheels in favor of a set of Foose 5-spoke wheels mounting Firestone tires, 215x55R17s at the front of the car and heftier 245x55R18s at the rear. Disc brakes provide stopping power up front, with drums installed on the 10-bolt Chevy rear end out back.
Another friend, Richard Beeton, created a slick battery box for the firewall of the ’56, as well as a custom center console for the Lokar shifter. The interior was already redone in high end tan and brown vinyl, with the passenger compartment kept comfortable by a Vintage Air heater/air conditioning system.
White face Auto Meter gauges fill the instrument cluster, with an Auto Meter tachometer perched on the steering column. A scaled-down ’56 Chevy wheel, color-matched to the interior scheme, provides non-power-assisted direction control.
“When I drove it, I didn’t have any problem (with steering) at all,” said Bobbi. She also likes the fact the Chevy sedan is big enough to accommodate them, plus a couple of passengers, or merchandise she buys on road trips to car shows.
“I like to shop and I like to have room to bring stuff home,” she said. One outing in a Corvette, there wasn’t even room for a wicker basket she had spotted, she said.
With its gold flake base coat and deep, rich Candy Root Beer top coat, the McMillens’ Chevy grabs plenty of attention when the sun hits its bodywork.
“We have had people come up and ask, ‘Can I lick it?’ ” she laughed. So they started displaying the car with an A&W Root Beer tray in the window, filled with root beer candies.
But the best part is, the car is a dependable road machine.
“We can just get in it and go. It rides nice … and it looks good,” said Jerry, who admits it does take him back to his younger days, too.
Mike Berry: firstname.lastname@example.org