Readers Rides

1955 Gasser by Debbie Camara Tomasso

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We are used to having readers rides submissions, but this is our best so far when it comes to a thorough explanation of the whole car.
This Gasser was sent in by Debbie Camara Tomasso on behalf of Frank Foster.

The story behind that car is, it was a drag car back in the 60s and 70s on the west coast. It came out of Oregon, and was raced there and in California. The drag strip decals on the new rear quarter windows are duplicates of the actual, vintage decals still on the original quarter windows that John still has, from the west coast tracks that it raced at in the 60s, such as Half Moon Bay Drag Strip, Fontana Drag City, Balboa Park, and Freemont Drag Strip. I don’t think it spent much time on the street, considering the great condition the body was in when John bought it. No rust, rot, or really any signs of collision damage. It did have a nicely done, old school, 4 point roll cage in it, so that was preserved, and the rear quarter wheel openings were radiused already.

Once here in RI, the existing drivetrain was removed, the body stripped down to bare metal, and all glass, moldings and trim removed to make the body straight, and get into primer. John then cut the front frame rails at the firewall, and removed them along with the stock front suspension. He then fabricated and welded new straight, boxed frame rails, and installed the new chrome straight axle, leaf springs, shocks, and disk brakes. Everything set up for that 60s/70s gasser look.

John installed the engine (using custom fabricated front and rear motor plates), which is a 540ci Big Block Chevy, with an 871 blower, topped with two 650 Edelbrock carbs, breathing through Hooker fender well headers, mated to chrome Mack truck stacks complete with heat shields, acting as huge side pipes. The transmission is a Doug Nash 5 speed, manual transmission, with a Long, inline, straight shifter, transferring the power via a Hayes ceramic clutch to a Ford 9 inch rear end with a 4.30 Strange third member with a spool. Ladder bars, track locator, drive shaft safety loops, and wheelie bars complete the rear set up. A complete custom made wiring harness handles all the electrics.

Interior is done in an off white, with rolled and pleated side panels, door panels, headliner and 1963 Impala seats. A stock 55 black dash, black carpets, and a black 1958 Impala steering wheel offsets the white nicely. The interior continues that period correct appearance with a complete set of 1960s SUN gauges, and a vintage Stewart Warner column mounted tachometer. All new factory tinted glass was installed in the car, along with all new chrome trim, handles, knobs and levers.

I handled the paint work, after John and I put in many hours of wet sanding to get the car straight and ready. I painted the car with Spies Hecker Dk. Bronze pearl base coat. As a surprise, I decided to add the old school gold metallic lace panels to the huge blank canvas of a roof the 55 has, to add some more period correct flash to the car. Everything is buried under many coats of urethane clear. I also put together a custom mix of Aztec gold and Fire red candy lacquers to apply to the sealed beam headlights, then cleared them with urethane clear, so they would match the signal lights below them perfectly, and add to the gasser look.

John and I both researched, designed and figured out the placement of all the Gasser style lettering we wanted on the car, and acquired the talent of a friend, local automotive artist and pin stripper Larry Hook, to apply the logos, lettering, including the gold leaf door treatment, and striping.


As of this email, the car has only hit the street a handful of times, including going to one judged show at Johnston Memorial Park in RI, where it took 1st place in it’s class, and to numerous cruise nights here in RI. After it was introduced here and there around the state, we had planned to head for New England Dragway last year, where it would have been put to the test. Unfortunately we missed the NE Dragway NHRA Hot Rod Reunion last year, when some transmission problems got resolved one day “after” the event. But, we made it this year for it’s drag strip debut. We went back to NED for Old Fashion Sunday a month later, and continued to work the bugs out. A mid 12 second 1/4 mile at 113 mph was the day’s best, still taking it easy on it. The mile per hour would suggest a mid 11 would be definitely in reach,….and more carburation and blower tuning may get it going faster than that.

Other notable points of interest about the car are, Cobra brass radiator, new grille, Cragar SS wheels, ET Street slicks, Moon front mounted fuel tank doubling as an overflow tank for the cooling system, with a full sized fuel tank in the rear, completely upholstered trunk, new rear bumper, 4 wheel disk brakes, and dark tinted tail lights.

The 55 won the Al Segrini Grand Marshal Award at the New England Hot Rod Reunion, and has since made appearances in Auto Week’s coverage of the event, both online and in the magazine, local New England based Motorhead Magazine, and National Dragster.

John Tomasso – owner, builder, driver. – J.T.’s Auto Service, Johnston RI
Frank Foster – crew, painter. – Comella’s Auto Body Inc, Johnston RI
David Mitchell – custom fabrication – Cobra Precision Products, North Smithfield RI
Larry Hook – lettering, graphics, and striping. – Cumberland RI
David Caito – upholstery – Charles St. Auto Top, North Providence RI
Al Coulombe – metal work – Glocester, RI
Special thanks to Gary De Lorenzo for use of his body shop facilities. Smithfield, RI

by Debbie Camara Tomasso

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