The FREE Complete Bay Area Auto Enthusiast Guide

By KENNETH HALL – Motoring Tampa Bay correspondent
When he began working on his 1956 Chevrolet 210, John Benitoa, of Lutz, had a vision in mind. “I wanted to make the 1956 homage to a 1960s dirt track car,” he says.
While not as iconic as the 1957 Chevrolet, the 1956 was a popular model for hot rodders and racing enthusiasts to modify and customize. The car was a familiar presence on the dirt ovals in towns all across America.
Having purchased the car from his Uncle John, Benitoa set about transforming his 1956 Chevy into something that would have intimidated the dirt track drivers of the 1960s.
“When I bought it, about half of the body work had been done, but it was still pretty much just a shell,” Benitoa recalls. “I did a complete frame-off restoration, starting with the drive train.”
Benitoa pulled and restored the Chevrolet 355 small block Vortex engine and refurbished the Muncie four-speed M20 transmission. He installed a 10-bolt posi lock rear end with a 4.11 gear ratio.
“I completely rebuilt the suspension with parts from Classic Performance Products,” Benitoa says. “It has tubular front suspension and lowering springs in the rear, which makes the car sit about two inches lower than stock. It has air shocks all around so that I can adjust the stance of the car.”
Benitoa moved the leaf springs into the frame so that he could put 10-inch wide tires in back and nine-inch wide tires in front. He ordered a set of custom-made wheels from Ace Alloy that are made for the street but look like bead lock racing wheels. He installed new power steering and power braking systems as well as disc brakes on all four wheels.
“I wanted the car to be able to drive well, but I also wanted it to stop well,” Benitoa explains.
Benitoa installed precision front and rear sway bars to improve the handling as well as a Griffin aluminum radiator to help keep the engine from running too hot. Once he completed all the body work, the car was given a Hot Rod Flatz chop top silver paint job with all the chrome blacked out with gloss paint.
Benitoa outfitted his 1956 Chevy with a three-inch exhaust system with Flowmaster mufflers, and installed electronic cutouts so that, with a flip of a dashboard switch, he can open the headers to bypass the mufflers.
Most race cars in the 1960s had a metal cover where the headlights had been removed, Since Benitoa wanted his car to be street legal, he had to keep the headlights but came up with an ingenious idea.
“The idea I came up with was to cover up the headlight holes with black tinted Plexiglas,” he says. “Then I built a custom frame for the headlight assembly with extremely bright LED lights that would shine through the tinted Plexiglas. I used red LED lights for the turn signals.”
The interior of the 1956 Chevy owned by Benitoa truly personifies the 1960s dirt track homage. He replaced the entire floor pan with a one-piece unit that had to be installed through the rear window. He fabricated aluminum interior door panels and installed a pair of NPR racing seats with five-pint racing harnesses. A six-point roll cage and Autometer pro comp racing gauges complete the look. The floor is sprayed in a grey and black spackle, while the dash, window trim and door handles are painted matte black.
Benitoa is understandably proud of his 1956 Chevy creation, saying, “It is a one-of-a kind car. It looks evil but its fast and a fun car to drive. It looks like a race car, but it can be driven like a street rod. It does not look street legal, but it definitely is and that is what I was going for.”