1955 Chevy Black Widow Top – George Poteet’s name should be pretty familiar to anyone who has followed the hot rodding scene for the past two decades. Although some of the cars he built over the years (and there were dozens) won the Don Ridler Memorial Award and were featured on the cover of STREET RODDER as well as The Rodder’s Journal, what most people don’t know about him is that he would he might be the most generous man in hot rodding.
Literally dozens of shops around the country can thank George for choosing their business as the place to build a car, and not long ago he had more than 10 different cars running together at the same time in different locations. That’s a truly astounding number, especially when you consider that he already owns more than 100 cars.
1955 Chevy Black Widow Top
For some well-established shops, it’s a sign that they really know what they’re doing. But George has also chosen rods that are new to the scene and, in doing so, puts newbies on the proverbial map. Some of his cars are built from scratch (like the Don Pilkentonbuilt ’37 Roadster that won the Ridler in 1996 and AMBR in 1997), some are built from a bunch of aftermarket parts (like the Brookville roadster pickup), while others start with the original car being either heavily modified (like the 1996 Plymouth-based Viper Sniper) or subtly reworked (which would include a gold ’40 Ford pickup or a black ’32 Ford Sedan Delivery both built at the FastLane Rod Shop Dave Lane over the past few years).
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The way it works is that George usually gives the builder a raw car, some ideas of how he’d like it done, and then leaves them alone to build it (in the eyes of most shop owners: the perfect customer!). But living in Memphis, Tennessee, George didn’t have to go far for his latest ride. Steve Legens of Legens Hot Rod Shop is located in Martin, Tennessee and recently completed a ’66 Chevelle 300 for George. You know when George loves what you do, as he shows by returning as a repeat customer.
George had wanted to build a black 1955 Chevy for a while and had some specific ideas of how it should look as he had been dreaming of this car since he saw one back in 1966. He had just parked his four-door car. A ’50 Studebaker next to a flat black ’55 at the local community college, and George says he thought “it was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen.” It clearly made an impression on him, with its stance on tall, chrome wheels and ’64 Chevy seats, because, 45 years later, it was the car he wanted Legends to create for him.
George found a ’55 210 post in Cincinnati and handed it to Legend with a list of improvements he would have made to the 1966 car if he could. George wanted chrome wheels, flat black paint, a ’64 Impala interior, a metal snowflake steering wheel, a red and white Sun tachometer, a shaved hood, and one-piece wagon fenders. Anything else and they would talk about it.
Legends got the concept and started with a sandblasted and powder-coated frame that soon got a Ford 9-inch Currie rear (3.73:1) and disc brakes up front. Lakewood Industries ladders are also attached, and Wheel Vintique 15×7 and 15×8 chrome reverse wheels are shod in Kumho 215/75 and P235/70 rubber.
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The engine is a tuned 350, topped by an Edelbrock 2×4 carb-and-manifold combo (with two 500-cfm carbs under a pair of modified Legens air cleaners). The shrouded flex fan and original Cal Custom valve covers illustrate the true era, but the Powermaster alternator and Griffin aluminum radiator are contemporary items that add some peace of mind over the stock factory items. Mallory supplies the spark, and Hooker Headers pull the spent gases through a 2-1/2-inch powder-coated exhaust system. A Richmond five-speed gearbox is engaged, and gears are selected using a Hurst shifter.
The blue metallic flake interior is not only perfect for a 60’s hot rod, but still looks great today. The legendary Hot Rod shop used material from Ciadella Interiors to create factory-looking door panels after installing the interior, which included rebuilt seats from a ’64 Impala SS.
As for the body, Legens smoothed out the deck lid (adding one of their new smooth lid locking kits) and the hood plus reworked the fenders. On the front side, all the holes for the brackets were filled; it was tapered and then attached to the body. It also had the bolt holes filled in at the rear and was also narrowed, but then a station wagon center section was added, allowing the license plate to be mounted on the bumper instead of in the center of the deck lid. Sherm’s Plating did all the chrome work, which contrasts with the PPG flat black and the flat clear Legens sprayed over the exterior.
The car’s looks so far could be called “basic,” but the Black Widow really comes to life when it comes to the interior. Not only was the choice of parts for the ’64 Impala SS interior excellent, but the color choice of materials (flake blue metallic) is really appropriate for the era George was aiming for. The interior seems to shine beneath the white trim.
Chevrolet Black Widow 57
Legens used parts from Ciadella Interiors in Tempe, Arizona (who specialized in ’53-64 Chevy fabrics and interior parts) and built everything he needed himself. The Black Widow theme is prevalent and Legend had the spider name and logo emblazoned all over the car and even had small medallions to insert into the interior of the car where the SS logo used to be. You’ll also find a logo and name inside each of the small Classic Instruments gauges in an Erco case mounted under the dash, and American Autowire wiring is used throughout.
Up on the steering column is a Mooneyes metal flake steering wheel and Sun Captain America tach, and if you look on the dash where the clock used to be, you’ll find a portrait of George covered in magnifying glass. Another subtle (but time-consuming to produce) item is the door handles. Using the ’64 Impala armrest required moving the location of the door opener, which meant Legens had to modify the door to make it work as well.
One thing you can tell about George is that even though he has so many cars, he likes to drive them as often as possible. The proof of that is actually how he met Legens in the first place: Legens’ shop did bodywork and paint on several of George’s cars because, he says, “I’m pretty rough on some of the drivers I own.” George also states that he has been “fantasizing about cars since the 50s” and that “no one loves all cars more than me.”
So, in short, he had them built because he loves them and, when it’s done, it drives the snot out of them. If any STREET RODDER reader had the incredible opportunities that George Poteet worked so hard for, would he do it differently? Probably not. And George is just happy to spread some of that love around. The 1957 Chevrolet “Black Widow” was a car that was developed in the shadow of the impending ban on auto racing in the United States, after the horrific disaster at Le Mans in 1955 that claimed the lives of more than 80 spectators and injured 120.
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Many of the major car manufacturers were at the forefront of calling for racing restrictions because it was good for PR, but behind the scenes they understood the importance of motorsport for marketing and engineering advancements. Chevrolet hired former Hudson chief race engineer Vince Piggins for a shadowy Skunk Works division to be based in Atlanta and called the Southern Engineering and Development Company (or SEDCO for short).
This theoretically independent racing division enjoyed healthy factory support in the background, including a number of 1957 Chevrolet 150s. This model was chosen because it was the lightest and least complex model in production, as a base car it lacked the bells and whistles of the more luxurious Chevys – but that meant there were fewer redundant parts to remove to get the cars ready for racing. .
Piggins specified that every Black Widow will be equipped with a high-performance 283 cubic-inch fuel-injected V8 capable of 283 horsepower in the standard version, but the one that was drawn and modified can reliably produce 315+ at the rear wheels. Power was transmitted to the rear differential via a 3-speed manual transmission, and an additional shock absorber was installed for each wheel.
From the sedan version of the long-wheelbase passenger car, a heavy six-link rear axle was used, cast-iron Fenton exhaust manifolds were used, and the exhaust was routed through frame rails. When all this and more was done, the team at SEDCO strengthened and reinforced everything
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