Best of 2019: Mike Bilina’s 1956 Chevrolet Is All Go, All Show!

Best of 2019: Mike Bilina’s 1956 Chevrolet Is All Go, All Show!

When photographing on the dragstrip, we tend to look for a sure bet car. We want that action shot. We want the half-track burnout with Space Shuttle launch levels of tire smoke trailing behind. We want that wrinkled-up tire shot as a car digs in for the launch when the lights come down. We want crossed-up burnouts with the butterflies on the blower hat wide-freaking-open and we want the wheels hanging high in the air. Over the years, we’ve come to know which cars put on a good show. Doug Duell’s “Drag’n Wagon” Plymouth was my go-to for the first couple of years I shot photos for BangShift…in fact, it was my first wheelie shot ever…but I quickly learned that this green 1956 Chevrolet was the car to really pay attention to. I first saw the car at the 2014 Holley Hot Rod Reunion as it got it’s now trademark wall rash on the driver’s side of the body, and ever since, when the Chevy is on the track, you’d better believe I’m right there. I might not be shooting a photo but I know that Mike Bilina is hell-bent on putting on a show for anyone in the seats.

So what’s the story behind this skyward-bound shoebox? The car has actually been in this condition since 1965, with the exception of a fuel cell replacing the “beer keg” fuel tank. Those magnesium wheels? Been on the car forever. The green-tinted windows? Yep, you guessed it. From the straight axle up front with no brakes to the cut-back location of the engine, it’s as it was back in the day. Speaking of that engine, it’s a 496ci Rat under the hood that is connected to an automatic transmission and onto an Oldsmobile rear axle with 4.30 gears. It’s as simple as that. Other than the fiberglass tilt nose, the doors and the trunklid, it’s 1956 Chevrolet or it’s purpose-built for hell-raising. It’s like a sledgehammer…simple and effective.

If you look at the first crossmember right where a front bumper would normally be, you will see Bilina’s mantra: “It’s ALL about the SHOW!” And without question, there will be a show whenever the green Chevy rolls up into the waterbox. You don’t even have to wait for the actual race itself…his dry-hop launches are just as wild and just as high up in the air. Some will wince that a classic Chevy is being treated in such a manner, but the amount of people jammed in the seats and along Beech Bend’s fenceline to watch the show says that this car needs to remain in action just the way it is. When the car is sitting in the pits, there are crowds of folk looking it over, chatting Bilina up, and generally jaw-dropped that they got to see this car in action. It’s not the fastest thing out there (mid-10s are it’s normal range) but it’s got more showmanship than P.T. Barnum in his prime. Give the audience what they want and they will always come back for more.

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8 thoughts on “Best of 2019: Mike Bilina’s 1956 Chevrolet Is All Go, All Show!

  1. KCR

    I recently met Mike . He lives near me. I have seen him run for years. He really likes to put on his show.And he brings his own cheer leaders ,his entire family. He is a great guy . The car is off the scale cool. Scape marks and all. He will do a 2 gear wheelie and still do 9’s.Thats what I have seen.He has been doing it a long time.You can see that by looking at the car. Keep it up Mike.

  2. Davey

    Mike has shared his steak tacos with homemade Quac and Salsa with me every year I’ve been to the Meltdown Drags… He’s as genuine and original as his car…

    I remember the first time I saw his “Show”at the Meltdown Drags 3 (My first) I was in the burnout box behind Mike’s running mate, Greg Grubel when I see both cars pull monster wheelstands… Mike’s Green Pile does a 4 ft wheelstand for about 100 ft then bounces into a second bumper scraper with the wheels turned hard to starboard – and nearly changes lanes on the 2nd re-entry. He puts it on 3 wheels with the correction… He still runs a 10.40 to Greg’s 9.80… I’m stunned !! What have I gotten myself into ?? I’m brought back to reality by the guy tending the Byron burnout box banging on my fender…

    Or the time I saw Mike lift all 4 wheels off the ground… and it still went a 9.60…

    Or the time he pulled the wheels in the pits as he shifted from Reverse to Drive on his way out to Sam’s Drive In…

    Or the time he told me about the history of the car… and mentioned he was running “nostalgia” and doing monster wheelstands in 1986… Before there was “nostalgia”.

    He also mentioned he probably hasn’t even changed a spark plug since then

    Or every time his trunk lid would pop open on the wheelstand… We kept threatening to put a tied up blow up doll in the trunk so it would fall out during the pass… (MIke being a retired Chicago cop and all) Not sure why we never did that.

  3. John Guess

    We travel from South Arkansas every year….just to see him do his thing! Never a disappointment…..EVER!

  4. Jay Bree

    He beats holy hell out of a classic car. He’s on step down from the clown who wheelies his Gremlin into rollovers.

    I suppose that’s fun to some people…….

    1. Davey

      I guess you would prefer the car be all gussied up and polished and then have it sit on the grass at a car show with a “Do not touch” sign on it… (What a waste that would be) This is a race car that deserves to be beat on. There’s very little left of an original 56 Chevy so I would hardly consider it “Classic”. It was a race car with a forgotten history, but Mike’s history with it has far exceeded what it did when it was first built… Mike entertains the troops and puts people in the bleachers at a time when attendance in drag racing is fading. He’s was the headline show at the biggest nostalgia show of its time and a number of other events every year. And he expects nothing in return. Maybe the occasional appearance fee.. but they approach him… he isn’t marketing himself… It’s not his intent to destroy the car… But it is his intent to run it as often as he can because… It’s all about the show !!

    2. john T

      I think you’re on the wrong page… I’m sure theres a group dedicated to lawn chairs you could join

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