Dennis and Phyllis Lind
1957 Bel Air Hardtop
It was a dark and lonely night- not really - it was actually a beautiful summer evening on a small dairy farm in Northern Illinois. I was filling my '49 stovebolt six with "free" farm gas. The sounds of Elvis' "Heartbreak Hotel" were crackling over my non-pushbutton AM radio (with newly installed rear speakers!) and I was anticipating my upcoming date with a varsity cheerleader. It was the summer of 1958; I was a senior in high school - life was good!
Well, it could have been just a little bit better. As was her nature, my beloved '49 torpedo back decided (in the middle of my date) that running on all six cylinders was just too much and four seemed about right. Thankfully my "in-depth" mechanical ability (yeah - right!) had taught me how to handle this all too frequent malfunction. Simply turn off the key, lift the hood, take off the air cleaner, reverse the sparkplug wires on cylinders 3 and 4, restart the engine and let it backfire a few times and, magically, you're good to go again-(after re-reversing the sparkplug wires). Was my date impressed? Not really.
Wait! This story is supposed to be a about a black 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air 2-door hardtop. It is it just takes me awhile to get the background right.
At this point, my love affair with my '49 Chevy was winding down - my automotive, lust laden heart was thumping the to the sounds of Chevy V8's, 4-barrel carbs, dual exhausts and glass packs (maybe even a reverb rear speaker). How to obtain (pay for) this dream machine was a common teenage problem. Then came the epiphany - not in the form of a religious experience but in the form of my ag/shop teacher, Mr. Haroldson. Tempting our entrepreneurial spirit, he said, "Boys (note: no girls in 1958 ag/shop classes), if you want to make some quick money, get into the hog business now! Pork just went from 10 to 20 cents a pound - get in quick before the big producers ruin the market and you will do well." Two days later (with my Dad's permission) our dairy farm was in hog production-bacon would now provide the $bacon$ for my new ride.
It was a bitter January night (20 below zero); the snow was blowing sideways-the kind of cold that makes your nose freeze shut. But life was good - I was helping a brood sow deliver 12 piglets that would bring me closer to my V8 Chevy.
Spring was long in coming, but hog production had been excellent and as the spring flowers blossomed so did my bank account - almost $2,000. It was time! Sell the herd - buy the car! But what car? At that time, there was only one...I could say it in my sleep..."a '57 Chevy Bel Air 2-door hardtop, V8, stick...nothing else would do...no, not even a Powerglide. With an automatic, in those days, I would be laughed out of school-it had to be a V8/stick. To my eye, in '59, there wasn't anything cooler than a '57 Chevy. (Well, any Corvette; but how many pigs is that?)
The big day finally arrived-my Mom and I took the 70 mile train ride to Chicago, with money in my pocket I was looking for my "dream" car. We went to Cicero Avenue which was then (and maybe still is) "Used Car Boulevard"- miles and miles of bright bare light bulbs sparkling off endless rows of shiny automotive chrome - Valhalla!
We made the trip down this classic street on a nickle-a-ride streetcar complete with clanging bells and rattan seats. After many stops with poor results (wrong body style, color options, etc.), there it was! It was like seeing the Phoenix rising from the ashes. Sitting in the front row on an elevated stand at Nickey Chevrolet's used car lot was my shiny black '57 Bel Air 2-door hardtop. Scrawled across the windshield was "270 HP" - was that good? I jumped out of my seat and pulled the stop cord to signal the conductor that we had to get off now! I ran toward the car, leaving my Mom far behind. With my heart in my throat, I yanked open the door looking for a clutch pedal. The Chevy gods were with me-sitting next to the brake in all its glory was that much desired third pedal. The salesman came over and said, "Yes, it's stick and it has the dual-quad high performance motor with overdrive, 4.11 positraction and it's only $1,500. LIFE IS GOOD! REALLY GOOD! (...don't say anything to my Mom about the high performance dual carb stuff, okay?...)
Now the big test drive - I had never driven a car like this. The salesman and I took it around the block, very gingerly, but I knew it was really "spirited." So long '49 torpedo back, there's a new sheriff in town, it's black, it's bad and it has dual carbs, stick, posi, solid lifters, dual point distributor. And dual glass packs....I'm so excited. Ace's social status (my high school nick name) was about to increase 2-3 levels.
How to make my entrance at school? I know, cut morning classes and show up at the Tastee-Freeze next to the school; all the cool kids go there for lunch. Yeah, that's a great idea.
And so it was...the black '57 rolled up and immediately drew attention - the 270 horse high compression 283 pumped by the solid lifter Duntov cam echoing through dual glass packs had an authority all its own. Amazingly, Mr. Haroldson (my ag/shop teacher and hog tipper) was at the drive-in. I immediately told him "here's the car I purchased with the hog money," and quickly popped the hood to show off the engine and dual quads (batwing air cleaner replaced by dual chromies the night before); he said, "look at all that carburetion." I said, "Yeah, and it really goes...watch this." With equal amounts of youthful exuberance and stupidity (maybe more stupidity) I fired her up, gave it a few "raps" and straightened it out for a fast exit. My heart was racing...my hands and legs were shaking-this was it, my reputation begins. Rev it up to what sounds like about 4 G's and dump the clutch-yeah, great plan. The '57 and I were both hyperventilating. BANG!! I'm sucked into the seat, the rear end is drifting, the engine is screaming, tires screeching-nothing but smoke in the mirrors! Hold on, don't wimp out now, keep your foot planted and steer through it - yeah, good plan. Shift! Shift! - Wow, second and it's still sliding, spinning, smoking - LIFE IS GOOD!
Well, maybe not quite so good—our esteemed town cop (and school bus driver) was filling his squad car at the station across the street as I was making my debut. It took me to about 80 mph and an adrenaline reduction to realize I now had red lights, not smoke in my mirrors. Justice is swift in 1959 era Northern Illinois. The cop immediately impounded the '57 and took me to the local Justice of the Peace. She was sitting in her rocker on the front porch (where she held court). The cop outlined my many offenses and our lady Justice, in her unique rural style, sent him back to the Tastee Freeze to measure the length of the "strip" I left" He soon returned and said, "38 feet." (pretty good for my first attempt.) "So, 38 feet, that will be $38.00, payable now!"
And so the '57's reputation began.... The car became a legend of sorts in McHenry County Illinois. My Dad told me (when he was 80) that he had secretly taken the car to work twice to race some braggart with a Ford. Do I need to tell you who won?!
A few more highlights:
* The car was banned from Wisconsin for drag racing down
Main Street in Lake
* Outran Illinois State Police and was put on their ‘3 Most Wanted List’
* Amazing Factoid – never put a scratch on the car
* After being pulled over by the state police (for
outrunning them a few nights before)
and being shown his sun visor with me listed as one of the three "most wanted", I
decided it was time to sell her – a sad day.
* Sold it to guess who ? No not the town cop, but the guy with the Ford that my Dad beat twice – another Chevy convert.
At my 45th high school reunion, my classmates would say, "Ace, do you remember the black '57 you had? Never forget the ride you gave me - wow, was that a fast car!"
Out of the "Time Machine" and back to the present. So, how could you not want to duplicate a car like that (real 270 HP)?! I had been looking for years and they were either too original (spelled "expensive") or in poor condition.
The dream of reliving my youth was answered about a year ago. An ad in the antique section of the Dallas Morning News listed a '57 B/A 2DHTP..... I called, asked, "what color?" He said, "black/black interior" and I said, "How do I get there?" It was love at first sight...all the memories came rushing back (I repressed some). Here is what she is/was:
* ’57 Bel Air 2-Dr. HDTP (original black car) - COOL!
* Black cloth/vinyl interior - not original, but close (the first one had black/silver interior)
* Original Wonderbar radio/clock, dash, steering wheel, etc.
*Modem (hidden) audio system
*'70 350 Police w/"496" LT-1 Vette style heads.
*Muncie M21 4-speed/Hurst shifter
*3.70 Post / adj air shocks
*Edelbrock 650 carb/intake
*MSD Pro-billet ignition
*Wheels/tires - American Racing Torque Thrust w/Goodyear 225/60R16's front, 285/60R16's rear (barely clear)
*Disc brakes front/drums rear
*Painless 18-circuit wiring harness
*Took old paint down to the metal/repainted with PPG 2-stage by Collision Connection/Restoration in Pilot Point, Texas. Excellent job for a very fair price (940) 686-5424.
*Replated/replaced many trim pieces.
And finally, the future! She's a sweetheart the way she is; However, we just can't leave them alone can we?! We have to keep improving (spending money). Here are some of the things in the works:
*Power steering (rack or 605 ? - opinions please)
*ZZ383/425 HP - 460 TQ, delivery October 12,2005
*McLeod clutch, P/plate, SFI bellhousing...
*5-speed Tremec/custom drive shaft
*9-inch.4.11 Currie Posi
*Vintage AC air unit (came with car new in box)
Yes, she's my "Time Machine" - I'm 17 again - sitting behind that big steering wheel looking down that long black hood with the rocket gun sights and seeing those classic tail fins in the rear view mirror. I sent pictures back to some of my high school buddies with the caption, "Ace is back terrorizing the streets again in his black '57."
How long till my 50th High School Reunion … Let’s see , hemmmm ??!!
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