As I began writing this piece about my ’57 Chevy, I couldn’t help but reflect back on that golden period of my life when the car I now own was the epitome of performance and "cool." I graduated from Dallas Sunset High School in 1957 and would have given anything to have been driving one of the hot ‘57s. However, I was a kid of modest means and had to settle for a 1953 Ford Club Coupe. Don’t get me working, that little car was no slouch for the time. It was "shaved" and "decked," had "frenched" and "shaded" headlights, and "frenched" and "tunneled" ’54 Old’s taillights and was painted a nice candy apple red. Anyone out there understand those terms? Power came from a ’56 Thunderbird motor, coupled to a three-speed overdrive transmission. Oh yes, I shouldn’t forget to mention the ’56 Dodge spinner hubcaps. Neat little car, but it frequently got blow away by ’57 Chevy’s. I’ve owned a number of really nice GM performance cars since those days (couple of Pontiacs and a Buick) but my romance with the ’57 Chevy never went away.
Fast forward with me now to the 1990s. Having completed a twenty-four year career in the Army, I’m living in Austin, working for the State of Texas, and my job requires me to make frequent business trips to Dallas. Early on, while traveling I-35, I noticed a place along the frontage road in West, Texas (just north of Waco) called the Car Connection that usually had two or three Classic Chevy’s parked out front. Curious, I stopped one day to see what this place was all about. I met the owner, Cotton Tanner, and found that he was in the business of restoring classic cars, specializing in the Classic ('55-'57) Chevy’s. I made numerous stops after that, mainly just to see what beautiful classics Cotton had in various stages of restoration – a real pleasure and education for me. I must admit that I lusted after some of those cars but was not ready or financially prepared to purchase one. Finally, on my way to Dallas in 1999, I noticed what looked to be a nice ’57 sitting in front of Cotton’s facility. I decided to stop on my return trip to Austin and check it out. What I found was an unrestored and unmolested ’57 that Cotton had acquired from a local and wanted to turn it for a profit. What impressed me about the car was the fact that it had a very "straight" body and showed no evidence of having ever been in a collision. Granted, it had some rust in the usual places but it was minimal. The existing drivetrain consisted of a "warmed over" 327 small block, Muncie M-21 four-speed and a vintage ’57 positraction rear end. With an eye toward future restoration, I knew that this was the car for me. Cotton and I agreed on what I now know was a very fair price and "Peggy Sue" was, after 42 years finally mine.
I had a good time driving the car, as it was, around Austin for a couple of years but in 2000 I was emotionally and financially prepared to begin the restoration process. The first order of business would be the engine, the heart of "Peggy Sue," and something I wanted done just right. I selected an excellent local performance shop to build the engine and no expense was spared in the process. What I wanted to create was a power-plant reminiscent of the ‘50s and early ‘60s, but with much more power. Most of you know what I’m talking about. A machine that, though very drivable on the street, vibrates and shakes and tells you that you better stay with it at all times or it may get away from you. Today’s performance cars are marvels of engineering. They put out smooth, brute horsepower but they leave you with the feeling that you’re just along for the ride. Nothing can compare to the chatter of solid lifters, the rumble and shake of a long duration cam, and the deep throated sound of a Holly double pumper.
The first order of business was to remove the 327 and find a block that would be suitable for what I wanted to create in an engine for the car. We located a seasoned 350 CID, four-bolt main, block that, based on the casting number, was determined to be a truck block manufactured between 1969 and 1975. The advantage of this block is that it is an extremely thick-walled casting which offers the obvious advantages of better cooling and the potential for significant overbore if one is so inclined. The first step in preparing the block was to place it in an oven at 700 degrees for 12 hours to draw out all the oil that had saturated the pores of the cast iron. It was then align bored, had the decks machined and the cylinders bored to the piston manufacture’s specs. All of the components of the reciprocating unit were all static balanced using a gram scale. And what a reciprocating unit!! We used a Scat 4340 forged steel crank. Rotating on this crank are Eagle 4340 H-beam rods. Regarding the rods, the late, great famous builder of Chevy engines, Smokey Yunick, always recommended that the longest connecting rod possible be used in any particular engine application I order to decrease the rod angle, thereby reducing the load on the piston skirts. Consequently, we went with a six-inch rod. Topping things off is a set of JE forged aluminum "Ultra Light" pistons. The block was bored to the specs provided by JE, resulting in a displacement of 362 cubic inches. Edelbrock Performer RPM aluminum heads were added to enhance performance and reduce weight as was an Edelbrock Victor Jr. intake. I initially tried an Edelbrock 750 DVM carb but it just couldn’t meet the demands of the engine. A Holly 750 CFM "double pumper" solved that problem. The valve train consists of a Duntov" (Crane grind) 30/30 solid lifter camshaft, Crane aluminum roller rocker arms and Competition Cams pushrods. The spark is provided by and MSD ignition system and exhaust gasses are extracted by Sanderson headers.
One of the best moves I made was getting rid of the Muncie M-21 four speed transmission that was in the car when I bought it, and installing a Tremec TKO 5-speed overdrive. This is a super tranny, originally developed for the super high performance "Saleen" Mustang…. Ford can be good? It’s an extremely strong transmission, shifts smoothly with a short throw and the 5th (overdrive) gear makes highway cruising a pleasure and saves gas.
"Peggy Sue’s" rear end (oops!) is somewhat of a departure from the rest of the drivetrain. It’s an original ’57 posi unit, but has been beefed up with Strange Engineering gears (ring and pinion) and bearings. The weak link is the axles. Unfortunately, you can’t upgrade the old ’57 differential housing with modern performance axles. Either a Ford 9-inch or Chevy 12-bolt that I have may go under the car in the future. Williams traction bars are used to keep the axle under control during acceleration.
To achieve the stance I wanted, the car was lowered two inches all around. This was accomplished by installing dropped front spindles and using lowering blocks in the rear. In the process, power front disc brakes were also installed. The Billet Specialties 17-inch "Ventec" wheels put the finishing touch on the look I wanted. Performance Suspension Technology (PST) components, i.e., bushings, front and rear sway bars, etc., were used to round out the restoration/upgrade of the suspension system.
In late 2002 I was finally ready (and financially able) to begin a total restoration of "Peggy Sue’s" lovely body and chassis. However, my wife Jan and I had made the decision to retire and return from Austin to what had always been home, the Dallas area. The final restoration would have to be put on hold a little while longer. Not long after we relocated to Plano, I made the right move and joined the Dallas Area Classic Chevy’s (DACC) club. I found it to be a brotherhood of classic Chevy enthusiasts that was on the rise, with great people that were fun to be around. Fortuitously, my membership in the DACC introduced me to the folks who would bring about the transformation of "Peggy Sue" into the beautiful girl she is today. The second club meeting I attended was held at Richard Stokes’ Stoked Out Specialties in Rockwall, Texas. At the meeting I learned that Stoked Out was a new sponsor of the club, but more importantly, I was able to meet and talk with Rich and his wife Julie and view their outstanding facility. I made the decision then that Stoked Out was the one to create the "Peggy Sue" we wanted.
Rich picked up the car at my home in July 2004 and the process began. My intent was to produce a car that had the look and feel of a vintage ’57 but with significantly enhanced performance and mechanical features. Stoked Out was more than equal to the task. They first removed the body from the chassis and sanded all sheet metal to bare metal. All rust and other imperfections were then eliminated and the entire body restored to its original condition. This was done, with great attention to detail, by Shop Superintendent Roger Lynsky. The frame was sand blasted and powder coated and everything on the underside of the car now looks better than new.
When "Peggy Sue" came off the assembly line in St. Louis, Missouri, she was painted India ivory over matador red. Although I really like the two-tone paint scheme (everything today is a solid color-dull) I don’t care for "matador red," as it has too orange a hue. At the 2005 Autorama, I spotted a beautiful ’55 Bel Air hardtop that was India ivory over vermillion red. I loved that red and decided to copy it. The paint artistry of Roger and others at Stoked Out gave me exactly what I wanted. Their outstanding paint skills continued into the engine compartment, the interior and throughout the car.
Throughout the restoration process a number of other enhancements were also made to the car. An Ididit tilt steering column was installed, along with a 15" replacement steering wheel which maintains a stock appearance but makes the car a more comfortable driver and reduces the tendency for oversteer with power steering. Roger did a beautiful job of "smoothing" the firewall and hiding the under-hood electrical wiring and A/C hoses. His artistic talents are also demonstrated in the custom under-dash panel he fabricated for the Autometer engine gauges and center air conditioning outlet that integrate into the dash. Speaking of air conditioning, a Vintage Air, full servo unit was installed. Other additions include a Rain Gear electric windshield wiper system and a Custom Auto Sound stereo with CD changer.
The finishing touches on any restored car determine its overall quality. "Peggy Sue’s" upholstery was done to perfection by Andy Martin, an associate of Stoked Out Specialties. Again, to maintain the look and feel of an original ’57 Chevy, reproduction upholstery was used throughout. A number of people suggested that I should go with a leather interior. However, I maintain that the original ’57 Chevrolet Bel Air hardtop interior was one of the prettiest ever created. That’s what we went with. All of the exterior moldings and trim are original except the rear quarter panel aluminum inserts and hood rockets. They were all straightened/smoothed to perfection and highly polished by Richard Sessums out of Burleson, Texas.
And there you have it, the story of "Peggy Sue." She was a labor of love. I wrote a short piece for "Classis Heartbeat" more than a year ago regarding the progress being made in the restoration of my ’57 Chevy. I pointed out the outstanding facilities available at Stoked Out and the superior work they were doing on my car. The quality of their work continued and they never disappointed. In fact, they exceeded my expectations and produced a car that, upon her debut at the February 2006 Dallas Autorama, earned a "Best In Class" award against very stiff competition and a Street Achievement Award for "Best Engine." Two weeks later she again captured the "Best In Class" award at the popular Fort Worth Rod & Custom Show. Rich, Roger and the rest of the crew at Stoked Out Specialties have enabled a young man/old man to realize his dream of owning and driving a spectacular ’57 Chevy named "Peggy Sue."
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