We liked this '57 the minute we laid eyes on it at last year's St. Louis Super Chevy Show, but it wasn't until we were photographing it that we saw the Line-Loc button on the shifter. Then it was lust. We see hundreds of really cool Tri-Fives in our travels, but for many, the most action they see is when the owner tries not to bang the driver's side door into the inside wall of a trailer. As you can see by our lead photo, this is one Shoebox that knows how to roughhouse it from time to time.
Now, we can certainly sympathize with those who want to keep their pristine cars in perfect condition, so we tip our caps to those who spend countless thousands of hours and dollars hot rodding their rides, then pound them with a devil-may-care attitude.
Owner Tom Smith first built this Bel Air "to have a fun car to take to cruises and shows." It took him four years to complete this Hugger Orange masterpiece, though he's owned it a lot longer than that. He bought it in 1979 and it still had the factory 283 and three-on-the-tree gearbox. He enjoyed it like this for some time, then painted it orange with gold flake, and swapped in a 350/four-speed combo. Then, in 1990, disaster struck: The car caught fire and everything from the firewall forward was—literally—toast. Worse, a police officer at the scene had a fire extinguisher and wouldn't let Tom use it!
The Bel Air sat idle (and apart) for nine years, when finally his girlfriend, Theresa (now his wife), prodded him to revive it. Power comes from a 468 Rat built by Tom with JE 10.5:1 pistons, Chevy Performance aluminum heads, an Edelbrock 7162 cam, Edelbrock RPM Air Gap intake and Holley 830 cfm HP carburetor. Dynomax 2-inch headers feed 3-inch Flowmaster mufflers through an X-pipe. Estimated power is 550, and it is fed to a 9-inch rear with 4.11 gears through a Tremec TKO3550 five-speed manual trans aided by a Hurst shifter.
The front suspension employs stock Chevy A-arms, Heidts 2-inch drop spindles and Monroe Sensa-Trac shocks. Wilwood 12-inch disc brakes with dual piston calipers at all four corners help the orange Tri-Five stop far better than it ever did in 1957. Out back is a Strange Engineering ladder bar suspension, with Strange coilover shocks. The car rides on Intro “Wheeler” rims (18x7, with 5 inches backspacing up front, 20x10 with neutral backspacing rear) and BFGoodrich gForce T/A kdw tires (225/40ZR18 and 295/45ZR20). To fit the massive rear tires, mini-tubs were added, as were a custom trunk floor and fuel cell.
Since Tom and Theresa have no problem seeing the USA in their Chevrolet, the interior had to be comfortable. To that end, Tom added '95 Firebird buckets with nice cream/ostrich print ultra-leather covers. The door panels were stitched to match the seats and Auto Custom Carpet provided the cut-pile rug. Auto Meter Sport Comp gauges allow Tom to monitor the beast underhood while he's grabbing a Billet Specialties steering wheel. Mark Bielman built the custom roll bar, but all other interior work was performed by Muterts Detail & Upholstery in Wentzville, Missouri.
The biggest pain for most classic car lovers is paint and bodywork, but here's where Tom had a real advantage. Theresa and his father-in-law own Parmentier Auto Body in Washington, Missouri. (His friends tease this is why he married her.) It was here that the stellar bodywork was performed and the eye-popping PPG Deltron basecoat/clearcoat paint laid down. The paint, while occasionally covered into burnt rubber, is absolutely stunning.
The car's never been down the strip, but it has been driven from the Smith's home base to Kansas City, Des Moines, Memphis and Joliet.