What's the point of having a cool classic car if you never get to enjoy sitting behind the wheel and seeing the open road stretching out in front of you? No knock on the beautiful cars that are built and transported around like precious works of art. Those creations are always a treat to look at and admire for their craftsmanship and details. But to keep such a creation locked away from its native habitat almost seems criminal. Jesse Rocha didn't want that, so when he built his '57 hardtop, he had driving in mind.
"My wife bought this car for me 20 years ago. I left the trunk as is, so when we go to the Pomona swap meet, I can carry my Red Rider wagon and all the parts for my other projects I am working on. My wife and I take this car everywhere. It was meant to be on the street."
Jesse's wife found the Bel Air sitting at a used car dealer in south El Monte, California. The car was black with a white top and in pretty good shape, a solid, basic '57 with factory power windows, and 350/TH350 drivetrain. Since Jesse's birthday was fast approaching, his wife knew the sport coupe would be the best present she could get him. Once it was in the driveway, he looked the Tri-Five over, came up with his plan, and jumped into action.
Jesse wanted classic power for his hardtop, so together with his son they built a 383 stroker using a stock 350 block, Scat forged crank, Speed Pro pistons, and factory iron Vortec heads. The cam is an Erson flat tappet with .488/.488 lift, with Comp Cams roller rockers, and an Edelbrock RPM Air Gap intake and Holley 750 cfm carb. The combo cranks out 400 HP, which goes through a 3,400-stall converter on a built 700-R4 trans. The rear is a Moser 9-inch unit with 3.50 gears. Exhaust disposal is handled by Hedman hedders and a Flowmaster exhaust system.
The chassis is basically stock, with the factory control arms still in place, but with CPP drop spindles to lower the stance, and a CPP four-wheel disc brake kit to make sure the shoebox stops.
The body was stripped down, repaired, straightened, then sprayed in PPG's Blackberry hue by Mike's Body in Clarmont, California. Mike's also sprayed the black, purple and magenta ghost flames, before covering the whole thing in clearcoat. All the factory stainless and chrome trim was either straightened and polished or replaced.
For the interior, Jesse didn't think the original design needed any tweaking, so he ordered up new coverings for the factory seats in reproduction silver vinyl/black and silver pattern cloth material. The factory speedo, temp and fuel gauges were left in place, and supplemented with a set of Auto Meter readouts in the traditional mounting point under the glove compartment. Even the factory Bel Air stering wheel was restored and bolted back in place, and Jesse used factory '57 buttons for the power windows. And for really lighting things up at shows and cruises, Jesse installed a flame thrower kit in the exhaust.
Besides the '57, he also has a '67 RS Camaro that is his daily driver, and a '68 Camaro RS/SS convertible for when the weather's right. But, with its classic and elegant body lines, the '57 stands apart. And Jesse plans on driving it for a long time.