There’s no question about it: The most iconic 1957 Chevy of all time is the bright-yellow 210 coupe known to Tri-Five lovers worldwide as Project X. The year was 1965, three years ahead of film industry watchdogs introducing the X rating, when Popular Hot Rodding magazine gave the car its Project X moniker. From that point the race was on and as fast as PHR readers could write in suggestions for hop-ups to undertake, the yellow ’57 would appear in PHR tech articles.
In 1980, Project X made its movie debut starring with fellow first-timers Michelle Pfeiffer and Tony Danza in Hollywood Knights. The movie was set in 1965 and glorified the benefits of owning such a cool car. It was after seeing a VHS tape that a 13-year-old Ken Farrell made a commitment to himself that one day he would own a 1957 Chevrolet and turn it into a full-blown hot rod.
Before Ken had turned age 14, he found a rusted hulk of a ’57 Chevy coupe with a barely running 327/four-speed for $450 and drug it home. As good luck would have it, Ken’s folks owned one of the very few homes in Queens that had a garage. First on Ken’s agenda was to teach himself how to do bodywork. He stripped the paint down to the bare metal, discovered a bunch of rusted-out, Bondo-packed holes and then learned how to braze in patch panels. It was an everyday afterschool project until, ultimately, the ’57 was in deep coats of candy apple red acrylic lacquer.
Under the hood, in true Project X fashion, Ken put the 327 through a gauntlet of experimental modifications. First came a turbocharger and then nitrous. It wasn’t long before the first 327 sawed itself in half and was supplanted with a healthier version. As the fresh 327 gained its added increments of horsepower, transmissions and rearends started to let go. By now, Ken had graduated high school and started working as an NYC ironworker. Simultaneously, having become really good at welding, Ken got the Pro Street bug and tracked down a pair of M/T Sportsman tires and a narrowed 8 3/4-inch rearend with ladder bars.
While Ken’s welding and fabricating skills exhibited prowess, he had yet to tub a car. Nevertheless, Ken completely whacked the rear out of his frame, fabricated the parts at work he thought he would need, and then took them home on the train. Ken’s dad walked out into the garage right after he chopped the frame in two, and burst into a profanity-laced tirade about Ken ruining his car. Thinking no Pro Street conversion is complete without a mega-engine, Ken bought a new-in-the-crate L88, installed a blower with two Predator carbs on top and a Vertex magneto. The finishing touch was a full ’cage. Back on the street, the L88 developed a voracious appetite for five-speed and Clutch-Flite transmissions.
The candy red paint and loving-hands-at-home bodywork was starting to show its age, so Ken had his painter buddy, Louie in the Bronx, hang a new quarter-panel on the car and squirt it turquoise with a white top. By now, Ken was married with two sons and one daughter and fitting three kiddie chairs in between the ’57’s rollcage bars was a major hassle. Ken decided to build a larger car and put the ’57 up for sale.
The apple didn’t fall very far from the tree when it came to Ken’s sons. Through the years his boys listened to Ken express his desires to build a Project X replica and told him it was time to take action. While attending the SEMA show in Las Vegas, Ken entered the words “1957 Chevy” into the search bar on eBay and the fourth car in the resulting list was his old ’57 210 coupe. Still in disbelief, Ken called the seller and learned it was Mark, the guy in New Jersey he sold the ’57 to many years ago.
Mark was as amazed as Ken at the ’57’s fate and went to great lengths to help Ken get the car back into his hands. “It was like Mark kept my car in a time capsule, it was virtually unchanged.”
The first thing Ken took care of was to strip the front fenders off the car and cut out the “hack job” firewall he made to clear the Vertex-sparked L88. Another interesting twist of fate to this story is Ken had become friends with former Popular Hot Rodding editor, Lenny Emanuelson. We asked Brian Brennan, Popular Hot Rodding’s tech editor during Lenny’s PHR editorship for some background on the real Project X. “Lenny practically lived in Project X during those days,” said Brennan.
What person better than Lenny to help Ken re-create the car of his dreams? To radius and slightly flare the rear wheelwells exactly like Project X, Lenny instructed Ken to follow a PHR tech article showing how they used conduit, and heated it to form the shape. Ken said it’s the best modification on the car, hands down.
For the perfect color match, Lenny informed Ken the bright yellow was pulled from an early Corvette chart. To handle painting the ’57, Ken had his friend Keith at Maaco in Riverside, California, lay on a super slick, right out of the gun, never been color-sanded or rubbed paintjob. Even though the doors, front fenders, trunk lid, and hood were removed to paint, the cost came in at a very affordable price.
Although Tribute X pays homage to Project X, it’s interesting to note Ken wasn’t trying to create a clone. On the inside of the car, the idea was to create an interior that looked period correct and not worry about it being an exact copy. The headliner in Ken’s Tribute X is still the one his mom made and installed way back in his high school days.
For power, there’s still the 427-inch L88 Ken dropped in way back in the day. It was sent to Monte at Machine Tech in Oceanside, California, for a good going through. The cylinders were bored 0.030-over and Speed Pro 9:1 pistons were installed. A COMP hydraulic roller cam handles intake and exhaust flow through the original L88 heads. The blower sits on a BDS intake. The FiTech dual-quad fuel-injection setup with an on-dash command center is from Ken’s company FiTech in Riverside, California. ARP hardware was used to pin it all together. Fabricated and installed by the Muffler Man in Placentia, California, the exhaust system starts with custom headers dumping into 3-inch exhaust pipes with Black Widow Pro 3X mufflers to dampen the sound. Cooling is via an aluminum Griffin two-row radiator, and a six-quart oil pan feeds the engine lubricant.
At the end of a long line of transmissions before it, a Tremec TKO 600 five-speed is now in place. The clutch and pressure plate are a Phoenix 11-inch, dual-friction setup housed within a Lakewood scattershield. An Inland driveshaft links the TKO to a Winters quick-change rearend with gears on-hand for 4.30 or 3.70 ratios.
In the tradition of Project X, Ken says his ’57 Chevy has been the testbed for every crazy powertrain idea he has ever had, and he wanted to thank his family and friends for helping him realize a dream.
On May 29, 2014, Popular Hot Rodding magazine ceased publication and the keys to Project X were handed over to Super Chevy. Project X’s next public appearance will be at the Tri-Five Nationals in Bowling Green, Kentucky, on August 14-15, 2015.