With the demise of Popular Hot Rodding (PHR) magazine, there was one big asset that has been bounced around the TEN corporate offices for years. Project X, the 1957 Chevy that has graced so many PHR covers, articles, and even the movie Hollywood Knights, was pushed into the nether regions of parking garages, shops, and storage facilities, all shiny and nice and dressed for the ball that never came. HOT ROD decided its fate would be better within our grasp, and so with some loose plans and not much more we approached the TEN higher-ups and were gladly given the keys to Project X. That decision could be viewed as misplaced trust, limitless faith, or extreme ignorance—you call it.
Last week we took possession, and have driven it around to break it in after years of isolation and non-use. We went through a tank of gas cruising Pacific Coast Highway and California’s Orange County this past weekend, and got familiar with it before driving 52 miles into HOT ROD’s headquarters in rush-hour traffic.
Issues with the car are relatively minor. The idle needs to be brought down below 1,200 rpm, the rear suspension squeaks (we assume are from urethane bushings) that need quieting, the drivers window is dead, and the speedometer is intermittent due to a bad electrical connection somewhere. But who needs a speedo as long as the tach and gas gauge work—which they both do. Also the fan belt is squeaky, but eventually quiets down. Still, it sounds like chirping birds for a time—maybe belt the tensioner is shot?
We should all have these problems. Those issues are extremely minor for a car that has probably gone farther in the last three days than in the last seven years. No auto-erotic asphyxiation, no rollicking suspension and drum beat-like header explosions, no box of rocks machinations on rotten washboard roads.
The plusses, on the other hand, are many.
With the Corvette suspension and steering, it handles more like a modern 1/2-ton truck than the senior citizen it is. It’s tight and quiet enough to make the noises mentioned above grating. The Richmond five-speed shifts nicely, though we would prefer the shifter being about 3 inches farther back for comfort reasons. No matter the circumstances, the engine temperature never ventures past 195-degrees, and the oil pressure is always reading at 40-80 psi. No crazed cattle-car bangs or rattles over train tracks or bumps, no bottoming out clunks and pops, no cowl vibration or frame twist when you squeeze the trigger.
But. While it is tame and fast at the same time, it lacks the charm of a slightly cruder tri-five that takes its flaws in stride as just more character. A little more banging and clunking and a little less gold-chain grease would bring back the classic street machine, blower whine, hellzapoppin histrionics we love from an old car project.
We’ve queried you through Facebook on what you’d like to see us do with Project X, and it’s fairly unanimous to put it back to some form of its Hollywood Knights guise, and so we are headed into the murky waters of a reverse universe where what once was done is where it’s fun. It could be an involved process, with its ABS brakes, gigantic x huge brakes that will not fit into 15-inch Cragar mags, unintegrating the 1963 Impala SS center console and other do-dad gizmos wired into the harness, and pieces that rival works of art that would never work on a 1957 Chevy from the past. So we’ll ease into this and do what we as stewards of arguably the most famous 1957 Chevy ever, feel will honor its place in your hearts and minds.