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1957 Chevy Bel Air Looks Awesome After Getting a Full Makeover

Sweet Dream On Elm Street: This Tri-Five is strong, healthy, and maintains a unique position in the life of a family

Ro McGonegal Jan 11, 2017
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More than 50 years ago I had a 1960 Biscayne with a Tri-power 348 and three-by-the-knee. It was as black and as sharp as a tuxedo. Make no mistake, I loved that car. One day my younger brother, who didn’t own a car, asked if he could tool it “downtown” to do or get something, I don’t remember what. Much later, he and the Biscayne jerked up the driveway sporting some very serious rash on the passenger side. It was like a bull’s-eye. My eye came to it immediately. It was stove in right at the B-pillar; a big nasty punt I knew could never be fixed right. I chased that kid all over the eight acres we had. I thumped him twice that day.

According to Don Short, something similar occurred when he was coming up. He’s had this Bel Air ragtop since 1971, a car that used to be his daily driver through high school and college. He says his most memorable experience with it happened when he was somewhere else! His brother took it for spin without telling him … and racked it up pretty bad. Don parked it, put a tarp over it, and walked away. Although there were several opportunities, he just couldn’t bring himself to sell his first car.

1957 Chevy Bel Air Side View 2/52

It huddled in Don’s Elm Street garage under that cover for more than 30 years. And then, shazam! After all that time, popular interest was renewed and the value of the Tri-Five had grown exponentially. Don: “After our children were grown, Sharon [his loving wife] and I decided to have it turned into a hot rod. We began a relationship with builder Lonny Moore in Wichita. The reconstruction took most of four years to complete. Let’s just say I got to know Lonny very well.”

The Bel Air, it seems, represented all the frustration and missed chances at building his car of a lifetime. All the while, Don’s vision was to socialize and enjoy driving it rather than actively compete in some time trial or another. He addressed all the sub-assemblies and their contribution to form the car in detail as well as substance. He pulled an LS2 from a 2006 GTO and sent it to Mark Campbell and the lads at Street & Performance for the once-over … which became the twice-over. S&P ground the sides of the block completely smooth and then painted it 2007 Lexus Code 96 Pearl Gray. Since the goal was reliable, gas-worthy performance, S&P retained the OE cylinder heads, rotating assembly, and cam timing. They enhanced what was left in two historical realms: upgrading the intake and exhaust systems. They incorporated an aftermarket EFI aluminum intake manifold and applied S&P headers that dump into a 2.5-inch diameter system.

1957 Chevy Bel Air Convertible Grille 3/52
1957 Chevy Bel Air Convertible Side View 4/52

Don sought a firm footing in an Art Morrison GT Sport Tri-5 chassis, a rigid 2x4 web and stubborn stringers. The ’rails include special spindles, tubular control arms, coilover shocks, and DSE rack steering with a semi-quick 20:1 ratio; just the ticket for casual cruising. In the rear, a four-link system, antisway bar, and coilovers support the narrowed (57.5 inches) Currie 9-inch axlehousing.

With the driven portion of the build under control, Don and Lonny Moore conjoined pragmatism with styling and build cues derived from the past. Don wanted that codger Five-Seven decidedly understated yet unquestionably elegant in the harsh light of modern day scrutiny.

1957 Chevy Bel Air Hood 5/52
1957 Chevy Bel Air Convertible Engine Bay 6/52

Moore’s metal savvy and dedication have produced such a thing, one that’s slick with details but does not deviate from the original form. You might imagine the discussion between the camps during the four-year gestation, two principals that could meet face-to-face at any given time to hash out point and counterpoint. Once straight, smooth, and true, the Bel Air was painted by Joe Della Rosa in Wichita.

Don found the Bel Air more than 30 years ago. It was local. He said that it was in “fair” condition. Then his brother racked it up real good, crashing the front clip, hood, and part of the firewall as well. The wreck was deemed a total loss, so a lifetime after the fact, it became a great excuse to put up fresh sheetmetal. Lonny and his crew put up that sterling firewall and assembled the clip but retained the original cowl and revived the original package tray. Perhaps the largest interior departure is the seats that were custom-crafted by Wichita’s Tom Richardson. His interior treatment followed and the tan hides became a great foil for the deep, black body.

1957 Chevy Bel Air Convertible Interior 7/52

Don speaks of his fair ’57. “When it was finished, it was in several local charity car shows. This past year, we just got in it and drove—long weekends, dinners, weddings, and … proms? We live in a small town … and the kids want to know if I will drive them to the prom. When I tell them no, you can see the disappointment.” His eyes brightened and he said, “Then I tell them they can drive it to the prom. They can’t believe it. I know them well and I just don’t loan it to everyone. When they arrive at the prom and get out, I discreetly get in and drive it home. Fun, fun, fun. Hagerty would probably not like this, but it is our small way to get young people interested in our hobby, our passion.”

In our humble opinion, more people need to be following this path.

1957 Chevy Bel Air Rear 8/52

Tech Check
Owner: Don Short, Oxford, Kansas
Vehicle: 1957 Bel Air
Engine
Type: 2006 LS2
Displacement: 364 ci
Compression Ratio: 10.9:1
Bore: 4.000 inches
Stroke: 3.622 inches
Cylinder Heads: OE, 2.00/1.55 valves, 65cc combustion chambers, 210cc cathedral intake ports
Rotating Assembly: OE, nodular iron crankshaft, powdered metal rods, cast aluminum pistons
Valvetrain: OE 1.7:1 roller trunnion rocker arms, OE pushrods, OE lifters
Camshaft: OE hydraulic (200/203-deg. duration at 0.050, 0.500/0.500-inch lift)
Induction: Aluminum OE-type intake manifold, Tanks, Inc. stainless fuel cell
Ignition: OE, custom coil covers
Exhaust: Street & Performance headers HPC-coated, 2.5-inch stainless system, Patriot mufflers
Ancillaries: Ron Francis wiring
Output (est.): 435 hp
Machine Work: Galen Frick (Wichita, KS) and Street & Performance (Mena, AK)
Built by: Street & Performance
Drivetrain
Transmission: Bowler 4L60E, 9-inch 2,800-stall converter, Power Drive aluminum driveshaft
Rear Axle: Narrowed Currie 9-inch, 3.73:1 gears, Truetrac differential, Moser 31-spline axles
Chassis
Front Suspension: Art Morrison chassis, tubular control arms, Morrison/Ford spindles, Aldan coilover shocks, adjustable antisway bar
Rear Suspension: Morrison four-link, Aldan coilover shocks, adjustable antisway bar
Brakes: Wilwood 13-inch rotors, six-piston calipers front; 13-inch rotors, four-piston calipers rear; Wilwood master cylinder and proportioning valve
Wheels & Tires
Wheels: Budnik Illusion 18x9 front, 20x10 rear
Tires: Nitto NT555 225/45 front, 275/35 rear
Interior
Upholstery: Richardson’s Custom Interiors (Wichita, KS)
Material: Leather
Seats: Custom-built by Tom Richardson
Steering: Morrison rack, Budnik wheel
Shifter: Lokar
Dash: Stock
Instrumentation: Classic Intruments
Audio: Alpine head unit
HVAC: Vintage Air
Exterior
Bodywork: Lonny Moore’s Collision Repair (Wichita, KS)
Paint by: Joe Della Rosa (Wichita, KS)
Paint: Axalta Black base/clear
Hood: Stock
Grille: Stock
Bumpers: Stock

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