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1957 Chevy Bel Air Goes From Daily Driver To Full Show

Second Round: Originally purchased for daily transportation, Dan Swisher has owned this 1957 Chevy for 50 years and has transformed it once again

John Machaqueiro Nov 23, 2017
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There is an unwritten rule in magazine land that once you’ve had your car in print, the likelihood of having it featured in the same publication a second time is pretty slim. The thing about rules is that they are made to be broken, so we’re going to do some rules breaking with Dan Swisher’s ’57 Chevy. His car first graced the pages of Super Chevy back in the dark ages of film and dial-up modems. It was featured in the April 2000 issue dedicated to Tri-Fives. If you still have that one stashed away somewhere, crack it open and you’ll be able to read about his car up to that point. If you don’t, we’re about to fill you in on all the details.

We’ll start the Swisher Chevy saga, or “Swish” as he is called by all his buddies, at the very beginning, back to 1966 when he was still in high school. Setting him back a cool $300, the ’57 would be the first of many automotive purchases he would make over the years. Dressed in Tropical Turquoise and Ivory White with a 283 and a three-speed on the floor, it was an unmolested original car with some miles on the odometer. After graduation, he enlisted in the Air Force and the ’57 served as daily transportation at all the bases he was stationed at.

003 Chevy 1957 Bel Air Blue Danchuk Custom Show Swish 2/39

During a stint in the Boston area, the roads surrounding the air base were a hotbed of street racing, something that Swish fancied. He developed a real taste for it and it served as the impetus for some tweaking on the car. In an effort to be competitive with the locals, he recalls, “a couple of fellows from California that were stationed with me and were really into racing said, ‘Let’s do a job on her.’ They made a few calls back home and the next thing you know, I had a modified 283 bored 30-over, 202 heads, a ’62 Corvette fuelie cam with solid lifters, a four-speed, and a four-barrel double-pumper. She was a ’57 on steroids!” From that point forward, it started leading a double life as daily transportation and weekend warrior. The original paint also gave way to a shade of Autumn Brown, which was eventually replaced by Jade Green.

Upon his return to civilian life, the ’57’s double duty continued. During the week it was used to tool around town and on the weekend it saw street racing duty. Swish took particular pleasure in hunting down and beating up on Fords. He notes, “I mainly looked for 289 hi-po Mustangs because at the time they were the ‘in’ cars.” With the passage of time, he acquired a 1931 Ford pickup that went under the knife and was turned into a street rod, and that became the object of his affection. He freely admits, “It’s sad to say but the ’57 ended up sitting for a few years.”

028 Chevy 1957 Bel Air Blue Danchuk Custom Show Swish 3/39

Over that time span he owned four other street rods while the Chevy sat dormant, but you never forget your first love. Swish recounts, “One night I was sitting there in front of the TV bored out of my mind, so I went into the basement and began staring at her, and she stared back and said, it’s my turn.” Before the night was over, he had the entire rear quarter stripped of paint. In the span of a week, the car was down to a bare body and frame. After many months at the body shop getting some cosmetic enhancements, the old girl returned wearing a fresh coat of Frog Eyed Pearl Green. Swish got her all back together, and from that point on she was a show queen. He did many shows and won numerous awards. Even Johnny Lightning hit him up to do a die-cast replica of the ’57, which culminated with the shoot for Super Chevy in 2000.

After it appeared in the magazine, he continued to show the car for a number of years, but you can only bring the same thing to the table so many times before it gets old, and it started to get old and dated. By 2002 he was looking for a change. He explains, “I connected with a fellow who wanted to redo the car. In short, it was a total disaster.” This guy was filled with good intentions and made promises he ultimately could not deliver on. The end result was a hatchet job that needed to be fixed. Swish then hooked up with Ralph O’Neal to try and repair some of the carnage. Working out of his home shop, Ralph fabricated a new rear frame section that incorporated new mounting points to support the 1966 Jaguar IRS housing.

004 Chevy 1957 Bel Air Blue Danchuk Custom Show Swish 4/39

The next chapter came about at the 2002 Detroit Autorama. At the show, Swish met up with Scott Schneckloth, owner of Sniks Rod & Custom in Manly, Iowa. After some back and forth negotiations, he commissioned Scott to fix the remaining damage inflicted by the original shop, while also updating the rest of ’57. For the next four years, he set out to reimagine the Chevy. The end result is a deceptive treat. At first glance it all appears rather stock until you start looking at the details. While the hood cutouts for the Weber stacks are unmistakable, if you’ve not been indoctrinated into the Tri-Five visual lingo, you might miss the 3 inches added to the back of the hood. That increase in length was the result of the cowl being removed and a custom recessed one fabricated, which pushed the hood line back to the windshield. The fenders were also lengthened 3 inches to accommodate the new hood dimensions. As you move farther back, other items were massaged. The door handles were shaved and the quarter-panel inserts deleted. The changes weren’t confined only to the topside.

The underside of the car also saw extensive modifications. Scott cut out all the original sheetmetal and replaced it with custom-fabricated pieces for a clean, smooth look. That was in part achieved by cleverly hiding all the structural reinforcements inside the car. The body was channeled 3 inches over the frame and the front suspension converted to a tubular A-arm and coilover spring configuration. The front bumper was a new one-piece unit that was being offered by Danchuk at the time, so that was integrated into the front clip, while the rear bumper had a 2-inch chop to bring it in tighter to the body. By the time he was ready to lay down the DuPont Teal Pearl paint, the only panel that remained stock was the roof—everything else had been tweaked. Even the deleted quarter-panel inserts were painted on.

029 Chevy 1957 Bel Air Blue Danchuk Custom Show Swish 5/39

Under the hood is the real kicker. You would think that with all the daily miles logged and the countless street racing duels over the years that the original engine would be a distant memory. Incredibly, the original 283 block is still in place. Punched 30-over and capped with a set of 202 heads, it still retains the Corvette fuelie camshaft and solid lifter configuration that he used on the street. Since the ’57 was being groomed for all-out show duty, the heads were molded to the block and every surface ground smooth. They were then painted to match the exterior of the car. The Weber intake was given a special treatment. It was ground smooth and chrome-plated, while the Weber carburetors that adorn it were gold-plated. Backing the 283 is an M21 four-speed that received the same treatment as the block, with all the surfaces ground smooth and then cloaked with a bath of paint. The Jaguar IRS was equally treated to a mix of chrome, paint, and gold.

As the car came together, it needed an interior that would complement all the custom exterior work. For that task, Swish sent the ’57 to Hot Rod Fabrication in Denton, Maryland. Jeff Sholes, who was working there at the time, was responsible for crafting the new interior. The front and rear seats, along with all the door panels were custom-fabricated and then covered in a number of shades of leather, along with numerous handcrafted decorative metal trim pieces. The overhead console is also a custom piece that houses all the switches for the power windows. A mix of original instruments and AutoMeter gauges keeps Swish informed, while a Billet Specialties wheel covers the steering duties. The leather theme also carried over into the trunk, which was tastefully finished.

010 Chevy 1957 Bel Air Blue Danchuk Custom Show Swish 6/39

Deciding on the rolling stock was another choice that depended heavily on a key stylistic element within the overall design of the ’57. Swish decided to carry the visual element from the steering wheel over to the rolling stock. Billet Specialties SLC75 wheels measuring 18x7.5 (front) and 20x8.5 (rear) were his choice to visually tie the two together. They were wrapped in BFGoodrich g-Force T/A tires 245/40R18 (front) and 255/35R20 (rear).

For Swish, the journey with this ’57 has spanned over a half-century and he isn’t shy about telling you that since it was reborn it has become a trailer queen. If you do ask him why, you’d better be prepared to hear how this car served its master faithfully for many decades. The old girl has never looked better and all this cosmetic surgery ensures she can go the distance for another half-century.

Photos by John Machaqueiro

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