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1957 Chevy 150 - Featherweight Champ

In the glory days of Detroit, a back seat was still optional

Patrick Hill Jul 9, 2007
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Even though it was devoid of all the fancy stainless and chrome trim of the Bel Air and 210 model lines, the classic shape and body features of the '57 were still there on the utilitarian 150 models. From the instantly recognizable front grille to the F-86 fighter jet-inspired fins, this body style was one of the first to look fast even while sitting still.

Ah, for the good olds days. Don't worry, this isn't going to be a cliche laden, wax nostalgic story about how everything was great back in the day. But to tell a story right, you have to set the stage. Ours is 1957, when the performance wars in Detroit were just hitting their stride.

In the land before time ... that is, before the Internet, before homes had one or two or three TVs, there existed a curious creature: the traveling salesman of the '50s and '60s. This nomadic hawker of various wares and sundries would crisscross the U.S. hauling his product samples to show people-business owners, industrious housewives, farmers, city folk-how their lives could be easier and better if they bought whatever he was selling.

For such a task, salesmen needed a car capable of hauling various shaped products around the country, and have them still be in one piece when they got to their sales call. The first option would be a station wagon, the grandfather of today's SUVs. But some salesmen didn't want or need the large bulk of a wagon. Enter the Handyman sedan.

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The dual-quad 283 was available in either a 245hp (hydraulic cam) or a 270hp (mechanical cam) version. The batwing air cleaner used dual air filter elements for the pair of Carter carbs. Igniting all of that air and fuel is a factory original GM dual-point distributor. Feeding the thirsty Carters is an AC high-volume mechanical fuel pump. The 283 with its short stroke was a fast revving engine for its day and, if tuned properly, could make lots of high-rpm power on the street or at the track.

When the '55 Chevy first debuted in the fall of 1954, part of the budget-priced 150 model line was a two-door sedan that replaced the backseat with a large package tray that stretched from behind the front seat all the way into the trunk. Designed for traveling salesmen and various business fleets, these utility sedans offered flexibility for hauling goods or cargo with easy loading and unloading.

The beautiful thing was, while the cars were devoid of the bright Bel Air trim, they still boasted the sleek, head-turning lines of the Chevy cars. And they were available with any engine option. In '55 when the top powerplant was the 180-horse 265, this wasn't terribly earth shattering. But in '57, that would all change.

Chevy's engine lineup for '57 was revamped and boasting some serious horsepower. The small-block had been punched out to 283 cubic inches, and featured single and dual four-barrel options, and the landmark mechanical fuel injection options. The dual-quad and f.i. engines were available in low-horse hydraulic cam or high-horse mechanical cam versions. For '57, you had the choice of seven different V-8 engines, starting with a 162-horse two-barrel 265 V-8, and peaking with a 283hp fuel-injected 283. Except for the 270-horse and 283-horse small-blocks, all engines could be had with either a rock solid Powerglide automatic or a three-speed manual transmission (with or without overdrive). Four-speeds appeared later, but most people could only get the three-speed tranny.

With a curb weight just under 3,200 pounds, a 150 Handyman sedan with a high-horse 283 became the closest thing to a rocket ship Americans could experience. Even devoid of stainless and chrome trim, the '57 Chevy still turns heads with either one of the dual-quad equipped 283s or one of the injected motors. That's how our feature car came to be.

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Look at that trunk! You could fit three bodies in there. The expansive size of a Tri-Five trunk made it ideal for the nomadic salesman (or mob hitman) who had to live out of his car for weeks at a time and haul his products across countless state lines.

Sometime in the '57 model year, a Harbor Blue 150 Handyman was ordered with the 245hp, dual-quad 283. The car featured neither radio nor heater; it came with a three-speed-on-the-column manual transmission, and that was it. The only options ordered on the car were electric windshield wipers and armrests for the doors. What purpose the car was ordered for is anyone's guess, but for a time this car served the purpose of its various owners well. Eventually the car was mothballed, left to rot until Dave and Kenny Snodgrass came along.

The two brothers are no strangers to Tri-Fives. Along with their father, they've restored numerous cars over the years and lived hip-deep in the Tri-Five world. After a break from the restoration business, Dave and Kenny wanted to find a 150 to make into a replica stock car as an honor to their father's days of racing in the Southeast. Their friend Mike Callagy located a 150 that fit the bill, and the Snodgrass boys purchased what they thought was just a regular '57 150. The outside of the car was in poor condition when they bought it, but the interior was still intact and in decent shape. The backseat was missing, with a wooden platform in its place that was filled with miscellaneous stuff. The car was partially dismantled and had not been covered up, so the exterior was going to need a lot of work.

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This car's clean lines aren't cluttered up by any fancy options like heat or even a radio. Built well before anything that could be considered a portable music device was built, one can only wonder what the car's original owner did while he was driving. Any '57, from the Bel Air down to the 150 could be ordered with as many, or as few, options as the buyer wished.

After they got the car home to their shop, an examination of the cowl tag showed a 1211B designation next to the body style designation. Something clicked in Dave's mind-he realized this meant the car was one of 8,300 Handyman sedans built by Chevrolet in 1957. The second rarest Chevy built that year (only the Nomad is more uncommon), Dave and Kenny knew they had something unusual on their hands. Not until they started digging deeper into the car would they know how rare.

While going over the frame of the car, Dave noticed the fuel lines from the gas tank were bigger than stock '57 lines. At first he thought someone had replaced the lines with bigger one's in the car's life, but further examination showed the lines were larger GM factory ones. Knowing that only cars with either the dual-quad 283 or the f.i. engine came with such lines, Dave and Kenny stepped back and rethought their plan for the car. They felt that cutting it up into a replica stock car would be a travesty. Instead, they started a six-month restoration process that included hundreds of man hours. The car was stripped down, the rotten sheetmetal replaced, and the rear package area was restored with a new wooden platform. Using their connections for Tri-Five parts, a replica of the car's original hydraulic-cammed, dual-quad powerplant was built and installed along with a rebuilt three-speed tranny. The exterior was sprayed in factory Harbor Blue, while the interior was recovered in the original black vinyl/black and gray pattern cloth upholstery (the only interior option for a '57 150 model unless you ordered a station wagon).

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Once the sedan was back together, Dave and Kenny trailered the car from their home in Melbourne, Florida, to the Classic Chevy International 2006 Winternationals at Old Town in Kissimmee, Florida. In its first showing to judges, the car scored 993 on the 1,000 point judging scale, a near perfect feat that most restored Tri-Five owners dream of. We came upon it at the 2006 Gainesville, Florida, Super Chevy Show, where it garnered an Editors' Choice show car award.

Who knows why this particular car was ordered the way it was, who first sat behind its wheel, and if it ever saw any sort of racing action (though we have to think at some point in its life the '57 experienced a high-rpm clutch dump and a sprint down a quarter-mile stretch of pavement). But thanks to the Snodgrass brothers, this lightweight '57 is still around to remind us of the early glory days of factory-built, stripped-down cars and high horsepower muscle.



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