1957 Chevrolet Bel Air - It’s A Wonderful ’57 Convertible

Jimmy Stewart’s restomod ragtop is a smooth drink of merlot Tri-Five goodness

Patrick Hill May 11, 2011 0 Comment(s)
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I never thought I’d be doing a story on Jimmy Stewart’s ’57 convertible. As a lifelong fan of the actor’s films (The Spirit of St. Louis, Strategic Air Command, Flight of the Phoenix, and the one everyone knows, It’s a Wonderful Life), to say I’m writing about Jimmy Stewart’s Tri-Five is pretty cool, even if it’s not the actor Jimmy Stewart I’m talking about.

Our Jimmy Stewart came into possession of his ’57 by way of Car Trader magazine around 2000. Located in St. Louis, the car sported white paint with red interior and was in pretty good shape. Since the ragtop was so far from stock at the time of purchase, Jimmy decided there was too much to be done in returning it to original, so instead he went the other way and began a tasteful, full-custom job.

The seats came from an ’02 Chrysler 300 and were re-covered in Australian leather (no Paul Hogan jokes, please), and retain their power movement up front. Krist Kustoms made up the new door panels to match, and the crafters at Artisan’s Rod & Classics built up a special center console housing a Lokar shifter that Krist Kustoms could cover to match the rest of the interior. Filling the factory gauge bezel are Classic Instruments readouts in their dial style.

The body was cleaned up, straightened, then sprayed in Dupont two-stage Merlot FX Red by Artisan’s Rod & Classics. A new grille was sourced from Classic Chevy International to go with the rest of the car’s original stainless and chrome trim, which was tuned up by Metalbrite in Dayton, Ohio.

Such a beautiful body couldn’t be set back down on a mundane, stock ’57 chassis, so Jimmy called Art Morrison Enterprises for one of its GT55 chassis. The fully-boxed steel frame sports 2-inch drop spindles, Art Morrison-designed front tubular control arms, Baer four-piston calipers at the corners with 11-inch rotors, and QA1 coilovers. In the rear is a 9-inch built by Jimmy himself with 3.55 gears and a limited-slip unit, connected to the Art Morrison four-link suspension. Overall, the car has 2 inches of lowering thanks to the new chassis, and rolls on Foose Nitrous II wheels, 17 inches fore, 18 inches aft, wrapped in Bridgestone Turanza rubber.

With a nice body and an equally fine chassis, not just any powerplant would do for the ’57’s motivation. Griff Engine Builders started with a Donovan alloy mouse block, punched out the bores and added a bigger crank for 410 cubes. The heads are Brodix units, with a Crane hydraulic roller cam and valvetrain, Edelbrock Performer intake and Performer 800 cfm air/fuel mixer, fed by an Edelbrock mechanical pump. Exhaust disposal is handled by a pair of Sanderson headers with ceramic coating connected to Magnaflow mufflers. Bolted to the back side of the block is a TCI-built 700-R4 with 2,000 speed stall converter. The package pumps out about 500 pump gasfriendly horsepower, and around 460 lb-ft of torque.

If you ask Jimmy what his favorite part of the car is, you’ll be a long time waiting. "I can’t pick just one unique feature. The car is unique from front to back and top to bottom."

Using his machine shop abilities, Jimmy crafted a lot of the custom brackets and pieces that tie the car together, and with the help of Richard Perry, Krist Kustoms, Artisan’s Rod & Classics, and Griff Engine Builders, he has what is on the outside a subtle restomod ’57, but inside is a highly custom, one-of-a-kind Tri-Five ragtop.

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