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Bob Phelp's 1957 Chevy Bel Air - Head-Turning Hardtop

Patrick Hill Oct 11, 2009

Bob Phelps is no stranger to nice cars. His collection of original classics, restored beauties, and LS-powered restomods would leave any car guy awestruck. And what awesome Bow Tie collection would be complete without a '57? Certainly not Bob's, and to fill the '57 niche in his collection, he built a masterpiece.

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Say what you will about the '69 Camaro, the '70 Chevelle, or the Corvette, when you say the word Chevrolet, most people will think of a '57 Chevy. And seeing this particular '57 leaves no doubt why. Whenever a restomod build is started by Bob and his crew at Bob Phelps Motorsports, the goal is always to preserve classic styling and appeal, but infuse it with modern technology for the best handling and performance possible, to make a real hybrid, one that has the best of both worlds.

When Bob found this '57, it was in Tucson, Arizona. It was originally two-tone Surf green/Highland green and unrestored except for a cheap paint job done a few years before. Still, it was rust free and wonderfully straight. After a deal was struck, Bob had the car shipped to R&S Auto Specialties in Rockdale, Illinois, for disassembly. At R&S, the stock '57 frame was set aside, and a Paul Newman chassis with C4 Corvette suspension and IRS was readied for service. A set of modern Z06 six-piston caliper brakes with a hydraboost system were tasked with stopping duties, along with Z06 rotors.

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While the chassis was being prepped, the body was stripped of all trim and glass, then treated to a full media blasting to strip it back down to metal. After this, the rear wheelwells were widened, then the body was primered, and the underside of the car treated to body undercoating to protect against rock chips.

After the body was prepped, it was bolted onto the new chassis, and the full-on assembly began. The front floorboards had to be modified to accept front buckets from a Cadillac Escalade, and a Vintage Air A/C system was installed to make cruising more comfortable. The whole interior was done in custom white leather, with late-model armrests being mated to the stock doors, and late-model door handles were used inside and out. For extra driving safety, a third brake light from a modern Impala was fitted into the decklid.

To really help the '57 turn heads going down the street, Bob chose PPG Tri-Coat paint, with a Brickyard Red basecoat, and a Cinnamon Candy top coat to give the Tri-Five a dazzling hue. Once painter Johnny Brown finished applying the colors, everything was covered over with PPG clearcoat. For the stainless and chrome trim pieces, nothing but original parts were used, so after being sent out for polishing and refurbishing all the trim fits perfectly on the body. One-piece front and rear bumpers were installed after they were narrowed to fit the body more closely for a cleaner look.

Originally Bob had wanted the '57 to have a very nice, soft ride. But as the car was modified and parts installed, the weight increased enough that the C4 fiberglass springs were being overloaded, so stiffer monoleafs were installed. When further mods overloaded the stiffer springs, the chassis was modified with tabs being welded on to mount QA1 coilover shocks, and the Corvette monoleafs were discarded. With the coilovers installed, the car rode nicely but could also fully support the vehicle weight. Rolling stock is 17-inch Corvette wheels and Goodyear Eagle F1 tires.

For power, Bob went with an LS1 engine with LS6 heads, intake, and a Comp cam. Backing that up is a 4L60E trans and keeping the dynamic duo cool is a PRC aluminum radiator. Keeping tabs on how everything is performing went to a Classic Instruments system, mounted in the stock '57 gauge locations. A Pioneer audio system provides the cruising tunes.

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If you think this car is a trailer queen, you're sorely mistaken. Since the car's been finished, Bob has driven it numerous times, including several long distance runs from the west coast of Florida, where the '57 is based to shows like the Daytona Turkey Run. When asked about what he would do differently if he built the car again, Bob's reply is, "I'd install an LS9."

We guess that is the only thing that could make an already stunning '57 better.



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