When you think of handling prowess and cornering ability, the last thing anyone thinks of is an old station wagon. But the crew at Newman Car Creations came to the 2009 Super Chevy Handling & Suspension Challenge with a shoebox wagon that would show just how well the original American SUV could be made to handle.
The Surf Green/Highland Green 210 Townsman came to the Newmans through a friend of a friend. Newman Car Creations founder/owner Paul Newman was talking to his wife's parents, and they told him about their friend Bob Krebs, who had just inherited a '57 Chevy. Bob had a week to pick the car up or it would be sold. Bob went to San Gabriel and found an unmolested and excellent condition car that hadn't been driven since 1971, showing less than 60K on the odometer.
Bob knew the '57 needed to come home with him. After filling up the old tires with fresh air, he and a friend loaded the '57 on the trailer and made the harrying trip back to Paso Robles with Bob's '65 Ford pickup pulling the trailer. Because of a transmission issue, he had to hold the shifter in second gear or it would pop out into neutral on its own. This was nerve racking when towing a trailer through curving California mountain roads.
Knowing Bob was right next to door to his in-laws, Paul and his wife Michelle had to meet him in person and see the '57. Bob was more than happy to oblige. Even though on the surface it needed a lot of scrubbing, Paul could tell the '57 was straight and virtually rust free, with all the hard to find wagon trim and glass in excellent shape. Bob asked if Paul could take the '57 to the Newman shop and get it running again.
After cleaning out the gas tank, a new fuel pump, rebuilt carb, and other basic tune-up items, the '57's original 265 (that's right, this car was one of the rare yellow painted, 2-bbl 265 equipped '57s) fired right up and ran like a top.
Since Bob had no use for the wagon, he offered it to Paul for the right price, and the car had a new home with the Newman clan. Paul still considers the '57 the best car purchase he ever made. For the first year the '57 was driven in bone stock form. After extensive driving, Paul came to two conclusions: 1) The '57 Chevys in stock form drive pretty good when the car is in top shape, with speed, braking, and cornering limitations always right there, and 2) A lot of so called "enhancement kits" hurt the car's handling more than they helped, a "clash of engineering" as Paul puts it.
After a year of evaluations, Paul and crew modified the '57's frame to accept '96 Corvette all-aluminum independent front and rear suspension. Newman offers its own custom-designed Tri-Five chassis using C4 Corvette front and rear suspension, but for a stock frame, the Newman crew removes all unnecessary bracketry, completely sand blasts the frame, then installs a new rectangular rear cross member, along with aluminum torque arm, torque arm mount, Newman Car Creations' cast aluminum cross members, late-model motor mount system, and everything necessary to install the C4's independent front and rear suspension. Once everything is set, the frame is fully powder coated for protection and an eye appealing finish.
On the course, the car was absolutely fantastic, not only to watch, but to ride in. Going around the autocross course, I got to experience just what the wagon could do. But don't take my word for it, keep on reading to see what Mary Pozzi and Jim Campisano thought about driving the grocery getter.
Driver's Impression-On the Autocross Course
Whoever said that a 52-year-old grocery getter couldn't handle an autocross course couldn't have gotten it more wrong. Both of the wagons (this one and the Hotchkis Sport Suspension entry) navigated the cones with minimal fuss and absolutely no drama, which pleased me to no end. You'd never expect this type of automobile to get good marks for my part of the testing, but the Newman Car Creations Chevy wagon sealed the deal-and how!