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1957 Chevrolet Corvette - Bare-Bones Fun

This '57 Is Dressed Up Now, But It Was Built For...

John Nelson Mar 1, 2001
Vemp_0103_01_z 1957_chevrolet_corvette Top_down_driver_side_front_view 2/1

New automobiles are pretty well equipped these days. Even if you're buying a bottom-of-the-line econo box, chances are that you'll still get a radio, and there will almost certainly be a heater on board. Further up the four-wheeled food chain, the array of standard equipment found on new cars is impressive. Today's Corvette features just about all the bells and whistles, right off the lot. But it wasn't always so. In the late '50s and early '60s, cars could be (and were) ordered with hot engines and a minimum of extras. Dennis Pagliano of San Marino, California, remembers this time well.

As a high school student in nearby Pasadena, Dennis cruised his "banged up" '49 Ford at the Bob's Big Boy on Colorado Blvd., and recalls that the hot automotive ticket was a '57 Chevy 210 with the 283ci/283hp fuel-injected engine. "Guys would order the 210, not the Bel Air, and get the Corvette engine in it. The cars were "bare bones": no back seat, no radio, no heater," he recalls. "They weren't trying to impress anyone; they wanted a harder, faster, racy look." These stripped down specials also cost less, which was another plus for the younger buyer. The 210s were popular, but, according to Dennis, what everyone really wanted was a '57 Corvette. For those who could afford them, a fuelie Vette was the ultimate performance machine. He graduated from high school in 1960, went to medical school, and went through a variety of cars, but Dennis Pagliano didn't forget about the fast, bare bones cruisers and fuelie Corvettes of his youth.

Thirty-nine years later, things finally came together so that Dennis could obtain the object of his youthful lust. He heard about Corvette restorer Charlie Bacon of Running Springs, California, who has been working on and restoring Corvettes for 37 years. Dennis and his wife Connie went to check out a '62, but fell for a solid Venetian Red '57. Connie, whose Corvette enthusiasm matches that of her husband, told Dennis, "The '62's nice, but you're buying the '57." And that's exactly what they did.

The '57 had been stored for 20 years before Bacon came across it, and although he's built cars for concours judging in the past, what Bacon really likes to do is "build 'em back to where people can drive 'em...if they're too perfect, people are afraid to drive 'em." In fact, Bacon insists that the cars are "best when they're driven on a regular basis, to exercise 'em." So after collecting the needed replacement parts, he built the car with that in mind, returning the rolling chassis to its factory fresh glory, and installed a new interior to round out the creature comforts. Most of the glory, however, comes courtesy of the Rochester fuel-injected 283 powerplant, running through a four-speed. The presence of this engine, and the absence of a heater or radio, established the Vette as an example of the "bare bones" cars of Dennis Pagliano's youth. Another clue was discovered when Bacon prepared to paint the car. It had been repainted several times in its past, so he stripped it down to the bare fiberglass, finding a solid coat of Venetian Red at the bottom, without contrasting coves. Bacon repainted the car that way, and delivered a very clean driver to the happy new owners.

Though the '57 was mechanically sound and looked pretty good, the Paglianos decided to take things up a notch. The car was taken to Jeff Hunt at The Finish Line in Monrovia, California. Hunt pulled the engine and detailed it to perfection, and even color-sanded the engine bay. The body got the same treatment before being buffed to a mirror finish. Every other part of the car was also detailed, and the attention to the little thing certainly shows. Although the Vette came with blackwalls (in keeping with the bare bones theme), Pagliano "upgraded" a bit and had a set of classic whitewalls installed.

The desire to upgrade things just a bit led to the most unique feature on this '57. One convenience that the Paglianos just couldn't do without was music, and they wanted a modern stereo system-but they didn't want to cut the car. The answer is as unique as it is elegant. Dennis found an old metal Coca-Cola ice chest at an antique store, and his detail man, Jeff Hunt, got to work. After the old box was straightened out and its surface smoothed, Hunt built a support structure inside it, where he mounted top-quality Alpine stereo components-a receiver, amplifier, and CD changer. The chest was then sprayed with Venetian Red (as opposed to Coca-Cola red) before the white lettering was refreshed. The speakers are mounted under the dash, and a sensor mounted in the original speaker location allows the system to take orders from a remote control. A Wonderbar radio replaced the radio-delete plate, but the vintage unit is there strictly for looks. The end result is that the Paglianos didn't permanently alter the car but can take all their favorite tunes out on the road-and it's a setup that just plain looks cool, to boot.

Though this '57 has been detailed to a high level, it still gets driven. Dennis and Connie take the car out on most weekends, heading to local cruise-ins, shows, and even down to the beach. The car does well at shows, and among its awards is a People's Choice pick at last year's Hot August Nights event in Reno, Nevada, and it most recently was chosen Best Stock at last November's NHRA World Finals. As part of their award, Dennis and Connie got to take the '57 down Pomona's quarter-mile, something they definitely enjoyed, and something we're certain the fans got a kick out of, too.

Which is something that's important to the Paglianos. They do like winning awards at shows, and getting out on the road and enjoying their cool stereo system. They also like driving the '57; Dennis reports that it "handles phenomenally," and is great on the freeway. But what Dennis and Connie really seem to enjoy is the response they get from the public. This Vette draws attention like crazy, and the duo spend much of their time behind the wheel returning the honks and waves of appreciative onlookers. According to Dennis, "We enjoy other people enjoying it." And we enjoy that kind of attitude.

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