It was supposed to be a day off. No photos to take, no articles to write, no phone calls to answer-just a relaxing Saturday, taking in the great weather at the Del Mar Goodguys show, checking out some cool cars, having a few cold ones, and enjoying the company of friends. And that's just how things went, until we walked through the show's main hall.
It stood out like a sore thumb among the down-in-the-weeds rods and customs, all sky-high stance, Hillborn stacks, and killer flames. A closer examination revealed an immaculately detailed ride, a fat-tired Gasser-style dragster and spit-and-polish showcar, all wrapped up into one '57 Corvette. It was time to go to work, 'cause I had a photo shoot to set up.
Pat D'Ambrosio of Bothall, Washington, was born into a Chevy family. He was reading every car magazine he could get his hands on by the time he was 16, and also spending time at the dragstrip at nearby Seattle International Raceway. There were a multitude of musclecars to check out and admire, but it was the "Gassers," those solid front-axled, high-standing, mondo-motored doorslammers that left an impression on young D'Ambrosio. And as for a particular marque among these quarter-mile warriors...
"Corvettes always spoke to me," he told us, and it's no wonder. His first car was a '63 split-window coupe, a car D'Ambrosio says was "dangerous to own," but also served as a "great equalizer" when it came to the high school dating scene. It also gave the young Corvette fan a chance to discover his talents at tinkering, a habit he continued into the '70s, owning '67 and '68 big-block Vettes. Then, as it usually does, "real life" intervened, and the Corvetting went on hold for awhile.
Cut to a year-and-a-half ago. D'Ambrosio found himself in between projects, and felt that the time was right to get back into Corvettes. He found a starting point in Las Vegas, struck a deal, and brought the well-worn '57 home to Washington. At this point, the problem was, "What do I do with this thing?" The old Vette, which had a 30-year racing history in the Vegas area (campaigned by Don's Chassis Shop), had a decent interior, but also had a straight front axle, a rollbar, and a big-block powerplant fed by dual four-barrels in the engine bay.
More importantly, the stock frame had been chopped off at the firewall, and a box-section frame welded in to accommodate the solid front axle. The rear frame section had also been modified and strengthened, from under the driver's door back. "It sat too high," D'Ambrosio recalls. "It was too extreme." As for the quality of the modifications made to this old warrior, D'Ambrosio was less than impressed. "The car was done in a rough way, by amateurs," he bluntly states. The extreme frame alterations made a traditional restoration impractical, so an entirely different approach would be needed. In Pat D'Ambrosio's words, it was time to go "all the way."
Only A Gasser Will Do
One of the first alternatives D'Ambrosio considered was the now-popular "hybrid" approach, incorporating late-model Corvette running gear into the old solid-axle's chassis to create a sexy vintage Vette with modern performance. In this particular hot rodder's mind, however, it had been done-D'Ambrosio wanted something that really "spoke" to him. That voice was found in the past. "In looking at some old photographs, I was reminded of many of these cars were turned into Gasser-style drag cars," D'Ambrosio told us. "Specifically, my photos from 1969-72, which showed some very nice examples of '57s. The majority of these cars were owned by a group of Japanese racers at Seattle International Raceway. So, a combination of it being the right candidate, and a strong passion for the past and all the emotion that it brings, made it easy to build the car into what it really should be."