We might as well get it out in the open and say, yes, our car does look oddly similar to the legendary Project X, the Popular Hot Rodding project car that began in the 1980s, but that will eventually change. Over the course of the next several issues, expect this 1957 Chevy Bel Air to go through a series of transformations that will showcase some of the performance parts available for '55-57 Chevys.
Our '57 project car was purchased from a reader in northern California last year in an effort to bring more Tri-Five coverage to our readers. From what we can tell without opening the engine, the car has a worn-out small-block with a lumpy camshaft, rusty headers, and a dirty carburetor. Other aspects of the project include dinged and dented trim, a trunk that won't close, and a confused ride height. The brakes and all the suspension parts were melded together with road grime accumulated over the decades and many of the fasteners needed extra motivation to break loose. It seems to us that 1950's cars have much more grime than we're used to, but when this project is complete none of that will matter.
Thanks to the sloppy stock suspension and steering, the '57 was pretty much undriveable when it got unloaded in the fall of 2013. There was so much play in the suspension and the ancient drum brakes were so sketchy that no one felt safe driving it. Lucky for us, a company right up the road from our offices in Irvine, California, offers a complete line of parts for Tri-Fives to remedy our problems: Performance Online (POL).
The first stage in the performance upgrades includes a brake and suspension package from POL. After scouring their extensive catalog, we found three part numbers that cover the frontend of these cars pretty well (see sidebar). Instead of flimsy, squishy stock pieces from the 1950s, you can now easily replace them with solid, new components that will change the feel of your Tri-Five. We wanted to address the handling and braking first on this project since that's what it needed the most, and with POL offering affordable kits for these iconic cars, it made sense to showcase some of their basic kits that can take your tired Tri-Five and turn it into a more fun (and safer) hot rod.
1957 Chevrolet Bel Air Front End Revamp
'55-57 Frontend Rebuild Kit (PN SFKP5557D)
Lowering springs available
3-way adjustable shocks
Tubular Upper and Lower Control Arms (PN S2SK5557)
Includes ball joints
'55-57 Bel Air and Fullsize Disc Brake Conversion Kit (PN SWBKD5557)
2-inch drop spindles
Zinc-plated, drilled rotors
Fits small wheels for stock replacements
1. Here’s a shot of the basic pieces we ordered from Performance Online (POL). POL also offers front and rear sway bars (PN SBK5557) for Tri-Fives that would need to be retrofit. We suspect the sway bar combined with the stiffer control arms will really help the car’s terrible body roll.
2. With drum brakes at all four corners, we weren’t going to win any braking contests. At the Source Interlink Media Tech Center in Irvine, California, Jason Scudellari tackled the task of upgrading our Tri-Five.
3. Detaching the steering started with the tie rods. For those thinking about building a 1950s project here’s a tip: prepare to break a sweat getting some of these old pieces apart.
4. The stock tie rod steering arms get reused on the 2-inch drop spindles. Jason unbolted them and set the pair aside.
5. Next, the stock rubber lines were detached. These made way for new stainless steel pieces from Performance Online.
6. The control arms are stamped steel stockers from 1957. Besides having squishy rubber bushings, we imagine they flex a considerable amount during aggressive cornering. With POL’s tubular versions however, we expected to hug the road much better.
7. A side-by-side shot with the old and new coil springs shows the 1.5-inch drop we opted for the ’57. When combined with our drop spindle, the nose-in-the-air ride height will definitely be fixed.
8. The tubular upper and lower control arms from Performance Online feature polyurethane bushings and a clean black powerdercoat.
9. Here, Scudellari lifts the POL coil springs into the frame cups. They come in shiny black powdercoat and are available for small- and big-blocks.
10. Once the drop spindles were in place, Scudellari installed the new discs. The discs measure 10.75 inches, so while they aren’t the largest available, they do fit behind 14-inch wheels and are worlds better than the worn drum brakes.
11. With how grimy the bolts were under the ’57, it was nice to be able to replace the nasty stock hardware with clean, new fasteners.
12. For those that want larger disc brakes on their Tri-Five, Performance Online also offers a 13-inch disc conversion kit (PN SWBK13D5557).
13. Performance Online’s stainless steel braided brake lines were used to finish the brake installation.
14a-b. The front sway bar attaches to the lower control arms and then a bracket is retrofitted to the frame by drilling a couple of holes and cinching it up with the supplied hardware.
15. With the ’57’s frontend redone, we’ll move on to the rear suspension where tired leaf springs and blown air shocks from another era are still in place. Look for details on restoring the rear suspension on this project in an upcoming issue.
16. To continue the updated theme; we added a set of set of one piece 17x7 Vintage Series Cragar wheels that feature a Matte Gray center and a 4.250-inch backspace. Our street rubber of choice is 225/50ZR17 Falken Azenis FK453 tires.