When Francis Scott Key wrote "The Star Spangled Banner," it was in response to the thrill of seeing our nation's flag still flying over Fort McHenry (near Baltimore) after a long night of shelling by the British on September 13 and 14, 1814. In fact, the original title of the song was "Defense of Fort M'Henry," and it contained four verses. Typically, only the first verse of the song is sung, and it ends with the question, "Oh say does that Star Spangled banner yet wave, o'er the land of the free, and the home of the brave?" It is not until the second verse of the original song that the question is definitively answered by declaring, "Now it catches the gleam of the morning's first beam, In full glory reflected, now shines on the stream: 'Tis the star-spangled banner: O, long may it wave, O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!" Key saw the flag!
History lessons have a way of connecting us to something bigger than ourselves, gaining strength that is bolstered by the accomplishments of others. In our context, the United States of America is the land of the free because it is the home of the brave ... the brave men and women who have laid down their lives to preserve our freedom. Recognizing that there are different opinions about why we entered and continue to fight the present war, we support of our men and women in uniform. For over 200 years our armed forces have forged an example of pride, patriotism, and duty that continues to inspire our present day soldiers. They see the flag!
Bottom line, American soldiers of the past and present have heroically fought for our country's continued security. No small feat. Over 2,000 soldiers have died in our ongoing wars, and we grieve their passing and pray for their families. Others who have served valiantly return with life-changing injuries that bring daily challenges to themselves and their families. At the most basic level, as a proud American, the troops have our highest respect, admiration, and gratitude for their willingness to travel to distant countries to fight. But at a second level, hot rodders ought to recognize the fraternal relationship shared with our soldiers.
Military personnel and hot rodders go way back. Hot rodding started in the late 1920s and early '30s with stripped down and hopped up Model Ts and Flathead V-8s in '32 Fords. "Hot rodding" likely got its name from the "hot roadsters" that were blasting down the dry lakes of Southern California. In fact, it was deep in the Mojave Desert, at Muroc Dry Lake, the present site of Edwards Air Force Base, that many would say drag racing was born. In 1932 the Muroc Racing Association was formed to bring structure to the competition for which so many of these "hot roadsters" had been homebuilt. Drag races in those days were started by flagmen, often with four cars racing side by side. Hot rodders became known for continually pushing their cars to go faster, to gain the edge over the competitor. It was a phenomenal era of ingenuity and resourcefulness ... racers didn't make a call to Jegs or Summit for the latest performance part from Edelbrock, they made new parts, or modified existing parts. When World War II broke out, our nation's attention turned global, and our greatest generation emerged to set an example of valor for decades to come.
After WWII, many veterans returned home with an increased need for speed and performance that had been cultivated under the ravages of war, with skills gained repairing motor vehicles. The influx of WWII hot roddin' veterans led to the formation of the Southern California Timing Association in 1946. Oh, by the way, the guy that headed up the SCTA was none other than Wally Parks, the eventual founder of the National Hot Rod Association in 1951. Under the direction of publisher Robert E. Petersen, Parks would become the editor of Hot Rod magazine in 1949, until the NHRA was born two years later. Under the auspices of the NHRA, drag racers were given the opportunity to race in an atmosphere dedicated to driver safety and fast cars.
Hot rodding in those early years did not happen without the enthusiasm and genius of the WWII veterans. The same post-war minds working at the research and development labs at Edwards Air Force base were often found engineering the creative pursuit of building better and faster cars in their garages. The grand American spirit of mechanical creativity and fierce competition caused drag racing, and soon stock car racing, to explode in popularity. We've spent a lot of time with our military heroes right on the dragstrip, at the NASCAR tracks, at Bonneville, at the local car shows, or at the ultimate experience, the Super Chevy shows (pardon the shameless plug).
Spearheaded by Jason Plummer of CARS Inc. and Phil Gerber of The Roadster Shop, an all star team of hot rodders has come together to build a state-of-the-art 1957 Chevy Convertible. Based on CARS Inc.'s amazing new 1957 Bel Air body and Roadster Shop's Tri-Five chassis, the effort is being called "Project American Heroes." The five-seven ragtop will debut at the Super Chevy Show August 10-12 in Joliet, Illinois, and then make stops at other Super Chevy events in the fall. In January 2008, Project American Heroes will be auctioned off, commission free, at the Barrett-Jackson auction, in Scottsdale, Arizona. All donations and proceeds from the auction will be sent to the Armed Forces Foundation, an outstanding organization formed specifically to serve the needs of the families of the Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans.
Over the past few months, the men and women of the U.S. Armed Forces have had an opportunity to visit the website, www.projectamericanheroes.org, and vote for one of the seven renderings posted. All seven renderings were very cool, but as of this writing, the voting is over, and the Blue car has emerged victorious. Progress will be continually updated on the website. The site also gives visitors the opportunity to contribute online to the Armed Forces Foundation. Please consider supporting our troops by donating, or by being the high bidder at the Barrett-Jackson auction this January.
Now let's talk hardware. Put simply, this 1957 Chevy features the finest parts on the market. As a foundation, Project American Heroes is just about ready to be deemed a roller, anticipating the body being set down on the chassis within the next couple of weeks. The Roadster Shop Tri-Five Chassis accomplishes a 3-inch drop in ride height, and the ability to bolt it in using the stock factory body mount locations. Not content to use bent square tubing, the chassis features hand-sculpted framerails that offer the ultimate package in both strength and appearance. Every chassis is built with pride in their shop in Elgin, Illinois. Owner Neil Gerber, and sons Phil and Jeremy, describe their chassis as transforming the driving experience of one of the most beautiful cars ever made from archaic standards from the '50s to the best handling characteristics of any modern day performance car.
The heavy gauge, U.S.-made 1957 Chevy Bel Air Convertible spot welded metal shell is supplied by CARS Inc. The "core" of the body from CARS Inc, is an original '57 cowl section with a factory serial number. The rest of the car is made with exact reproduction sheetmetal that sets the gold standard for fitment and quality. This restored body comes complete with all fenders, quarters, braces, pans, and even the convertible top bow assembly. Having a particular fondness for '57s, this particular writer was found staring and drooling over the impeccable quality of the body for hours. Forget about the Tulsa, Oklahoma, Plymouth, this '57 Bel Air body sitting at the Roadster Shop in Elgin, Illinois, appears to have been plucked off the assembly line 50 years ago, and perfectly preserved for the Project American Heroes build.
The build of the '57 is already underway. The Tri-Five Chassis is done, the Heidt's Superide II IFS Front and Triangulated Rear Four Bar suspensions have been installed, and the Moser Fab 9 rear is in place. The Air Ride Technologies Shockwaves will not only provide ride height adjustability, they will also work together with the Heidt's suspension to produce the optimum combination of performance, reliability, and ride comfort. We're talking a "smooth" ride that allows for a very low stance that is highly steerable with no bump-steer and built-in anti-dive.
SSBC disc brakes front and rear are now found at all four corners, the trick Rock Valley Antique Auto Parts Stainless Steel tank is bringing up the rear, and the chassis has been plumbed for brakes and fuel. The Flaming River power rack-and-pinion steering is attached to the chassis. Intro Wheels will mount Nitto Tires that will fill the wheel wells nicely. Providing the whoa! power will be binders supplied by Stainless Steel Brakes.
The Project American Heroes team will be building this 1957 Chevrolet as an expression of our respect for the service, courage, and sacrifice by our nation's military forces. It's because of these heroic men and women that we see the flag.