Street or strip, this ’57 Bel Air rules ’em both

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Street or strip, this ’57 Bel Air rules ’em both

In 1957 I traded a ’54 Ford Crestliner and $1200 for this ’57 Bel Air 2-door hardtop. Black with a black/silver interior along with a 270 horse, 2×4 barrel set up, 3-speed tranny and a 3.55 single track rear end. This was in February of ’57, and the only drag strip open that time of the year was Yello Belly Drag Strip in Grand Prairie, Texas. The car ran 16 seconds flat at 90 mph crossing the finish line in second gear. This was our family car until 1960, then we purchased a 1959 station wagon.

57-Bel-Air-drag-car
The ’57 was raced often, and as I could save money, I bought speed parts for it. First came headers, then a cam, floor shifter, 4.56 gears, etc. When the 283 threw a rod, it was replaced with a 292 cubic-inch motor, then a 327, then a 355.

I raced the car at long closed drag strips in the North Texas area like Richland Hills Drag Strip, Forest Hills Drag Strip, Green Valley Raceway, Temple Drag Strip and Cedar Hill Drag Strip. I ran 27-32 times a year through 1995, then I parked the car for 10 years – when electronics took over drag racing.

57-Bel-Air-drag-stripThen in September 2004, I had LNJ Street Rods (Larry Sanders) put in a ’99 LS1 from a wrecked Corvette. That aluminum motor was paired with a 4L60E tranny, rack and pinion power steering, power disc brakes, tilt steering, 12 gallon fuel cell, Aeromotive fuel pump, long tube stainless steel headers, a Comp cam, ported heads, Cal Trac traction bars, an Eaton Posi unit with 3.73 gears and Moser axles, Mickey Thompson street radials, 2 transmission oil coolers and twin K&N air filters. I thought I would be satisfied with 7.90 times in the eighth mile. The quickest I had gone with the 355 small-block (4-speed, 5.86 gears) was 7.64 in the eighth mile and 11.59 in the quarter mile. The car ran 8.03 the first time out and finally I got it down into the 7.90s, after tuning on a dyno.

After about a year, the oil pressure showed 0 at idle and about 25 at maximum. The motor must have run upside down in the wrecked Corvette I got it from, starving the bearings. So, I got a Lingenfelter long-block, forged rods and pistons, ARP bolts and had it balanced. One year after that, I had Extreme Horsepower (Arvil Fowler) put in a larger Comp cam, Stage 2 heads, larger injectors, and a 90 mm throttle body. On the chassis dyno it clocked 383 rear wheel horsepower. Still, I had oil pressure issues – so I pulled the motor and found the bearings had too much clearance from the builder. Extreme Horsepower rebuilt the motor and now the car has run a best of 7.51 in the eighth mile with 1.60 sixty-foot time. In 2007 I won the Texas Muscle Car Club Challenge event in the King Muscle class at Texas Raceway in Kennedale.

The car has the original paint and interior except for carpet, and I had the front seat recovered in the original style material. My ’57 has all the original chrome and it is just my clean daily driver/racer. But with me having it set up for racing (solid motor mounts, 5.86 rear gear with a spool) it is not street friendly.

I’d always wanted a hot rod to drive on the street and take to the drags and race. My wife told me to sell the ’57 and buy a street rod – unthinkable! A buddy took me for a ride in his Z06 Corvette with 405 hp, 6 speed, 3.42 gears and 355 street tires, shifting at 6200 rpm. We went from zero to 100 and stopped all within a quarter mile. Of course, the ’Vette only weighs 3150 lbs and my ’57 weighs 3600, minus driver. I told my friend that I knew what I was going to do – buy a ’Vette! He said no, put the running gear of a ’Vette in my ’57 and I would have the best of both worlds! So that’s what I did.

57-Bel-Air-burnout
My latest adventure with my ’57 was this past August, when I drove from Ft. Worth, Texas to Bowling Green, Kentucky for the Tri-Five Nationals. It was a great adventure and one I soon will not forget. Of course I raced my ’57 at the event and even got to park next to Jeff Lutz, who has one of the fastest ’57 Chevys in the country. We got to visiting and became friends, and I even got to race him!

I enjoy racing anytime I can and especially with other area Tri-Five Chevys running under my local car club, the Dallas Area Classic Chevys. For more information on the largest Tri-Five Chevy club in the country, go to www.DallasClassicChevy.com

57-Bel-Air-James-Carson

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Comments

  1. Brian Ransfield says:

    Loved reading your article and seeing pictures of you and your car. I have had my car for over 20 years, but have driven it rarely as I sorted out all the many problems I have had along the way. Ive always wanted to do what you obviously enjoy doing, take it to dragstrips around our little country. Ive only manged to do that twice, both times ended with a ride home on a tow truck. My best was a 15 sec pass with a beatup 402big block with one wheel skidding all down the track. I have just bought a 582 from Prestige Motors in North Carolina which should arrive in a few weeks, together with a new 6 speed trans. I opted for reliable comfortable street driving setup, ive got youg kids despite my age, but I am hoping to finally be able to race AND drive home. I know what you mean about the corvette running gear and having an overdrive to drive places so thats what I opted for too. Please post updates, I am keen to hear how your doing. Very best regards, Brian Ransfield Wellington New Zealand

  2. I have this ’55 Chev. Bel Air w/ 383 stroker & understand your pain.
    These beauties are like a boat or a woman, you never stop spending money on them all.
    Still love the wife, my ’55 & I sold the boat.
    Seems like my mechanic has the ’55 in his garage as much as in my garage.
    I’m just saying!!!!!!!!!!

  3. Tommie hearn says:

    I have a 1957 Chevy 2 door hardtop I would like to know would it better to buy a new chassic or up date my old chassic

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