November 24, 2017

Santa’s Classic Ride

Posted on December 11, 2011 by in Classic Rides

The year is 1957 and in January the United States was rocking to the sound of a youthful Elvis Aaron Presley on the Ed Sullivan show. This was the crowning year for what we car guys call the Tri-Fives. Arguably the classiest of the 55-57 production years was the 1957 Chevy Bel-Air Coupe. It was sleek, long, powerful, stylish, and heavily adorned with scads of chrome plating. Its stylish tailfins, toothy front grill, powerful V-8 (283cid with 283bph) engine bespoke volumes of the American youth culture of the time. People loved their cars and President Eisenhower or “Ike” as he was called was building and inter-state highway system. It would allow the motoring public to drive from coast to coast on a smooth ribbon of concrete highway. The wide expanse of the new super highway would allow you to “Open it up” if you so desired and the local highway patrol wasn’t watching too closely.

Malt shops were rocking to the sounds of “Buddy Holly”, “Chuck Berry”, and “Little Chubby Checker”. Poodle skirted teenage girls were doing the bop, jitter-bug and the peppermint twist. Each of them trying to catch the eye of that “Back Seat Romeo” leaning against the juke box in his chino’s, white t-shirt, and sporting the latestduck-tail haircut who happened to have a 57 Chevy idling in the parking lot. America was in love with it’s cars. This was the time of drive in movies, drive inn diners, and parking in the moonlight down by the bay to watch the “submarine” races.

This month’s featured car is a 1957 Chevy Sedan belonging to longtime Santa Fe resident Wayne Kessler. Mr. Kessler explained that he bought this beauty in its current condition and just enjoys driving it for nostalgic reasons. He went on to explain that he had a 57 Chevy when he was in high school and another one back when he was serving in the military. He likes to load up his family in this sedan and drive to get do-nuts on Saturday morning and go to church on Sundays. When I first spotted this beauty several months ago I approached Mr. Kessler and asked him if he would agree to allow me to feature this red and white sedan in the December edition. I thought it would make a great ride for Santa Claus,and sure enough a picture of the car and Santa made the front page of the magazine.

The 1957 Chevy sedan is almost completely stock. The only major difference is the power plant. The original “Blue-Flame Six” has been replaced with a late model 350cid Chevy small block. Atop this mill sets an Elderbrock 4-barrel carburetor and high flow air breather. The exhausts are duals with “Cherry Bomb” glass pack free flowing mufflers that emit a deep mellow tone until you accelerate. Then they roar to let the losers know you were there and now you’re pulling away.

Mr. Kessler explained that as the speedometer goes towards the right, the fuel gauge goes towards the left, as his “57”, is not the most economical car to drive. The manual transmission is the three on the tree variety, which means it’s a three speed mounted on the steering column. Most people under the age of fifty wouldn’t have any idea on how to shift this transmission, as today’s youth are used to automatics.

As I recall, pull it towards the driver and down towards the floor is first, up, slightly back and then up towards the roof gets you to second and straight down from second gets you into third gear. Reverse is pull towards the driver and straight up. Neutral is in the middle. The last three on a tree that I owned was a silver 1975 Chevy C-10 half ton pick-up truck. My parents gifted it to me for graduating high school, and the third day I had it, I was down shifting from third to second coming off IH-610 in Houston and for some reason it hung up in second gear. The dealership sent out a wrecker to tow it, and the necessary adjustments were made and it never happened again. Mr. Kessler’s 57 sedan has a bright red and white paint scheme and this continues onto the red and white interior.

During the photography session he opened up the trunk. It was cavernous, and it made me recall that one time my brother had me, my sister, and a girl cousin hide in the trunk so we could all get into the drive in without paying the additional dollar a head fee. I also seem to recall a strong gasoline smell, and remembered that the gasoline fill port was located under a piece of tail fin trim just above the driver’s side tail light. I checked on this 57, and the builder left it as it came from the factory. The front grill is adorned with copious amounts of chrome as well as two protruding bulbs on each side protected by black plastic tips. I’ll leave it to the reader to visualize and imagine what those look like. Without question the beautiful front grill and the tail fins on the 1957 Chevy are the two most visually stylish parts of this car, and what almost anyone of a certain age can identify as a 57 Chevy.

I’ve actually seen booths in diners and bars that utilize the tail fins of this car as part of their construction. Mr. Kessler’s sedan is not encumbered with power steering, and he explained that this necessitated the largest diameter steering wheel that Chevy ever equipped a production sedan with to turn the car. There are also no power brakes or air conditioning in this car, although both were available at the time of production for an additional charge. Maybe this sedan started life as a police car, as they were usually ordered stripped down to reduce costs. When you see this beautiful 1957 Chevy Sedan tooling around the roads of Galveston County, just smile and wave and realize that a man is reliving his youth and I personally wish him well. Maybe one day I’ll join him in my own Classic Ride if I can ever get the Boss to buy me one.

Junior’s Boy

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