My 1957 Chevy
I Should'a Kept That One...
How many times have you heard someone say, "I wish I would have kept that one" when they talk about the cars they formerly owned. Well, I've said that many times when I discuss my 57 Chevy with my car guy friends. The 1957 Chevrolet has become one of the most sought after cars on the collector market today. But, how would you know back in the day?
It was 1959; I'd recently graduated from high school and was working at my first full-time job at Caterpillar Tractor Company in Peoria, Illinois. It was a good job (I thought) and I was flush with new-found wealth and was looking for ways to spend it. Life was simple in the 1950s when you were eighteen, single, living at home and hanging out with your buddies. The Korean War was over. The Vietnam War was not yet a real problem, so the Selective Service Draft Board was leaving us home town boys alone. Guys weren't being drafted until they were nearly 25 which was like a lifetime when you are in your late teens.
As you have learned from my earlier Hub, I had wrecked my beloved 1949 Ford and had replaced it with a blue and white two-tone 1955 Ford with a V-8 engine. It was a two door sedan with three-on-the-tree and was really quite nice. The only thing I did to it was install dual exhaust with glass-pac mufflers, new wide white wall tires and some full disk factory wheel covers, that I hate to admit, were acquired from the "Midnight Auto Supply".
I happily drove my second Ford for nearly a year. I considered myself a Ford Guy. In my circle of friends, you were either a Ford Guy or a Chevy Guy. There were a few MOPAR Guys out there, but none of my friends, or I, would ever consider driving a Chrysler product. This was before the Muscle Car era, and Chrysler/Dodge/Plymouths were considered an old man's car. You could also put DeSoto into that category, but one of my good friends drove a DeSoto back then, and I don't want to hurt his feelings even now.
My 55 Ford was a fine car. It was in excellent shape and, of course, was always sparkling clean. If you haven't learned it about me yet, I am obsessive about the cleanliness of my automobiles...still am. As nice as the Ford was, something wasn't quite right. Something didn't click. Problem was, Chevy came out with their small block V-8 engine in 1955, and the 55-57 Chevy's were eating the lunch of the Fords at the drag strip. This wouldn't stand, so I started looking for a 56-57 Chevy on the used car lots. Yep...I was about to become a Chevy Guy!
I looked at quite a few cars, but none met my exaggerated standards, or the ones that did, did not meet my not so exaggerated salary at CAT. The Bel Air hard tops and convertibles were way out of my league. Remember, these are relatively new cars back then, only two to three years old and were in high demand by every young gear-head in town. Finally, one evening on our nightly cruise to the Stake 'n Shake Drive-In, I spotted a 57 Chevy sitting in the front row of a used car dealership on North Main Street. I immediately stopped, got out of the car and gave the Chevy the once over. It was a really nice 210 Series, two-door post, metallic silver in color, completely stock and unmolested. The used car lot was closed, but the 57 looked great under the lights as I pressed my nose to the windows adsorbing every detail of the car. This car was me! We clicked! There was an instant equation between car and man, and I wanted her, and she wanted me. But, could I afford such a wanton mistress?
A ride like this was not going to last long on the front row of a used car dealership on a main street leading to the hang-out of every teen-type in town. So the next day, I dragged my Mother to the used car lot to give the Chevy a closer look and haggle with the salesman. My Mother didn't know anything about cars, but that wasn't the point, she had good credit, and I knew that if I bought the car, I was going to need a loan and probably a co-signer, since I had never gotten credit in my heretofore short life. After a brief test drive, it didn't take long for me to decide that this was the car of my dreams. The dealer made me an offer on my Ford, and after a brief negotiation, we made a deal, and I bought the car. I can't even remember what I paid for it. Probably too much, but I was a happy young man as I proudly drove the 57 away not looking back at the 55 Ford that I left behind in trade. I was now a bonafide Chevy Guy!
The Chevy was nice enough just as I drove it off the lot, it was bone stock...a real Plain Jane. While today, I believe you should maintain the stock factory appearance of a classic; a car is only original once and any modifications tend to decrease the value of a time-machine. But, at age 19, I thought quite differently. I wasted no time in customizing and personalizing that Baby. Otherwise, the critics at the local hangouts and drive-ins would think you were driving your Mommy's car. How square was that! So, I had her nosed and decked (removing all the badges and identification from the hood and trunk) and had the holes filled and repainted. Then I removed the "airplanes" from the fake front hood scoops and replaced them with chrome bullets. Shortly thereafter, I removed the stock grill and substituted it with a cool tubular bar grill from the Warshawsky catalog. Next, I lowered the front end giving the car a nice rake and set off the wheels with some sharp Dodge Lancer reproduction hubcaps. I added chrome bullets to the hubcaps to give them a more custom, individual appearance. Now I was ready to cruise. No one now would accuse me of driving the family car. But, no sooner than I put on my new stylish Lancer hub caps, the following Monday evening as I left work walking thru the company parking lot, to my horror, as I looked down the line of cars to admire my pride-and-joy, I discovered all four hub caps missing...stolen in broad daylight. What kind of animal would do that? Then I remembered my Midnight Auto Supply "purchase" of the 55 Ford hubcaps, and I figured what-goes-around, comes-around and learned another early life lesson. The good hands people at Allstate bought me another set of Lancer hubcaps, and I also bought, out of my own pocket, another set of plain wheel covers to drive during the work week. I was no fool and was not going to be twice burnt. Further, the Allstate Man said they would not replace them again. So, every Friday night I would remove the plain wheel covers and replace them with the Lancers, and on Sunday evening, I would reverse the process. Problem solved.
After driving the car for about a year, the front end rake went out of style, and the hip-cats were now lowering the car all the way around. Not wanting to be un-hip, I bought 3-inch lowering blocks, probably from Warshawsky's again, and dropped the rear end. It looked cool but you had to be careful on driveways or curbs or you could bottom-out the car and tear off the chrome pencil tips of your dual exhaust system. The Chevy looked great and was well known around town. It was all-show and no-go though, as I concentrated my funds on the outward appearance and left the engine stock. The engine build would come later as funds permit.
The eight cylinder engine on the Series 210 was 265 cubic inches, rather than the 283 which came in the 1957 Bel Air models. It had a two-barrel carburetor and was anemic when compared to the 283 Power Paks with a 4-barrel carb and dual exhaust. The car looked and sounded fast, but I was getting my ass kicked regularly at the street drags. Not to worry, I had a plan to fix that. Unfortunately, those plans never materialized.
My career at CAT was improving, and I was promptly promoted from the Mail Room into the Machine Accounting Department operating an IBM card sorter. I had entered the world of high technology and my future looked bright. In the early 60s the economy took a down turn and some of my buddies in the factory were getting laid off. While Caterpillar was the best employer in town and you were lucky if you got a job there, they were notorious for their prompt lay-offs during economic hard times. I survived several waves of lay off feeling smug and secure in my near white collar hi-tech job. But my bubble burst that November when the ax fell on me, and I too was standing in the humiliating weekly line at the unemployment office. I'll never forget my supervisors parting words as he handed me my pink-slip. He said: "Jerry, you're a smart guy; you'll get called back eventually but it's going to happen again and again until you reach at least ten years seniority. Why don't you go to college. Your future will then be secure."
College had never entered my mind. With my part-time job, my social life and my cars, I was lucky to have graduated from high school. But his sincere advice got me thinking. Maybe I should...maybe I could.
One of my best buddies was attending Western Illinois University in Macomb about 50 miles away. He would come home most week-ends, and we began talking about college, and I became encouraged. So, I applied to WIU, and to my surprised, I was accepted almost immediately. After looking at the curriculum, I decided I would be an Industrial Arts teacher...screw Caterpillar!
At about that time, my buddy decided to take a leave of absence from Western, and we began talking about other schools, particularly Southern Illinois University. Southern was much larger, offered a broader curriculum, and was over 250 miles from Peoria. So without further research, I applied to Southern and within weeks received another college acceptance offer. Astonished, I was feeling pretty good about myself. Little did I know that many second-tier state schools accepted almost all residence, but they flunked them out in droves if they didn't cut it after the first year. More than 50% of the freshman classes at these schools were not invited back the second year. Nevertheless, in January of 1961, I became a car-less SIU Saluki Guy, and eventually actually graduated with a business degree.
As usual I'm digressing, and you're asking...what happened to the 57 Chevy story? To make a long story short, I reluctantly sold the 57 to be able to raise money for my college tuition. Word got out on the grapevine that I was going to sell my well known car, and without having to advertise, I sold it quickly to a home town boy for my asking price. Surprisingly, selling the Chevy was not that hard of a decision since SIU at that time did not allow undergraduates to have cars on campus, and I needed the money to put myself through school. That must have been the day of my maturation.
That was the first and last Chevy that I have ever owned. Based upon some good advice and encouragement that I received from my former supervisor, and my good buddy, today I'm a Porsche Guy. The return on investment from the 57 Chevy was put to good use allowing me to parlay it into a successful business career. I thank both of these guys to this very day.
But, if you've read my other Hubs you know that I'm also still a proud Ford Guy. My other car is a 1949 Ford...just like the one I drove in high school...only better.
The 1957 Chevy though is still one of my all time favorite cars...and there's still time to add one to my collection. Why not...?
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