1957 Chevrolet Convertible: Dream Bel Air

By Delco Hagan   Photography by Colin Date

1957 Chevrolet Convertible: Dream Bel Air

I purchased this 1957 Chevrolet Convertible from Chevy Classics’ member Rod Fisher in 1998 in Grand Island, NE. It was a frame-off restored car, painted black with red/silver interior and was nearly finished. The body was wavy, which is not good in any color, especially black. I assumed it hid plenty of Bondo. My plan was to strip it, repaint it with a show quality paint job, then send it to Barrett-Jackson as a quick flip.

After it had been delivered to my San Diego home, we pulled it apart and had all the paint stripped. What we found was a pristine all-original body with almost no rust, filler, or loads of hi-build primer. I was in shock to say the least! The rust was confined to a 4-inch section on the frame rail stiffeners and one 5x5-inch area under the seat.

1957 Bel Air Convertible 1957 Bel Air Convertible

I asked my builder, Terry Sparks, to prime the car with DP-90 and put it in the corner of my shop – as my plan had completely changed. I began going through my hidden parts boxes to gather all of the NOS pieces I had been collecting over the previous 6 or so years. My dream was to assemble the ultimate, most date-code correct ’57 fuel-injected convertible in the world. While I have had several fuel-injected cars before, few were even close to date code correct.

This car was originally built at the Van Nuys, CA plant just 20 miles from where I grew up. Also, the build date was at the end of March, 1957 – perfect for a fuel injected car, as full production of the F.I. cars began in February of that year.

While there are no accurate records of the exact number of ’57 Fuelie convertibles built, the best estimates from the experts is somewhere around 70 units.

After putting my collection of NOS parts on the tables around the car, I found I had all of the exterior stainless trims, the inserts, taillights, hood bar and extensions, grille, front bumper and the “bullets”. I also had all of the steering components, A-arms (with correct riveted ball joints), most of the dash trim, door sills, door weather strips, convertible top weather strips, T3 headlights, hubcaps and even an NOS F.I. only distributor.

1957 Bel Air Convertible rear 1957 Bel Air Convertible

The project began in 1999 with the help of Terry Sparks Restoration and Brad Dunn. Brad was the resident expert regarding correctness of each component needed to achieve my goal. Brad owns a library of original GM literature, proving ground photos, and letters from dealers regarding F.I.production questions. He has worked on many of the highest scoring cars in the country.

Terry was responsible for everything else – he’s the best body and paint man I have ever known. I gave him fits for well over twenty-five years, always pushing him to get my cars done. But this car was different.

The frame was sent out to be checked at a local frame shop and was pronounced “good”. It was then stripped, primed and painted in epoxy semi-gloss black and re-assembled. The car’s shell was mounted and lined up, and then the bodywork began. The entire vehicle was primed and blocked 3 times with 2-part epoxy primer. Each time we blocked it, we let it set for a month to fully to cure.

By then it was 2001 and Terry and Brad had far too much work on their hands with other cars. Their main car was another black ’57 convertible that belonged to fellow Classic Chevy member and a close friend of Brads – David Fletcher. Dave was also very anxious to get on the show circuit. It seemed like every time I showed up, they were knee-deep in Dave's car (which was also a complete build for Terry and Brad). I decided to move my car out to another builder I had been talking to. In the meantime, the car sat in my garage for 2 years.
When I began building my new home, I did not want to damage this car so I sent it to the builder I had been speaking with. In comes Michael Domeracki, another expert in my opinion. He had completed over 40 ’57 Chevy convertible builds, mostly originals, some of which I had judged while attending Classic Chevy shows. He was closing his shop in Austin, TX and moving to Seymour, WI to slow down and hopefully do one car at a time. Sounded perfect!

Shortly after Michael received the car, I flew up to go over all the remaining work with him. I wanted to make it to the 50th anniversary of the ’57 show at the Michigan Chevrolet plant. That show was 18 months away. His words were, “Very slim chance, most likely not”. Michael knows ’57 Chevys, but he is not fast. Work began, and per my instructions, I had asked that he correct any work he thought was not the best. The only real item he found was the rust spots on the frame stiffeners and some peck marks in the trunk. All else was very good.
Michael had the one NOS dash part I was missing, some NOS gears for the 3-speed, 2 door handles and some other small parts, including most wiring looms. The car started off great. I made 2 other visits in the next 2 years to see how the work was progressing. However, after the 3rd year it slowed down as he too, became busy with other cars. Long story short, I picked the car up in November of 2014 still needing finish work, body alignment and an interior.

I finally brought the car home and called on Terry and Brad to complete the work. It took them 2 months. For the interior work, I sent the car to Ciadella in Tempe, AZ.

Then it was off to the AACA show in Tucson, AZ, where it won its class, hands down. After that, back to San Diego for the Concours d’Elegance in La Jolla, where it won its class and the Mayor’s pick.

Next show was the Concours at Benedict Canyon Castle in Riverside, CA – again, another class win with a tie for best of show. Then off to Oklahoma for the Classic Chevy show for the National judging. Another class win, and a Platinum award with 997 points.

I was invited to show the car at the Palos Verdes Concours d’Elegance, and yes, another class win! What a car, and a fun time finally showing something that you know to be correct. Most judges don't even know the level of detail that went into this car, but I do! I was also invited to show the car at the Quail Lodge in Monterey, where it is display only. We did it and it was a great trip!

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