With a curb weight around 3,500 pounds, the Bel Air doesn’t need a whole lot of gratuitous grunt to get the ball rolling and keep it so. The 350 Ram Jet produces 1 hp/ci but more importantly, it cranks out 400 lb-ft of torque via its high-efficiency Vortec heads, 1.6:1 roller rocker arms, and EFI. It has a pump gas–friendly 9.4:1 compression ratio. Lilly left it completely stock. Anything goes wrong, Dale goes right to the Chevy store and gets what he needs, even in Sugar Land. The engine is governed by a liberal MEFI-4 controller originally designed for marine use. The boys also made a bifurcated induction system, placing the air cleaners away from the stagnant underhood air and in the fenderwells. Lilly’s clients have grown to expect the unexpected. Rather than incorporating tubular headers, he used tight-fitting Sanderson QP1000 cast-iron D-port exhaust manifolds as the starting point for the 21/2-inch exhaust system. Torque is transferred by an 11-inch TCI Automotive converter to a TCI Automotive 700-R4. A shortened driveshaft spins the stuff to a Currie 9-inch containing 3.50:1 cogs and a limited-slip differential. Notice that the powerplant got some special detailing that makes it fit the entire package as a whole. From the spidery script on the original rocker covers to the old-school Moon racing breathers, the crate mill happily vibrates in its cradle.
Since Dale will only be cruising and not trying to obliterate the surface of a racetrack, large disc brakes in front seem to be the answer. Stainless Steel 13-inch rotors work with the 11-inch drums standard on the Currie axle. The wheels are nostalgic; aluminum replaces steel in the modern Cragar S/S. Dale wanted the look and he liked the light metal and the increased diameter. Lilly paired Nitto NT450 rubber (225/50, 255/50) to 17x8 wheels all around. Dig the slick billet master cylinder, too.
On the Bench
Before the soft, smooth stuff, the wire loom was custom-built for a proper platform from which to expand. Texas is a real hot space in the summer. Dale wanted no less than a dual frosty air system, so it had to be more than the underdash single-source that most are familiar with. A separate air unit covers the rear seat passengers. Auto Meter gauges supplement the originals. The column shifter was reinstated and along with it, custom linkage and a shift quadrant that calls out the new gear pattern. Slick. That downsized steering wheel completes the scheme. Though the seats are original, Lilly’s in-house interior shop underwrote them with lumbar supports and wads of new foam. Seats, door and side panels, visors, and headliner were captured in Cool Gray German leather. An Alpine stereo head lurks behind the glovebox door. The coup de grâce is a series of chrome headliner bows, a halo of sorts.
Although the Bel Air is a full-frame vehicle, it still benefitted from welding all the original seams up tight. It benefits from an Art Morrison front clip, including rack steering and coilover shock absorbers. At the rear, new leaf-spring bundles and tube shocks support the Currie housing. And that’s all there is to it.
Lilly’s mechanical wizard Eric Orishak is a master of no-scratch assembly. Fit and finish on the all-steel body and crisp, clean trim of the ’57 are superlative, almost too nice to drive. Every nut and bolt on the car was replaced with new. The chrome was carefully reinstated. In fact, the entire package looks brand new. JLR’s Bob Ives applied the custom-mix Connoisseur Blue. CHP