It must be pretty exciting to head out to a classic car auction with a fist full of dollars and the clear mission of picking up one of your favorite old cars for a low price. For Ray Olsen, a resident of San Pedro, California, there were a couple different Chevy models he had his heart set on, but he actually ended up with one of GM’s most iconic classics and he hasn’t looked back.
Ray grew up coveting the various hot rods the older guys in his neighborhood were driving around; even at 5 he knew he’d want a Chevy like the cool dudes he looked up to on his block. When high school came around, he found himself in a 1955 Chevy that was driven for three years before selling it off for something more practical. For the next 40 years, Ray would only have memories of cruising his Tri-Five, but he always knew he’d be back into piloting a nice old car once again, when the time was right.
Fast-forward to 2011 and after an extensive house remodel, he was given the go-ahead from his family to start looking for a Chevy. After going to a few car shows in search of either a Camaro or another ’55, he decided to check out McCormick’s Classic Car Show and Auction house in Palm Springs, California, which was known for dealing in cool, old hot rods. “I got involved in the auctioning of this car right when it went up, thinking it would sell for $25K or more, I put up an offer for $21k for the heck of it. Next word from the auctioneer was sold! Sold to me; it was a total shock.”
While the car was a clean and straight two-door Bel Air, there were a few areas that Ray wanted to address in order to make it his own. “The car was totally stock, big whitewalls, stock hubcaps; the interior was white and tan and looked like a cowboy’s chaps.” Once the “wild west” interior was replaced, along with the whitewall tires and steel wheels, his new project started to look more like a hot rod than a granny’s ride. The engine is a 350ci crate engine from BluePrint Engines that pumps out over 300 hp, and Ray also opted for the unbeatable TH400 automatic trans instead of the two-speed. Additional upgrades include new brakes from Classic Performance Products, a Vintage Car stereo system that looks period correct yet has modern sound, and replacing the chrome trim in the interior. After cleaning up the engine bay earlier this year, Ray was ready to enjoy driving in a hopped-up Chevy once again. “I’ve been taking it to car shows and cruising around blasting Beach Boys on the stereo. It gets a lot of looks and thumbs-up right now, but I have to admit I’m still after that ’55 like I used to have.”
The crate engine from BluePrint Engines is based on a cast-iron four-bolt block that has been line-bored to 4.030 inches, honed, and checked for cracks before assembly. At 355 ci, the engine features a cast-iron crankshaft that has a 3.48-inch stroke. The connecting rods are I-beams that have upgraded bolts, while the pistons are hypereutectic. Moly rings, a mild hydraulic flat-tappet camshaft with about 0.480 lift and 230 degrees of duration at 0.050. A double-roller timing chain was also added to the combo. Topping the combination is an Edelbrock Performer intake manifold, as well as a 600-cfm Edelbrock carb. At 9.5:1 compression, this engine is perfect for California’s 91-octane fuel and allows Ray to cruise his ride anywhere. Keeping the car in tune is Tom Terros in San Pedro, California, and the exhaust system was built by San Pedro Muffler.
The drivetrain of the 1957 is a good, reliable combination, just like the engine. Behind the crate is the unbreakable TH400 transmission built by “Big Jim” at National Transmission in Lomita, California, and the rearend is a 10-bolt with 3.55 gears. A 9-inch torque converter connects the 355 ci to the trans, and the power is transferred to the rearend with an aluminum driveshaft from Inland Drivetrain.
For suspension upgrades, sway bars were added front and rear, while tubular control arms from CPP were also added to improve handling and limit body roll. The frame is all stock, while stock ride height springs suspend the ’57. There wasn’t a whole lot done to the chassis and suspension of the ’57, but the ride height combined with the 17-inch wheels Ray chose work well together, and the ride is smooth and comfy.
When Ray won this car last February, the interior looked dated with tan and beige accents. He got rid of that first. Now it has black Naugahyde with a copper-colored cloud pattern, black carpet, and black headliner. Ray also had all the interior chrome pieces replaced by Cabrillo Upholstery in San Pedro. To blast the oldies, a vintage-looking radio that’s actually a modern stereo was fit into the dash, and he upgraded to a set of Auto Meter gauges to keep vitals in check. The original dash and steering wheel were also kept and restored, while Pioneer speakers and a Kenwood 250-watt sub provides the tunes.
Body & Paint
Since Ray won this car in an auction, much of the car was already done—the paint and body for example. The previous owner had the Bel Air’s panels straightened and shot in the color Sierra Gold, which was a color option in 1957. A custom, nostalgic license plate was painted by Phil Stadden in Lomita, California.
Wheels & Brakes
The front brakes were upgraded to discs from Classic Performance Products, while the drums in the rear were rebuilt with all-new hardware at Harbor Brake Service in San Pedro. The wheels Ray chose were the popular American Racing Torq-Thrusts design that measure 17x7 in the front and 17x8 rear. The polished aluminum pieces are wrapped in Nitto tires, 225s up front and 255s in the rear. CHP