Sometimes a car feature comes along that becomes very personal. If you lived the car culture that was the San Fernando Valley just north of Los Angeles anytime after the early ’70s, you might well have met Mike Johnson.

He prowled the streets of the valley with an amazing string of bad-fast cars. In fact, he met his wife Karen at Irwindale Raceway (near Los Angeles) one night over 25 years ago when he blew the doors off her ’64 Chevelle.

Mike was a giant of a man, and that made him intimidating to some. He proudly placed a sign on his toolbox that read “Large Primates” that told you everything you needed to know about him. His tough side could be scary, but the good news was that you always knew exactly where you stood with him. If you were lucky enough to count yourself among his friends, you discovered he had a heart that rivaled his size. Mike worked for both Car Craft and Hot Rod magazines as a project manager for several years, working with his good friends Leonard Emanuelson and Jim McGowan.

The last car in Mike’s string of performers was a ’57 210 that he intended as a first car for his son Teddy. He bought the car in 1994 and began the familiar restoration process by completely disassembling the car and rebuilding from the frame up. This is where Warren Boughn of Precision Street Rods in Northridge, California, helped with chassis work, welding, and some fabrication. Along the way, Mike bolted the completed small-block to the rolling chassis and trucked it and the body up to his friend Rick Leonard of Special Interest Auto in Grants Pass, Oregon, for the bodywork and paint. Unfortunately, this was a project Mike would never finish. Midway through the construction phase, Mike suffered a stroke that eventually took his life. Not long after his death, Karen decided that the family should complete the car that Mike had begun.

While Karen has never been afraid to open up a toolbox and spin a few wrenches, she knew there were plenty of Mike’s friends she could call on for help. Rick Leonard was already well into work on the perfect canvas on which to lay the paint. After just the right amount of metal massaging, Rick laid on a coat of PPG Victory Red while Mike’s friends in California went to work on the details.

Mike was working for Performance Automotive Warehouse (PAW) when he died, and all of the engine parts for the 420ci small-block that Mike assembled came through PAW. In his typical fashion, this was no slouch small-block, employing a 0.030-over 400 block, a stroker Cola crank and Crower rods to breathe through Edelbrock Victor Jr. heads, a hydraulic roller Comp Cams valvetrain, and a 750-cfm Holley carb. Combined with a bitchin’ Borla stainless steel exhaust, the parts combined to bend the needle on Ken Duttweiler’s dyno to the tune of 495 hp at 5,600 and 523 lb-ft of torque at 4,300! Mike’s plan was to mate this monster to a B&M TH700-R4 overdrive twisting a Currie 9-inch with 4.10 gears. Wrap it all up with 16-inch Cragar S/S wheels and BFG rubber, and the ’57 had all the right parts.

A few of Mike’s closest friends got together to ensure that all the pieces fell into place. Terry Neilson, Tony Noto, and others kept the project on track and made sure that the ’57 was properly “Johnsonized.” It is a complex effort to try to name everyone who contributed, but Karen wanted all of the people who helped with the ’57 to know that their efforts are deeply appreciated. A wise man once said that the true measure of respect for a man is tallied in the number of his friends. If so, then this is far more than just a ’57 Chevy. It is a Victory Red monument to the impact that Mike Johnson had on the people he called friends.