For car enthusiasts, there is always a particular car that can be attributed to them catching the automotive bug. For most, it is the car their dad used to drive. Dad’s car might not have been a powerhouse or the coolest car in the school parking lot, but nonetheless, memories were created. Some might have even had a crazy uncle that liked banging gears with the then-impressionable youngster in the passenger’s seat. Finally, you have guys like Joe Whitaker of Sanford, Florida.
“I’ve always lusted after the red ’57 Chevy hardtop the late Bill Lipay built in 1964,” he says. “It was featured in Super Chevy Magazine in 1979, the year before I graduated high school. I used to go to sleep dreaming about that car.”
Over the years, Joe bought, built, and sold quite a few ’57 Chevys, but none of them could satisfy the desire to have a car like that red ’57 Chevy gasser. “That car was more like a ‘Glamour Gasser’,” Joe says. “I call it that because it was a really nice car and was built strictly for shows and short drives – not the race track. If you ask me, that car was one of the most iconic, yet under-rated and under-photographed cars of the 1960s. It personifies the dream ’57 Chevy we could all see ourselves driving on weekends while looking for a street race.”
Finally, in a round-about way, in 2016, Joe’s dream started to come together — only he didn’t realize it at the time. That’s when his company, Real Deal Steel, purchased four cars in upstate New York. Two were 1957 Chevy hardtops, one was a 1957 Chevy convertible, and the other was a 1968 Camaro. Eventually, Joe and his business partner sold everything except for one of the 1957 hardtops. “We priced it to quite a few interested people, but never had any takers,” Joe quips. “In 2018, I sold an unrestored 1956 Chevy 150 US Army staff car to a local guy, so I found myself without a Tri-Five Chevy. That lone ’57 hardtop was still sitting in the corner of the shop and the wheels in my head started spinning, thinking about that gasser. I decided it was time.”
At first, Joe didn’t think the body was in bad shape. However, when he started to disassemble the car, he soon discovered just how badly rusted it really was. “The floors were toast, the rockers were shot, the bottoms of the doors were gone, and the car had been hit hard in the left quarter panel at one time,” Joe states. “To fix it, some “body man” hacked the entire inner/outer quarter assembly from a 210 hardtop and grafted it onto the car.”
Real Deal Steel is a company that builds all-new Tri-Five, Camaro, and Nova bodies, so you would think he might ditch the rusted hulk for one of his new creations, but you would be mistaken. “My buddies all tried to talk me out of building the car by telling me to use one of our new bodies,” Joe states. “But, if I’m anything, I am hard-headed. I wanted an original 1957 Chevy. I did wind up repairing all of the original sheetmetal on the car except for the main floor and rockers. The quarters, doors, fenders, hood, deck lid, trunk floor, and top skin are all original to the car. The only reason I stuck with the original body is that I could do everything myself. If I had to pay someone to do all of the sheetmetal repairs this car needed, well, it still wouldn’t be done, and I would be on my third, second mortgage to pay for it.”
During the build process, Joe says he did take a few liberties and deviated from his initial dream car when bringing the project to fruition. “The original car was painted a pink pearl underneath, had a pink firewall, and pink carpet,” he says. “I just couldn’t do pink, so I used white pearl, red carpet, and some extra chrome-plated parts on the dash that Bill’s car did not have. The original car used a chrome-plated Turbo 400. I prefer to shift gears, so I installed an M20 originally tagged for a 1967 Corvette. The transmission is topped by a rare NOS Mr. Gasket bang shifter.”
Under the machine-gun-adorned hood is a true testament to vintage hot rodding, a 1957 283ci V8 bored to 292 inches and rebuilt by the late Bo Laws. The camshaft is a COMP Cams Big Mother Thumper hydraulic flat-tappet with high compression pistons and 300 horsepower 327 heads benefitting from roller-tipped rockers. Carbs are twin Endura-Sine Edelbrock AVS2’s on a vintage Offenhauser intake. Headers are ceramic coated tubes by Patriot Exhaust.
The front axle is a hot rodder’s favorite, a chromed I-beam from a 1964 Ford Econoline with Speedway Motors’ chrome springs and stock front drums. The rearend is a 9.3-inch unit taken from a 1957 Pontiac, narrowed 2 inches, and then equipped with a new posi unit and 4.30 gears from Fabcraft Metalworks. Nothing says vintage like a set of aluminum slots, and the wheels are vintage Mr. Gasket aluminum slots that measure15x7 and 15×3. Keeping the old-school look is easy with the Coker bias-ply pie-crust Firestones.
If you’re like many enthusiasts, red is a hot-button color. Joe chose to use Glasurit base/clear and had it applied by Melvin Bush of Lockhart Auto Body. The interior is a vintage statement that is timeless, and the stock front and rear seats are covered with red and white leatherette that is custom cloned from photos of the original by Ciadella Interiors.
“I’m not a car show guy, so you may not see this car in person unless you come to sunny Sanford, Florida for a visit,” Joe says with a smile. “A few people that see this car recognize it as a tribute to the Lipay car, but most just see a really cool old-school gasser.”