Imagine you’re a student at the School of Automotive Machinists (SAM Racing). And one day in class, the instructor informs you that there’s an old, clapped-out, heap of junk 1957 Bel Air (the one pictured above) located across the street that’s available to anyone. What would you do?
It turns out, some of the students had that exact scenario above happen to them. The students who are currently attending SAM Racing’s vocational school (which is a school primarily known for teaching students how to machine engine blocks and cylinder heads, and of course CNC machining and even race engine building) were given the opportunity to build the ’57 Bel Air you see above. So why did students from a school that builds engines, decide to restore that junk above? Well, we’re here to answer that for you.
The picture you see above is how students Mike Wilson, Matt Petz, John Gwinn, and Oscar Zabek found this 1957 Bel Air. The car’s condition was rough to say the least. One of the students comments, “It was one of those project cars that when you walked up to it and looked at it, you knew it was going to take awhile. And you definitely didn’t want to attempt it immediately.” Even though they found the car under a cover with no front sheet metal, without an engine, and completely engulfed in weeds and plants, the students decided to take on the project anyways.
Let The Build Begin
Without hesitation, the guys started the build process that same day. Beginning with removing the body panels to remove the entire body assembly, the bare frame was put into Wilson’s hands at SPC Rods & Classics out of Montgomery, Texas to be sand blasted and power coated. Once the frame was delivered back to the school, the Bel Air was then assembled as a rolling chassis.
The new chassis assembly also included all-new suspension components. Classic Performance Products (CCP) was able to provide the ’57 Chevy project with brand new lower control arms, springs, and shocks and struts. Additional suspension modifications included brand-new spindles from Heidts Engineered Performance and new brakes from Wilwood.Once the final modifications were made to the rolling chassis, the students were able to drop the old body onto the now existing chassis. The car was then sent back to SPC to have the new body work completed.
One of the students comments, “The floor pans were completely trashed and rotted, leaving almost nothing. We had to cut everything out and replace it with everything brand new. We finished the floor pans in three days. The [body shop] owner was ecstatic, since it usually takes two weeks. We decided to spend a holiday weekend, which was a four day weekend for us, pulling 20-hour work days to complete this job. We were so dedicated, we even slept in the shop over that weekend.”
The Bel Air’s LS3 engine is a host to a ton of go-fast-goodies. Upgrades such as Precision Race Components small-bore LS7x CNC cylinder heads, Dual Nick Williams (DBW) throttle bodies, Holley Dominator EFI, MSD ignition coils and wires, a full Pypes header-back exhaust, MAHLE/Clevite bearings, and of course SAM Racing’s custom-made intake manifold allowed this LS3 powered ’57 Bel Air to put down a healthy 510 naturally aspirated rear-wheel horsepower.
Because the car uses a TR6060 6-Speed manual transmission (which uses a T56 Magnum conversion kit) and a Currie 9″ with 3.70 gears, this Bel Air was able to trap an impressive 12.47-second quarter mile at 116.92 mph, and that was while spinning up until third gear on street tires.
So What’s Next After This?
The students commented that, “All though the car was able to make a 3,500 mile trip with only a rear axle seal failure as our only issue, the car is relatively reliable. We’re still working the kinks out of it, as we put the car together fairly quickly. The entire process, from start to what you see here, was only about an 8 weeks. However, we do know we’ll definitely be at the next PRI (Performance Racing Industry) trade show.
We’d like to give a special thanks to SAM Racing students Matt Petz, John Gwinn, and Oscar Zabek for letting us interview them on this ’57 LS3 swapped Bel Air. We think it’s an absolutely awesome project, and we can’t wait to see what’s in store next for the build. If you’re interested in following the build, we recommend following SAM Racing on the school’s Facebook page or by visiting the SAM Racing website.