We all have a favorite old Chevy from years gone by. There are certainly plenty of great choices to keep the fires of Chevrolet-based enthusiasm burning brightly. Few are more passionate about their Bow-Ties of choice than the legions of Tri-five fans. This is a group that has been growing exponentially since these timeless cars were introduced to the public some 65 years ago.
Chevrolet built a lot of different 1957 models, and more than 1.5 million Chevys of one model or another wound up in the hands of American drivers in 1957. They were used and used-up, serving their owners in almost every conceivable fashion.
The Story Begins
We all strive to find well-preserved examples of our favorite Chevys, but what are the chances of finding one of these popular cars with low miles and original equipment – long after it had become a sought-after collectible? Somehow, Arnaldo San Martin of Lakeland, Florida, found exactly that car when he discovered a 1957 model 210 sedan at the Sumter County Fairgrounds Auto Auction and Swap Meet back in February of 2002.
It was as if the car had been preserved by the automotive fountain of youth. Originally sold by Yingling Chevrolet in Wichita, Kansas, the odometer had all of 24,600 miles registered after 45 years on the road. The hook was set, and Arnaldo fondly remembers the moment he first discovered the car.
I was drawn to this particular car because of its originality. It was in really nice condition. I knew I would be making some changes to it, but it was a great starting point for my project. – Arnaldo San Martin
Among the Tri-Five faithful, those that possess the title to a 1957 model might have the keys to the kingdom. Arguably, the ’57 Chevy may be the quintessential American car. You see, it’s that glorious fin integrated into the quarter-panels that immediately grabs your attention. You either love it or hate it, but you’re not going to forget it.
Styling Above All
Nothing says “American car” more than the chrome-laden styling of the 1950s, and the ’57 Chevy fin is the most recognizable example of what is probably the most definitive styling feature ever conjured up by Detroit’s styling studio. Of course, other cars were made in 1957 besides Chevys, and the then all-new Ford even out sold Chevrolet for the 1957 model year. All makes hold a certain historical significance, and have their own dedicated following. But, count the number of ’57 Desotos (for example) that you see at the next show you attend, and then count the number of ’57 Chevys. The difference is staggering, as 1957 Chevrolets simply occupy their own automotive universe.
After Arnaldo scored the black Chevy, he brought it home for what would become a long-term upgrade project that occupied the next 16 years, and like most personal projects, it is still an ongoing concern. He was well qualified to make this particular ’57 Chevy all his own, as he is a (now retired) auto mechanic. He has mastered numerous specialty skills that afforded him the ability to bring this Chevy up to his personal standards of excellence.
A Polished Affect
A natural craftsman, Arnaldo has cultivated the needed skills to make this Chevy a standout example of classic preservation. He restored all of the stainless-steel trim on the car, which further enhances its virtually perfect visual condition. Amazingly, Arnaldo states that this car still has 85-percent of its original paint. The car came home from the auction with the fin area painted gold, and a small amount of surface rust had revealed its corrosive nature at the bottom portion of the passenger’s door.
Some well-executed paintwork brought the affected area back to Arnaldo’s standards, and the addition of Bel Air aluminum fin inserts set off the unique-styling feature, and compliments the expertly restored stainless-steel trim. Otherwise, you’re looking at the original finish on this well preserved Chevy, which is a profound testament to its well-preserved history.
Being a mid-range 210 model, Arnaldo’s car was originally equipped with the once common 235ci inline six-cylinder engine and a column-shifted three-speed manual transmission. But today, a quick look under this Chevrolet’s hood, reveals that Arnaldo had other ideas about how to properly power a classic Tri-Five. He pulled the original, plebeian drivetrain components and tossed them aside. He then opted to install a time-honored ZZ4 350ci Chevrolet Crate Engine under the hood. The ZZ4 produces a healthy 355 horsepower at 5,400 rpm as delivered, and Arnaldo chose to equip his fresh crate engine with a GM HOT Hydraulic-Roller Cam Kit upgrade. That change helps push the output into the 400 horsepower range. Further power upgrades include the FAST EZ EFI system mounted to a polished Edelbrock Performer intake. Exhaust gasses are extracted via a set of high-temp coated headers, via the Vortec cylinder heads.
Topping off the engine and enhancing the engine bay’s appearance is a full complement of bright work, which includes premium goods like a Billet Specialties front-drive system, hood hinges, braided steel hoses, and a chrome-plated alternator and A/C compressor. An aluminum down-flow radiator keeps the horsepower-making mill cool, and a 700R4 automatic transmission with a TCI 2,500-rpm-stall-speed torque converter transfers power to the rear wheels. Gear selection is made the old fashioned way, via a column shifter.
No shortage of modern conveniences have made their way into this Tri-Five, as Arnaldo has enhanced the creature comforts to include the aforementioned air conditioning, tilt-steering column, power steering, and a four-speaker Pioneer stereo system. Billet dash trim and pedals further tidy up the driver’s compartment. More evidence of the amazing condition in which this car was found, is the fact it still wears its original headliner, rear seat upholstery, and door panels. The front bench seat upholstery had seen better days, and was replaced with the original-style material.
The Chevelle 12-bolt rear was the correct width, and went right in the ’57 without any major changes. I removed the leaf spring perches and used the Ridetech kit to install it with the coilover suspension. Arnaldo San Martin
The original chassis of this ’57 has been treated to numerous, significant upgrades that bring it inline with modern standards. Most notably, a complete Ridetech coilover suspension that includes upper and lower tubular A-arms in front. Out back, the factory leaf springs were discarded in favor of Ridetech’s four-link suspension with QA1 adjustable coilover shocks. Arnaldo utilized a posi-filled 12-bolt differential from a 1969 Chevelle, which turns the 3.73 gear-ratio.
This Chevy sits on some serious rolling stock, as Schott billet aluminum wheels measure 18X8 with Nitto 235/40R18 tires, and 20X10 with Nitto 275/35R20 rubber out back. Wilwood binders provide to stopping power with six-piston discs in front, while four-piston discs bring the rear wheels to a halt. Braking efficiency is further enhanced by a Wilwood aluminum master cylinder and power booster.
Arnaldo enjoys showing his Tri-Five at local shows, and has gradually put more mileage on that underused odometer since he’s owned this handsome 210. He has received some justifiable awards at car shows throughout the Lakeland area, but a recent ‘Mayor’s Choice’ award may mean the most to him, as it was a complete and unexpected surprise.
The ’57 has now tallied just a tad over 40,000 miles, so it gets out and about in the Florida sunshine. But, a certain wanderlust has begun to call Arnaldo’s name. The annual Tri-Five Nationals in Bowling Green, Kentucky, is the summer destination for any ’55 through ’57 Chevy owner, and Arnaldo has tentative plans to make the scene in his sinister ’57 sedan. We hope to see him there, as this is one wicked ’57 Chevy that just never seems to get old.