Wild ’57 was definitely worth the wait.
A lot of us had our taste in cars influenced by the first car we worked on or drove when we were young. Dean Settje from Raymond, Nebraska, said that for him, the influential car was a 1957 Chevy. It wasn’t his own car, but it belonged to somebody he knew when he was a teenager, and he helped with the build as much as he could. That’s all it took to hook him for life.
It didn’t take long before Dean started owning his own cars and trucks, but it would be a couple of decades before he found a ’57 Chevy of his own. That day came about 20 years ago. The car—the deep red Bel Air hardtop featured here—had been owned by a car collector and was being sold at an estate auction. It was mostly stock, and the body was in excellent condition, repainted (poorly) at some point in its past. The stock drivetrain was operational enough for Dean to drive the car home, with his 5-year-old son, Zach, along to share the first ride.
How Would You Build a ’57 Chevy Bel Air?
That’s the million-dollar question. The consistent popularity of 1957 Chevys is due to the iconic design. Even though their style is anchored in the ’50s, somehow they have managed to last almost 65 years without ever looking out of date. And very few other cars lend themselves so well to so many build styles—street rod, Pro Streeter, Gasser, custom, cruiser, restomod, or stocker. It’s virtually impossible to build one in a way that isn’t great. So when Dean was ready to treat this one to a professional rebuild, he went around and around trying to decide whether to keep it stock or treat it to some mild mods. “I subscribe to Hot Rod, so that’s what won out,” he told us. “I wanted the car to be something that would drive well and be fun, whether it was every day or a Sunday drive around the lake.”
Once he had a plan for the Chevy, Dean started the search for a pro builder who could turn his ideas into the ’57 he always wanted. He found what he was looking for at J&L Automotive in Leigh, Nebraska, where father and son Jim and Jesse Magsamen turn out some first-class street machines.
Ride and Drive Upgrades
The J&L Automotive team chose to retain the factory framerails but box them and reinforce them with engine and transmission mounts. Since the point of this project is to build a safe, reliable, and enjoyable driver, the stock suspension components were retired in favor of up-to-date aftermarket parts from front to rear.
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- Factory frame, boxed
- Speedway universal engine mounts
- TCI Engineering transmission mount
- CPP tubular front control arms, 2-inch drop spindles, anti-roll bar
- Flaming River steering rack
- QA1 front coilover shocks
- Ford 9-inch rearend, 3.73:1 gears
- Currie limited slip differential, 31-spline axles
- TCI Engineering parallel 4-link
- TCI Engineering rear coilover shocks
- CPP disc brakes, 13-inch front rotors, 12-inch rear rotors
- CPP master cylinder and booster, Wilsood proportioning valve
- Rock Valley 20-gallon stainless steel fuel tank
Body and Paint Modifications
Dean had no intention of radically altering the classic style of his ’57. That meant retaining the majority of stainless steel brightwork and no reshaping the sheetmetal. “We made simple and subtle changes to keep the timeless 1957 Chevy look,” Dean said. With that goal in mind, Jesse went over the entire body to make sure the sheetmetal was straight and rust-free. Locks, wipers, and a few trim pieces were removed to provide a sleek look, and bracing was added to the hood for strength. Jesse painted the Chevy in the J&L Automotive paint booth, using PPG paint. The custom color is called “whiskey and wine,” and it shifts from burgundy to a reddish copper color depending on the light.
- Shaved badging
- Windshield wipers removed
- Stock headlights and taillights
- Stock bumpers and grille
- Stock door handles
- Shaved door locks for keyless entry
- Factory hood reinforced underneath
- Decklid smoothed with frenched license plate
- PPG paint by Jesse Magsamen at J&L Automotive
Choosing Wheels & Tires
Next to paint color, wheel and tire choice has the biggest effect on establishing the personality of a hot rod. Dean studied photos from the internet and magazines to come to a decision on the right rolling stock for the ’57, finally deciding that Dagger wheels from Billet Specialties suit the car perfectly. The 18-inch five-spokes, paired with lower-profile tires, bring the timeless style up to date.
- Billet Specialties Dagger wheels, 18×8 inches in front, 18×10 in the rear
- Pirelli PZero radial tires, 245/40R18 in front, 265/40R18 in the rear
Modern Traditional Interior
In keeping with the theme of the rest of the car, the interior blends nostalgic elements with hot rod details and modern amenities. Dean opted for a nostalgic bench seat instead of buckets. An aftermarket adjustable bench from Wise Guys, rear seats, and custom-built panels were upholstered in two-tone vinyl. Tim McCartney at Mid States Auto Upholstery in Omaha loosely followed the factory upholstery appearance, combining pleated Summer Sand (tan) and smooth Old Whiskey (burgundy) material. The Billet Specialties steering wheel was chosen to match the wheels. The gauges, A/C, and stereo are fresh aftermarket components, chosen and installed to not take away from the traditional look. The fully upholstered trunk features a custom decklid inner cover from Rezurrected Rod and Custom in Wayne, Nebraska.
- Factory dash, smoothed and painted, with billet dash insert
- Classic Instruments 1957 Chevy Package gauges
- Vintage Air A/C, controls, and vents
- Painless Performance wiring system
- Retro Sound audio system with Alpine speakers
- Billet Specialties Stiletto 14-inch steering wheel
- Flaming River tilt column
- Lokar Performance Products shifter
- Kugel Komponents pedal assembly
- Wise Guys adjustable bench seat
- Mercedes carpet
Supercharged Chevy Power
As you’d expect, Dean’s Chevy runs under the power of a modern Bow Tie engine. “The was made to go with a Chevrolet Performance LSA 6.2L SC setup,” he told us. The Eaton TVS supercharged cast aluminum small-block with aluminum L92 style heads is the engine used in the fifth-generation Camaro ZL1 and is rated at 556 horsepower. Jesse created a nostalgic custom cover to set off the engine. He also built a custom intake tube and exhaust system. The fabricated firewall was recessed 4 inches to fit the engine. A Lokar-shifted GM 4L85E transmission backs up the LSA.
- Chevrolet Performance LSA 6.2L SC engine
- 1.9L Eaton TVS supercharger
- Aluminum L92 single port heads
- Performance Rod & Custom aluminum radiator
- Custom engine cover
- 2.5-inch custom exhaust pipes, ceramic coated at CrossLinc Custom Coatings, Lincoln, Nebraska
- Flowmaster Super 44 series mufflers
- Chevrolet Performance 4L85E automatic transmission
Dean’s Chevy didn’t get finished fast; it was roughly 20 years between his initial ride with his 5-year-old son and his first ride in the completely rebuilt Bel Air. Was it worth the wait? Definitely, Dean says. “We got the car exactly the way we wanted it.” Now he’s catching up, putting miles on his Chevy as often as he can. “In the spring and summer, I’m driving it and enjoying it,” he said. “In the winter, I go out and look at it!”