Behind the ragtop, they fabricated a new hinge design, which not only cleaned it up but also allowed the rear decklid to open wider. Inside the trunk, Leatherman added something he’s been doing for a while now: “There’s hidden compartments behind all the upholstery on the sides. In those insert areas, the one on the passenger side is where the battery is, and on the driver side is where all the electronics are hidden. It gives you easy access to all of the electrical in the car.”

When it was time to warm the inside up, Dan entrusted his forbidden fruit to the knowing hands of Ron Mangus, a short drive away in Rialto. Knowing the color combination would be a classic, Ron laid out acres of tan leather and began stitching, forming, bending, and covering the barren seat frames, mixing smooth and textured leather for comfort and appeal. Removing the glovebox and smoothing the dash brought a more modern and less clunky look inside. Rather than using the original school bus–sized spaghetti string steering wheel, they reduced its size for comfort and driveability, but kept the classic look.

On the business end of the car, it already had a forward tilting, though nonfunctional, hood. “Where it tilts forward, we had to make all the mechanisms. It came with kind of a system. It was tilting forward but nothing worked right. The geometry was off really bad so we ended up taking everything that they had on it and building a new system.” The guys got it working correctly so that when Dan popped the lid on weekend cruise nights, he could easily display the gorgeous paint-matched 572-cube GM crate engine. With 620 horses of GMPP power motivating a 4L80E tranny, dropping through the gears on his Flaming River column shifter puts the bite on this candied apple. To make sure the mill was reliable, Dan installed a full complement of Prolong Super Lubricants in everything from the engine to the tranny to the rearend, and even all the axle grease. He didn’t want to take any chances of this apple rotting on the side of the road.

Normally a big-block fits pretty easily under the hood of a ’57, but sometimes getting a decent-looking air cleaner can be tough without making it look like something bought from a swap meet. Leatherman once again came to the rescue fabricating a custom airbox. “We couldn’t get anything to fit under the hood so we had to make something to fit under the hood,” he says. The rest of the engine bay was treated with the same care and cleaned up for a super-sano effect. Even though it was a convertible, air conditioning operated by a billet serpentine belt system was mandatory. After all, it can get a bit warm in sunny SoCal.

Dan took advantage of the tremendous Tri-Five aftermarket by having Kugel fabricate the rolling chassis complete with Art Morrison frame and Kugel independent front and rear suspension. Choosing a 3.50:1 rearend gear matched to the overdrive transmission made for easy cruising down the highway.

When the cruising gets tough and Dan has to man-up against another boastful rodder, the Compushift computer just clicks the gear down a notch and the crimson quince carves the canyons of Chino Hills with help from front and rear coilovers planting the trick Boss Motorsports wheels on the tarmac.

Though the car has competed and won awards in several shows since its completion, it still remains a driver in Dan’s eyes. The bench seat remains for family outings, though canines are no longer invited.

Now that Dan’s creation has passed from the shop’s hands into his, he can relax a bit more between contracting jobs, focusing on the more important things in life. Like enjoying an early evening cruise with his family through the hills, or perhaps passing the county fair and smiling, recalling childhood memories of that best, most special caramel apple.

By the Numbers

1957 Chevy Bel Air Convertible
Daniel Payne, 58 • Yorba Linda, CA

Engine
Type: GMPP 572ci crate engine
Displacement: 572 ci
Compression ratio: 10.0:1
Rotating assembly: 4.375 stroke steel crank, steel rods, forged pistons
Cylinder heads: GMPP aluminum
Camshaft: hydraulic roller
Induction: Edelbrock Performer RPM Air-Gap
Carburetor: Demon 850 cfm
Ignition: MSD 6AL
Headers: custom by Extreme Automotive
Output: 620 hp

Drivetrain

Transmission: 4L80E, 1,800-stall GM converter, aluminum dual-pass transmission cooler
Rear axle: Kugel 9-inch Ford with 3.50 gear

Chassis

Frame: Art Morrison Tri-Five frame
Steering: Flaming River rack-and-pinion
Front suspension: Kugel independent with polished coilovers, sway bar
Rear suspension: Kugel independent with polished coilovers and heavy-duty sway bar
Brakes: Wilwood

Wheels & Tires

Wheels: Boss Motorsports, 17x7 front and 20x8.5 rear
Tires: Hankook