There is a collective memory that a good many of us share of childhood. A warm summer afternoon, easing into evening as the lights of the county fair take to filling the sky. The clang, clang, clang of the rides and games explode in our ear drums as we run through the penny arcade, past the churro stands and the taffy machines. Mom yells “slow down!” as we skid to a halt and huddle around the caramel apple stand. One by one the painted carny dips the deep red apples in warm, gooey caramel and stoops to hand them out. With each apple, the carny offers a smile and a wink, assuring that he’s picked out the best, most special apple just for you.
Daniel Payne was fortunate enough to have his candy-coated treat a second time in life. His immaculate ’57 Bel Air convertible in Candy Apple Red looks dark and sweet, especially with the warm drizzling of tan upholstery hinting of a caramel coating. It wasn’t always as tasty and tantalizing as it looks today. For several years he had this ’57 and used it for everything from going to the grocery store to having the dogs hop in and make a run to Home Depot. But one day when his son showed up driving a ’41 Ford sporting 610 hp, Dan knew he couldn’t let his boy get the best of him. “I figured if my son had something with 610 hp, I had to have 620!” With the seed now planted but no time to tend it, thanks to a bustling contracting business, he brought the ride to a shop that claimed they could get the job done. Well, for five years it sat in shop purgatory before Dan got anxious enough to pick it up and bring it to resto/custom/rod builder Phil Leatherman of Extreme Automotive in Corona, California.
Dan wasn’t exactly sure what the final vision for the project was: "I just know that I wanted it to be Candy Apple Red, and unique." He followed the gentle coaxing of Phil at Extreme though, and brought it in for its transformation. “When we got it, it was a basket case” Phil says, but what the other guys couldn’t do in five years, the Extreme crew did in 18 months. Every single body panel was removed and reinstalled just to give them a good starting place. “It took two and a half months just to get it to ground zero, so we could actually continue on. Every panel on it was on wrong, and bad. Bodywork wasn’t right. Every panel on the inside of the car from the door pillars back we had to cut out and completely replace.” They paid special attention to setting up the panels and doors. “We did internal bodywork to get rid of any windlacing. All your internal gaps on the doors we had to tighten up.” It wasn’t just the body that was in bad shape, though. Phil said that even with nothing at all in the car, you couldn’t get your finger between the top of the wheel and the wheelwell. The tires would just about rub while rolling it around empty.
Not wanting to corrupt the beautiful lines that GM gave her, Leatherman kept the body shape pure, but renewed. They adjusted only minor trim to keep the outside look tight and tidy. Dan definitely wanted to use the convertible top, but once again he had to dig deep as all of the convertible top mechanisms were gone, as in “cut out.” Using a mixture of original and new parts, Extreme was once again able to raise the roof off the sucker.
I figured if my son had something with 610 hp, I had to have 620! —Dan Payne "
A long way from the stock 283, the 572-cube GMPP crate engine motivates the steel shoebox with haste. Big-block conversions are not uncommon, but using the 572 meant they’d be stuffing a tall-deck block in there, and that added extra dimension to the project. Custom headers built by Extreme Automotive took into account the added deck height and made sure chassis clearance was adequate. Under the custom air cleaner lives a Demon 850 carb and an Edelbrock dual-plane intake correctly mounted with intake spacers.
A far cry from the primered...
A far cry from the primered ’55 version in Two Lane Blacktop, the forward flipping front hood was made to be as aesthetic as it is functional. A fabricated panel lends an air of class to the utilitarian job of holding the radiator in place while chromed brackets support the lid in its open position.
The one thing on the exterior...
The one thing on the exterior that Dan receives the most comments on is the trim piece that Phil made for the rear.
From the factory, at the rear...
From the factory, at the rear of the aluminum wedge trim panel, GM left the end open to the bumper and wing trim. Dan’s custom trim insert closes the end of the wedge, finishing it the way the factory should have.
Finding peace and quiet in...
Finding peace and quiet in Southern California isn’t always the easiest thing to achieve, however, with the ragtop down and covered by an interior-matching custom hard boot cover, Dan Payne finds an amazing amount of solitude. The Kugel/Art Morrison suspension allows him to dial in the perfect rake and ride height, thanks to adjustable coilover shocks.
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
GMPP 572ci crate engine
4.375 stroke steel crank, steel rods, forged pistons
Edelbrock Performer RPM Air-Gap
Demon 850 cfm
custom by Extreme Automotive
Transmission: 4L80E, 1,800-stall GM converter, aluminum dual-pass transmission cooler
Rear axle: Kugel 9-inch Ford with 3.50 gear
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
Wheels & Tires
Wheels: Boss Motorsports, 17x7 front and 20x8.5 rear
Though the car started out...
Though the car started out as a daily driver in average condition, Ron Mangus transformed the old girl into a thing of beauty. Besides changing patterns on the leather, Mangus included touches like metal Heartbeat seat inserts, perforated speaker panels and integrated vents for the Vintage Air A/C system.
In the trunk, he continued...
In the trunk, he continued the same treatment, incorporating Extreme’s hidden panels into the scheme.