When the teams at GM Performance Division and GM Performance Parts offered us the chance of a lifetime for our beloved Project X, we jumped at the opportunity to have our car return to the same company that gave birth to it 50 years ago. Now, months into the project, the bright yellow hot rod icon is starting to round the corner toward a completed car once again. We knew that GM would be able to offer this build a level of expertise that no speed shop in the world could match. The grafting of a current-production C6 front suspension, the re-engineering of a 50-year-old frame, and the one-off triangulated four-link rear suspension that tucks 16-inch-wide tires were all done to current-production car specs from the original manufacturer. While it all took our breath away when we saw it in math data, we had actually hoped that Project X would be treated to just such a rebirth.
So, while the advanced production-level engineering was great, what impressed us the most about this latest build was the decades of hot rod expertise that we ran into when we met the team of GM employees that put the finishing touches to "X." During the build, there were literally thousands of loving hours that were poured over our long-term 1957 Chevy project car in a form of craftsmanship and artistry that you just don't expect to see from the company that sells more cars in the world than anyone else.
In this article, we've tried to break down the details of just 10 of these custom areas on Project X. There are literally thousands of subtle and not-so-subtle changes on this car since the day we dropped it off with GM, so please understand if your favorite area isn't featured here. If there is something specific that you want to know "how they did that," drop us a note (firstname.lastname@example.org), and we'll see if we can get the folks at GM to share their secrets with us. With that as an introduction, let's take a look at 10 areas of Project X that have pushed the legend of this project car to new heights.
Functional Ram-Air Hood
Like many parts of the '57 Chevy, the hood is one of the most sculpted (and re-sculpted) pieces of automotive art ever created. It's a massive piece of steel that comes ramping down to meet the grille while carrying twin hood decorations (often referred to as "front sites" or "bullets") that some still use to "line up" the car when driving. The aggressive uphill rake of the hood also serves as the perfect place for that timeless, scripted Chevrolet logo to announce your arrival. Of course, about as soon as these cars came out, hot rodders have looked for ways to use those bullets to get more fresh air into the hungry engine under the hood. The problem with homemade ram-air kits on these cars is that they usually leave quite a bit to be desired in the fit-and-finish department-think gutted hood ornaments with "custom" clothes dryer ductwork here.
The GM team had a better idea. They wanted to add a functional ram-air hood to the one and only prototype Anniversary Edition 427 big-block, but they wanted to treat the concept as if it had been designed into the car. And, since these are the same folks who are designing and engineering the cars that you'll be driving in the next five to 10 years, they were just the team to take on such a task.
Working from an original Dave Ross design, the team widened the hood area that surrounds the bullets by 25 mm on each side, and then built this amazing substructure into the underside of the hood. The idea was to capture the air filter in the hood itself. When the hood is down, the air goes through the holes in the hood, gets filtered, and all works as normal. With the hood up, the air filter gets lifted off, exposing that gorgeous, all-aluminum 427-inch big-block underneath.
For additional functionality, the GM team also replaced the hood latch with a pair of Solstice trunk latches. This got rid of the huge (and sometimes dangerous) stock single latch that hung down in the middle. The hood hinges were replaced with deck lid hinges from a Cadillac STS. That's right, we no longer have to worry about the hood coming down and smashing the back of our heads while attending to the engine.
In 1955, the shoebox Chevy came loaded for bear with a 265-inch small-block V-8-the first of many. And while Project X came from the factory packing a six-shooter, the hot iron for '57 was the 283-inch small-block Chevy. The small-block grew in size steadily over the next 50 years, however, the amount of space provided for the engine in a '57 Chevy was still designed for a small-block. So when car builders try to stuff a blown small-block with big headers, or as in our case, a big-block under the hood, you suddenly start looking for areas to grow the engine compartment. The width is there, but with a longer engine, you run into problems.
Taking into consideration the size of the aluminum Anniversary Edition 427 big-block, plus the super-trick exhaust that was in the works (side-exit exhaust is detailed later), the GM team knew that they'd have to get into the firewall. Project leader Mike Copeland leaned on his math data team hard for this one. He had them scan our original Ram Jet 502 crate engine to use as a reference guide for the shape of the Anniversary Edition 427 big-block. The Ram Jet got the GM team close, but they still had to get back into the initial build once the 427 showed up and the distributor was a different size.
Still, the firewall conforms to every line of the 427. When you look over this car, you might actually miss the hours of work poured into the firewall, but then you start to see that it frames the 427 like a velvet-lined jewelry box drawing your eye to the engine.
Time to build: Six weeks
Hardest part: The real art to this project is that every piece of the substructure had to be hand-fabricated. Starting with a wood form (hand-carved of course), the team shaped, welded, and hammered this factory-appearing piece into the underside of the hood.
Pro's tip: After removing the inner structure of the hood, a wood frame was built to support the hood while it was being modified. The fixture is built from 2x6-inch pieces of pine. The original metal was reformed to expand the openings. Aside from making the openings larger, there was no cutting or welding on the outer surface of the hood.
GM employees: Jim Gobart took the lead on the hood, and Michael Hair did the hood hinge and latch mechanism.
Cold Air Spears
As if a functional ram-air hood wasn't cool enough, the artisans at GM Performance Division wanted to go one step further, adding the crowning touch to the craziest '57 Chevy hood ever built. They turned to GM Design to come up with an updated "bullet" design to act as the jewelry that pulls attention to their craftsmanship on the hood. Design studied the original hood ornamentation, used the math data for the new hood design as a reference point, and then drew up new "spears" to fill the ram-air opening on each side. Again, this design strategy holds true to the timeless '57 design, but it brings it up to date with the ram-air technology-and it just looks so trick!