Apopka, Florida resident Mark Strawder has had a long history with his 1957 Chevy Bel Air. It started when his uncle Ed moved from Alabama to Florida, and needed to store the car in the back yard of Mark’s parent’s house. The year was 1974, and Mark purchased the car at age 11 from his uncle for $100. At the time the car had a 396/375hp big block, Muncie 4-speed and a 4.11 rear end. It sat in his parent’s back yard until age 15, when Mark started restoring the car to be able to drive it when he turned 16 - but the paint and body shops even at that time were unreasonable to deal with, and of course things did not go as planned. At that point Mark removed it from that shop, and that is when he started his long relationship with Wally Hall. In the early 1980’s Wally did the paint and body work for the first time, and Mark began driving and racing the car until 1990. At that point Mark started his own landscape and tree farm, so the car got put out to pasture, literally.
Wally began working for Mark in 1999, doing paint and body for the business. In the meantime Mark had purchased a 1957 Chevy Pickup, and when that project was finished they decided to once again restore the ‘57 Chevy Bel Air in order to have a pair of 57’s. So they started a frame off restoration, had the body acid dipped, and bought an Art Morrison Pro Street rolling chassis in November of 2002. In 2003 Mark met Billy Clark of Metal Morphose, Inc. (MMI), and with Billy on the restoration team the car went from mild to wild.
One of the first things anyone notices about the car is the monster motor poking through the hood. It is a 509 Keith Black all aluminum and polished block, which is fitted with a Crower 4-inch blower crank, Oliver billet rods, Venolia pistons, Total Seal ring set, ASW custom blower cam, Dart Big “M” polished cylinder heads, Doug Lee custom made valve covers, Jesel shaft rockers, and a 1471 Littlefield polished blower. Built by Scott Walker of ASW Inc., fitted with an MSD crank triggered ignition, and running on alcohol, the motor put out a whopping 1,850 horsepower on the dyno. Handling all that power is a Jeffco billet aluminum 4-speed transmission with a dual clutch assembly and Browell bellhousing, ultimately transferring the twist back to a 9-inch rear end with 3.90 gears in a 4-link rear suspension.
Billy Clark of MMI was the craftsman behind the motor’s custom aluminum top hat, which was fabricated from 23 pieces and features unique oval inlets, the aluminum intake manifold, stainless headers with Borla mufflers and a 4-inch oval exhaust, roll cage, wheelie bars, and all of the handmade polished stainless lines on the car.
This stage of the restoration took until late 2005. At that time the car was brought back to Mark’s shop, but with Wally working full time for the business there was not much time left for working on the car, so progress was slow but sure. The flawless paint consists of a Diamont custom blue from Finishmaster, which is accented by a set of ghost flames by Isaac, chrome by Space Coast Plating, Stroud parachutes, Billet Specialties aluminum wheels (17x6 inch fronts wrapped in Falken 245-45XR17 tires, and 14x15 inch rear rims fitted with Pro-Trac 445 S/C 50B15 hides), and Wilwood polished aluminum disc brakes on all four corners.
In November of 2008 it was time for Howard Krusey of Complete Auto Upholstery in Altamonte Springs to work his magic, and they decided to go with something a little different. Wanting the interior to be as wild as the motor, they thought what better theme than alligator. So Howard incorporated 7 real alligator hides, purchased from Henry at The Ostrich Market, into the otherwise gray leather interior. You’ll also find Corbeau seats, Stroud safety belts, a Safecraft extinguishing system, power windows, power steering, air conditioning, tilt steering column, and plenty of billet accent pieces.
With a project such as this, it takes lots of talented people and quality parts to pull it off, so in addition to those already mentioned Mark wanted to thank Eckler’s Classic Chevy, Murray’s Speed & Custom, Summit and Jegs. The longer you look at this dynamite ‘57 Chevy, the more you come across in terms of outstanding craftsmanship and attention to detail, such as all the polished stainless steel nuts and bolts from Totally Stainless.
The car might have been a long time in the making, but the results speak for themselves. If you want to see people’s jaws drop, stand back and watch the crowd that gathers around the car at any show Mark takes it to. And for even more fun, watch their reaction when he starts it up! CN