This is really a story about three guys and two cars. Denny Martin built this ’57 Chevrolet street gasser in the early ’70s in Massachusetts, not far from the famed M&H racing tire factory. Meanwhile, in Floyds Knob, Indiana, Randy Riall was driving a similar straight-axle ’57 Chevy. After Denny Martin was done racing and prowling the streets, the car was retired and parked in his garage for better than 15 years before relocating to Kentucky. When a friend mentioned this former gasser to Bob Sargis he purchased the car from Denny and promptly put the car in storage for another couple years. As Bob told us, “I wasn’t particularly looking for a ’57 Chevy, but this was a good solid car and since it was already a gasser I had a vision for the old car.”
Under the hood a ’69 327 was bored 0.030, filled with a lumpy cam from COMP Cams, and topp
Now Bob Sargis is no stranger to the world of hot rodding, with a string of great hot rods to his credit. Most of the cars have been a combined effort with Randy Riall, owner and operator of Rods by Rowdy in Floyds Knob. After spending a year or so mulling it over in his mind, Bob brought the ’57 to Randy to bring the gasser back to life. This particular build was like a trip back in time for Randy as he drove a ’57 Chevrolet straight-axle car in high school. The bulk of the work was done at Randy’s shop, but owner Bob Sargis did an appreciable amount of concept design and work on the car too.
In 1972, Denny’s street-going gasser was like so many cars seen at dragstrips. The front suspension had been replaced with a straight-axle and leaf springs with a tunnel ram fed big-block under the hood. The car could be driven to the track, swap out the slicks, uncork the headers, and it was ready to race. Bob wanted to preserve that street-going gasser spirit and his first vision was of a flat black body and a wicked small-block underhood. The chassis would be an upgraded version of the straight-axle car.
The black buckets are from a ’69 vintage 442 and have been in the car since 1971. The head
With visions of his high school ’57 to draw from, Randy removed the body and began work on the frame. A lot has changed since those high school days, so the old Econoline axle was replaced with leaf springs and a tube axle from Speedway Motors, attached to a new box tubing front frame stub. Wildwood disc brakes replace the original drum brakes, while the stock steering box remains in service. Out back a 9-inch Ford rear is mounted using ’57 Chevrolet leaf springs that have been moved inboard. New shock mounts eliminate the original shock mounts in the floor and a set of Randy Riall fabricated ladder bars extend far forward under the car.
Relocating the springs inboard required elimination of the stock gas tank, a custom fabricated aluminum fuel cell now holds the fuel in the trunk. The rear wheelhouses have been widened several inches to accommodate 15x10 Firestone slicks mounted to ET III wheels of the same dimensions. Up front ET III wheels measure 15x4 and are wrapped with Michelin 185-15 rubber. The chassis was detailed and painted gloss black before the period-correct steel brake lines and fuel lines were routed. Looking at the underside of a straight-axle gasser illustrates just how simple these cars really are, four springs, four shocks, two axles, and a steering box, much like building an early hot rod.
When it came time to power the ’57, the L88 big-block gave way to a hot small-block that was originally built for a local circle track racer. The ’69 327 was bored 0.030 to 332 ci and filled with 11.5:1 pistons. The entire valvetrain is from COMP Cams while an Edelbrock 2x4 intake provides fuel for the Vertex Magneto to ignite. Joe Lewis handled the machinework and assembly on the engine.