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.”

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.

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.

Sanderson fenderwell headers have been ceramic coated and collector inserts muffle the noise, but just barely. We first encountered the Sargis gasser on the fairgrounds in Louisville, and as it approached from behind it was the exhaust note of a cammed-up, high-compression motor that alerted us a serious car was approaching. A Borg-Warner four-speed is coupled via a Hays clutch, while shifting chores could only be handled by Hurst.

With the chassis complete, work turned to the body. While the body was amazingly solid for a New England car, those quarter-panels that Denny paid $125 to have cut and flared were in need of replacement, along with new doorskins and rocker panels. All the original floors were in excellent condition and required no rust repair. Bob located original front sheetmetal to replace the one-piece lift-off fiberglass front end on the car. From there the body was prepped for flat black paint and maybe some lettering on the door. The body was just about ready for that hot rod black finish when it occurred to Bob that he’d really like to paint the car gloss black; and oh by the way, let’s chrome plate most of the suspension; and since it’s only June surely we could get this done in time for the NSRA Street Rod Nationals. Ah yes, the thrash was on.

While the exterior was being blocked for black, Bob was busy inside wiring the car. The Stewart-Warner gauges in the stock dash remain along with the vintage Moroso tach mounted atop the dash. The ’69 Oldsmobile 442 bucket seats were reupholstered in black vinyl and vintage loop carpet now covers the floor and a stock-style headliner sits above the chrome rollbar. All of the inner panels were replaced with brushed aluminum and a Grant three-spoke steering wheel completes the look. Rather than run Lexan windows, the stock safety glass was tinted red. John Cicel, Larry Sneed, and Randy Riall all had a part in completing the interior in record time.

Now anyone who has ever done bodywork knows there is a big difference between prepping for flat black and gloss black, and yes turn-around time at Advance Plating was strained to get it all done, but by golly by Wednesday night before the Nats the car was finished and ready to rumble to the Nats. If the gasser was ever to be lettered it would have to have Sargis & Riall on the door, because as a team they continue to turn out winning combinations.

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