Chevrolet’s ’57 purpose-built race car, known as the “Black Widow,” is as iconic as it is rare. As for production numbers, there aren’t any as the car never came off the production line and no known credible numbers exist. The first competitive appearance of the black and white fuel-injected 150 two-door sedan was at NASCAR’s National Speedweeks in Daytona in February 1957.

George Poteet’s Black Widow isn’t an original, nor is it intended to be a faithful recreation but rather a tribute to the car and the idea of Chevrolet Performance. The modern attributes make this Black Widow the one with the most venomous bite! The ’57 Chevy 150 “post car” that was turned into the vaunted Black Widow is truly a special car. On behalf of George, Chris Sondles, of Woody’s Hot Rodz in Bright, Indiana, ram-rodded the two-year project, gaining inspiration from the artwork of Eric Brockmeyer. Before we get into this four-wheel arachnid a brief history lesson is in order.

In 1956, Vince Piggins, with the blessings of Ed Cole, then GM vice president and general manager, moved to Atlanta and established Southern Engineering and Development Company (SEDCO), which gave birth to the Black Widow and its distinctive black and white paint scheme. While these cars ran the innovative mechanical fuel injection (FI) on top of the 283ci/283hp V-8 the reality was the FI cars suffered from an underhood malady where the FI experienced false pressure readings and subsequent power loss above 80 mph. A partial solution was achieved once the inner fenders were cut out. It’s been reported the FI-equipped cars ran only one top division NASCAR race and from then on were converted to a single 380-cfm four-barrel, although the cars continued to race with the “Fuel Injection” badges. (It was on April 23, 1957, that NASCAR rewrote the rules, making the single four-barrel mandatory, thereby rendering FI illegal.)

Another distinctive Black Widow attribute was the use of six-lug hubs and wheels. The cars themselves came from Detroit and not the Atlanta plant as the one-piece frame was thought to be stronger and only available from the Detroit facility. It’s been reported that the six-lug feature was added to the cars once at SEDCO. The six-slug axle had larger, commercial-equipped brakes (’57 Chevy 1/2-ton pickup), making this an ideal, for the time, race accessory.

The trunk area of the factory Black Widows had the license plate on the decklid along with the key lock and the “V” logo, while the crossed flags and FI nameplates resided on the rear quarter-panels. On George’s Black Widow the license plate is moved to the bumper (i.e. station wagon) and the “V” logo on the decklid and crossed flags on the rear quarter-panels were removed. On the front of the factory Black Widow there was the “V” logo on the hood along with the twin hood “rockets.” On George’s version, the OEM “V” logo was removed, as were the twin hood rockets.

The builders at Woody’s performed these and the numerous other body modifications. The top was “pancaked” 1-7/8 inches by Woody’s Adam Beck while the front fenders were extended 1-1/2 inches and the rear fins pulled back 2 inches at the peak. Because of the mods to the front and rear fenders both the headlights and taillights required modified bezels and custom fitting. The front and rear bumper/pan areas were extensively modified by Woody’s Matt Baldwin.

The iconic twin rockets that reside on a ’57 hood were removed and replaced with new ones crafted by Clay Cook of C. Cook Enterprises (CCE) in Erlanger, Kentucky. Woody’s staff lowered these new rockets 3/4 inch from stock. These openings are decorative; functioning air intakes are built into the radiator core support.

To give the appearance of a “wider” grille opening every other vertical bar on the insert was removed. After the bodywork was handled, the PPG black and Ford Custard (a subdued white) paint was applied by Sondles and Joe Shinliver of Woody’s. The exterior is devoid of such things as mirrors, emblems, and the like but there’s still plenty of brightwork that was handled by Sherm’s Custom Plating of Sacramento, California. Danchuk supplied items such as the door handles and other trim pieces.

Inside there were plenty of sheetmetal mods to the dash. In 1957, Chevy went away from the double-dash “hump” that the ’55-56 had. However, at Woody’s they thought it would be cool to bring it back. Not only was the hump added but so was the Corvette “grab bar” (“oh sh*t bar”, or “panic bar,” or any number of other exclamations many a hot order has expressed while riding in those early Vettes.) Both of the humps were leaned forward into the cabin ever so slightly (3/4 inch) while the remainder of the dash was smoothed over; note the absence of a glovebox or radio or any dash-mounted switches. The traditional, but modified, dash pods are filled with Classic Instruments gauges with the “SEDCO” acronym on the 220-mph speedo along with the “Black Widow” logo that also appears on the 10,000-rpm tach. Heninger of Woody’s crafted the Sherm’s chromed pedals, pedal levers, and the shift handle and then sanded them to give a “machined” look. Bud Kocher of Specialty Automotive handled the wiring chores throughout, basing the project on a kit from American Autowire. The steering column is a ’57 that was “warmed over” by Flaming River of Berea, Ohio, that attaches to a cut-down (15-inch) Dennis Crooks Quality Restorations (Poway, California) steering wheel with a custom horn button that features the Chevrolet logo and “One Fifty” script.

Since the Black Widows were basic 150 Utility sedans they never had a rear bench seat or moveable rear quarter windows, hence no bench seat, no window cranks. Woody’s Heninger did much of the dash work and the rear seat area that also has a modern-day NASCAR feel to it. Note the wheel tubs and the use of DynaDeck from DynaMat on the flooring. DynaDeck makes an excellent floor covering as it serves to fight off heat and sound through it’s built in thermal and acoustic properties. Where carpeting is used it comes from Auto Custom Carpets (Anniston, Alabama) in a black Daytona weave. The combination of cloth and vinyl in black and silver cobblestone is used to cover the ’57 four-door sedan bench seat that’s used along with custom door panels upholstered by Baldwin of Woody’s Custom Upholstery. The seatbelts are vintage aircraft while the steel rollbar (painted in a black satin finish) comes from Hilltop Performance in Harrison, Ohio.

The original Black Widow featured the latest innovation from Chevrolet Performance in the Rochester mechanical FI. Today EFI is commonplace but back in the day when the carburetor was “King of the Performance Hill” FI was something special. On George’s ’57 a limited-edition (No. 137 of 427 built) all-aluminum 427-inch big-block (510 hp and 502 lb-ft of torque) was built at Bischoof Engine Service in Guilford, Indiana, sporting twin Holley carbs; the “thirsty” V-8 receives its fuel from a 25-gallon Danchuk gas tank. The big-block all-aluminum V-8 looks like an “as cast” but its focal point of color rests squarely on the bright orange painted valve covers coming from the CNC machinery at CCE. Another BES “eye-popping” feature built at Sondles’ request is the very cool staggered cross-ram intake that houses the twin Holly 450-cfm four-barrels.

The air cleaner package was built by Dane Heninger of Woody’s with the air coming via a pair of snorkels that gather in their O2 through intakes crafted into the radiator core support. (Heninger is Sondles brother-in-law, guess that’s what they mean by keeping it in the family! Speaking of family, it was Sondles’ dad, Fred, who was instrumental in handing down the lifelong passion for Tri-Fives, stemming from his own passion for these cars.) The ignition comes from PerTronix in its Flame-Thrower distributor and coil system with custom headers by Baldwin of Woody’s while the exhaust system that uses Flowmaster Hush Power mufflers was welded up by Heninger. More Heninger handiwork can be seen in the custom shifter for the Tremec TKO-600 (five-speed). It’s bolted to the potent big-block via a McLeod Racing dual-disc flywheel/clutch package that transfers the power to the Strange Engineering (Morton Grove, Illinois) 9-inch rearend via a Cincinnati Driveline aluminum driveshaft.

The Art Morrison Enterprises (AME) (Fife, Washington) Tri-Five chassis comes with a Strange Engineering (SE) 9-inch rearend fitted with 3.70 gears and a limited-slip differential, 31-spline axles, SE coilover shocks, Wilwood 12-1/2-inch rotors and calipers, and a sway bar. The front suspension is based on an AME IFS with SE coilover shocks, and matching Wilwood rotors and calipers. The Wilwood master cylinder (7/8-inch bore) features a custom top by CCE with a Jeg’s adjustable proportioning valve. The spindles and sway bar are AME while the rack-and-pinion is Ford.

Keeping the Black Widow theme moving, CCE machined a set of four billet aluminum wheels (painted to look steel) with six lugs, 5-1/4-inch backspace in front and 4-1/2-inch backspace in the rear. The wheels measured 18x8 and 18x10 all wrapped with BFGoodrich g-Force T/A KDW rubber, measuring 245/40ZR18 and 275/40ZR18.

In 1957 congressional hearings were conducted about stock car racing. They claimed the automakers’ racing advertisements were contributing to racing and reckless driving on the road. During February 1957 the Automobile Manufacturers Association prepared a resolution suggesting all manufacturers stop auto racing activities, and that type of advertising, including the support of private racers. This “killed” the Black Widow project and many that would have followed. It didn’t work then and it hasn’t worked today, with all of the government regulations performance is alive and well from the factories down to those of us who bear the title “hot rodder.” The Black Widow was only one car from one manufacturer but it represents the spirit that has made hot rodders and hot rodding so fantastic.

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