Blown big-block 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air two-door

Justin Russell couldn't rest until he owned a particular car from a certain film

Photographers: Peter Bateman

“SPOTTO a ’57 Chev. A blown ’57 two-door.” Those words from classic Aussie car flick Running On Empty have stuck with Justin Russell from the day he saw it as a kid. He’s lusted after a shoebox Chevy ever since, and decades down the track, he has one to call his very own.

This article was first published in the May 2011 issue of Street Machine

To get his Yank tank, Justin had to part with a wild seven-second HB Torana drag car named SPUD and in doing that, he went from one extreme to the other. The Chev was purchased as an oh-so-nearly-finished project with a stock 454ci big-block, Turbo 400 and nine-inch. After a quick tidy it was a trophy winner straight off the bat. But a bloke can’t go from a mental blown and injected racer to a lazy cruiser without a hankering for a bit more excitement.

1957 Chev rear

Every build has its secrets and Justin wouldn’t give us any clues as to the recipe for the superb custom blue paint

“I bought the car in 2007 so I could do car shows and rod runs, and cruise on the weekend with the family,” Justin says. “But we went through the entire driveline from front to back and it’s all been completely rebuilt.”

The sedate old 454 has been replaced with a 489ci big-block built for boost. It runs an Eagle crank and rods, SRP forged blower pistons, and a Crow hydraulic roller stick with a profile to suit Justin’s precise requirements. The holes in a pair of AFR heads are filled with Ferrea valves and it’s all topped with an Edelbrock Torker 2 manifold and 850cfm blow-through carby. Making the boost gauge dance is an F2 ProCharger, currently set to deliver 14psi.

“When I bought it I said I was going to put a blower on it, so I went to the States and did some research. It seemed like a lot of the quick cars were running ProChargers. The blowers made good power, were user-friendly and easy to fit, so I went for it.”

He had to modify a set of brackets to keep things south of the bonnet. Likewise, the piping and blow-through hat were designed to keep a low profile.

1957 Chev boot

Air Ride hardware is tucked under the parcel shelf. Plenty of room here!

“The engine’s built to handle 1100hp and with an intercooler or methanol I’m told it’d make 1000. I have a blow-through alcohol carby and that’s probably all it’d take. I don’t want to race it until it’s completely ready,” he says. “Even now, with 697hp at the flywheel on pump gas, you put your foot down at 100km/h and it just lights up. I love driving it but the missus doesn’t get behind the wheel as much.”

For the record, that’s some big tyres it’s comfortably frying at highway speeds — 29x12x15 Mickey Thompsons, spinning on 12in Convo Pros.

The car rides on an Air Ride airbag kit. It was fitted by the previous owner, and with the ride height adjustable on the fly it gives Justin the best of both worlds: that killer ground-hugging stance combined with the flexibility to clear speed humps and driveways when needed. All with a plush ride.

Aside from the right-hook conversion, the Chev’s interior is close to the standard configuration, with bench seats front and rear trimmed in black and silver cloth. Shiny stuff includes a Budnik tiller, B&M Quicksilver shifter, billet window winders and door handles, and an array of Auto Meter instruments, most of which Justin dropped in: “The interior just needed some gauges and trimmings added.”

Even uncooled, the 489ci ProCharged donk is good for 700hp

The car is fully engineered and registered with the heavy-breathing big-block and airbag suspension, and Justin drives the wheels off it.

“It hardly ever gets trailered — I drive it everywhere. The only reason I towed it to Summernats was because it would have cost so much in fuel to drive!”

Speaking of Summernats, the judges deemed the car tidy enough for a Top 60 Elite berth, which is a big achievement in this day and age for any honest-to-goodness regularly driven machine.

When Justin isn’t out enjoying SIC57, he’s busily spinning spanners on its not-so-evil twin, another ’57 two-door post Bel Air dubbed WLD57.

“This one’s going to be a bit different. The blue car is more of a Pro Street car, with tubs, a big-block and the ProCharger, but the new one will be more street-friendly. It isn’t standard though — it has 20s, airbags, a Dakota Digital dash, right-hand drive conversion with a Flaming River column, custom interior, nine-inch and a mild 350ci Chev.”

‘Mild’ is relative, though. Don’t forget this is from the same bloke who sold his drag car to build a family-friendly cruiser and installed a Procharged monster that’s ready to give 1000hp on metho.


JUSTIN’S previous ride had an insane power-to-weight ratio. SPUD was a blown and injected big-block HB Torana that ran sevens.

“I miss it big time. The missus reckons I cry about it in my sleep,” Justin laughs. “You’d have to fight it down the track and be so switched on, otherwise you’d be in the wall.

“After I grabbed top gear at around 60ft I had to see the run out no matter what. I was scared that if I shut the throttle anything could happen, so I’d make the decision to steer it all the way home and stick to it!

“I was travelling to Willowbank and Sydney all the time to race it and it was killing me. So I sold it and bought the ’57, which is good, but it just doesn’t do it for me like the old HB did.”


Colour: Custom blue

Brand: Chev 489ci big-block
Induction: Edelbrock Torker 2 manifold, Carb Shop 850cfm blow-through carb, F2 ProCharger at 14psi
Heads: AFR 320cc alloys, port matched
Camshaft: Crow hydraulic roller
Conrods: Eagle H-beam
Pistons: SRP blower flat tops
Crank: Eagle 4340
Oil pump: Moroso high volume
Sump: Moroso
Fuel: Premium

Fuel system: Aeromotive A1000 pump
Cooling: Five-core Aussie Desert Cooler radiator, 16in thermo fan
Exhaust: Pacemaker extractors, 2½in twin exhaust system
Ignition: MSD Pro Billet distributor, Blaster SS coil and 6AL

Gearbox: Turbo 400, stage 3 shift kit
Converter: Dominator 3000rpm
Diff: Nine-inch, 3.55:1 ratio, 31-spline axles

Springs: Air Ride airbags (f&r)
Brakes: Commodore discs & calipers (f&r)
Master cylinder: Commodore

Seats: Retrimmed stock
Wheel: Budnik billet
Trim: Silver/black cloth
Instruments: Auto Meter tacho and boost gauges, airbag gauges
Shifter: B&M Quicksilver
Stereo: Pioneer

Rims: Center Line Convo Pro, 15×4 (f), 15×12 (r)
Rubber: 205/65 (f) Mickey Thompson Sportsman Pro 29x12x15 (r)

Kane, Dude, Mal and Mick, and especially my wife, Robyn, and our boys Kyle and Ryan