Big block 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air

A family cruiser with big-block power and perfect panel and paint that gets driven in tribute to a fallen friend

Photographers: Ben Hosking

IT WAS a 12-year labour of love for Brian Green to get his ’57 Chevy Bel Air on the road, which might sound like a long time, but then he effectively built the car twice. The car was a South African import purchased from the Bendigo Swap Meet sight-unseen for $20,000; you’d have to be more than a little nervous waiting for the truck to arrive.

“I got it freighted up to the Wollongong area near the bottom of Mt Ousley and drove it home,” Brian remembers. “It could drive, but you wouldn’t drive it very far. It got driven that one time and then torn apart and I totally redid everything – all the drivetrain, suspension, steering. It took six years to get it up and running, engineered and on the road registered with the 502 in it.”

Brian drove it for around two years, still wearing the original cream-and-white paint and stock interior, and sorted out the usual teething problems of overheating and braking quality. Thankfully, for his 20 grand, Brian scored a good solid car with very little rust, so it was a pretty cool-looking rig. Fitted with a narrowed nine-inch and sporting 17×7 and 17×10 Boyd Coddington Smoothies, a lot of people would be happy with the car, but Brian was keen to up the ante a fair bit, just waiting for the right person to become available to paint it. In the meantime, he was saving up, purchasing all new brightware and storing it away, knowing that one day the car would be resprayed.

Brian wasn’t sitting around waiting for any random person to come along; he knew exactly who needed to paint the car: the late Tony Roberts, an old-school mate and close friend of Brian’s. “It took me nine years to get Tony to paint it, or quit his job and start his own business, because he was a paint rep for a long time,” he says. “He finally opened the doors to Cool Ride Refinishing, joined by Daniel Baker, and they created a work of art.”

The car was taken down to bare rails and everything was sandblasted. The lead-wiping was redone by Daniel, who also tidied up parts of the chassis and floorpan and sorted out all of the panel gaps. A lot of work also went into re-engineering how the front sheet metal attaches to the body. “Daniel created a support bar that travels underneath the guards and attaches to the front of the crossmember. The radiator support panel was custom-fabricated to house the radiator forward of the serpentine system and create a shroud for the twin 14-inch thermo fans,” Brian explains.

With the body on a rotisserie, the Cool Ride team went to work making the underside as nice as the topside, including painting the floorpans in the body colour. For some contrast, the driveline and chassis are all painted satin black, while the shock absorbers and sway-bars are painted the same colour as the roof.

If you like the colours, don’t go looking for them in any colour charts, it’s a custom mix brewed up by Tony: “It started off as a champagne colour, but when Tony sprayed a little bit out and we took it in the sun, it looked a bit too girly and pink for the car, so what we did was add two tones to it to get the body colour, and then two tones again to get the roof colour. It can look silver and it can look gold and it looks bronze and it can turn brown, depending on what light’s on it. After seeing the colour on the car and out in the sun we laughed and came up with Maad Mocha for the roof and Magic Mushroom for the body!”

With close to 2000 hours spent on the bodywork, it’s no surprise how nice it has turned out. The problem was, Tony was starting to grow attached to the car after spending so much time on it: “His wife Michelle rang me and said: ‘Brian, you have to come and get your car. If it stays any longer you won’t get it back!’” That was all the inspiration Brian needed to get the car trucked back home, where he could commence the painstaking task of putting it back together for the second time, installing things better and neater – but this time without scratching it!

What should have been a happy and exciting time while he completed the final assembly turned to grief when Tony was killed in a tragic accident while riding home from his workshop on his Harley.

“I was now on a mission to get the car ready for Summernats 30, as it was a goal for us all to get the car out there and be seen,” Brian says. “The judging was first and we got some great feedback, then headed over to the City Cruise on Thursday lunchtime. Then there was the wait until Friday afternoon. Seeing the #449 on the sheet outside the hall was overwhelming. We made it – Top 60 Elite Hall! The car stayed there for four days and thousands of people walked past my car, admiring it and talking to me about the quality of the paint, the interior and colour selection.

“After the completion of Summernats 30, I drove it home from Canberra, living the dream in a brand new, 2016-built 1957 Chevy Bel Air.”

With a very supportive wife who has a ’34 Ford roadster, a son with an EJ Holden wagon and a daughter with an FB Holden sedan, Brian really is living the dream and passing on his passion for cool cars.


Colour: Sikkens Maad Mocha over Magic Mushroom

Brand: GM Performance
Capacity: 502ci
Induction: Bowtie
Heads: Aluminium oval-port
Camshaft: Hydraulic-roller
Conrods: Forged
Pistons: Forged
Crank: Forged
Valves: 2.25in (in),
1.88in (ex)
Fuel pump: Holley Blue
Cooling: Aussie Desert Cooler, twin 14in thermos
Exhaust: Headers, 2in primaries, dual 3in exhaust
Ignition: HEI, MSD
Dyno figures: 535hp, 751lb-ft

Gearbox: Turbo 400
Diff: 9in, 3.89 Detroit Locker, 31-spline Moser axles
Tailshaft: 4in, solid unis,
billet yokes
Torque converter/clutch: 10in Dominator, 3000rpm stall

Springs: HQ one-tonner (f), leaf spring (r)
Shocks: Pedders (f & r)
Steering: Flaming River column, HT Monaro box
Brakes: 330mm slotted and drilled discs with HSV twin-spot calipers (f), 315mm slotted and drilled discs with Camaro calipers (r)

Tyres: Falken Ziex 914 215/40/17 (f), Falken Ziex ZE 512 275/40/17 (r)
Wheels: Boyd Coddington Smoothie; 17×7 (f), 17×10 (r)

My wife and kids for their support and giving me the confidence to take on the rebuild; Tony & Dan at Cool Ride Refinishing for the wicked paint and panelwork; Ciadella Interiors for bringing to life my drawn design; Fruity for the sandblasting and painting of the exhaust system; finally, my close mates Kit-Kat Kev and Hill Pickle for having the appreciation of cars since we were first-year apprentices