Blown 377-cube 1957 Chevrolet

Joe Panzarino's '57 Chev combines a brand new body with some good old-fashioned muscle under the bonnet

Photographers: Chris Thorogood

IT’S NO secret that the ’57 Chev is one of the most popular cars to ever roll off a production line. Yes, we do know Ford outsold Chev in 1957, but there’s no doubt that more people restore, hot up and customise ’57 Chevs than any other car from that era. They’re also suited to just about any style of build you care to think of; dare I say it, they even look pretty good when they’re bog-stock. But build one as a custom, pro streeter, lowrider or pro tourer and they look even more amazing.

This article on Joe’s ’57 Chev was first published in the May 2019 issue of Street Machine

Joe Panzarino is no stranger to ’57 Chevs, that’s for sure; this is the seventh one he’s owned! “This is the first one I’ve actually built from the ground up,” Joe says. “It’s a brand new shell from Real Deal Steel in the US, and the story behind it is, the car was already in Australia on the Central Coast and the guy was a tri-five Chevy reseller. He was going to use it as a promotional body, but then he had some difficulties and had to sell it.”

The single piece of trim on the side is a neat touch that really accentuates the long lines of the ’57 Chevy coupe. The deleted quarter-windows add to the sleek, low look

His loss was Joe’s gain, as he scored a brand-new body complete with a sparkling new red paintjob. “I got the car as a roller with no running gear,” Joe explains. “It was going to be a simple street driver, with no tubs or anything, so I ended up chopping the whole car up.” The previous owner had fitted a bolt-in RideTech four-link set-up, but Joe was after a bit more space – well actually, a hell of a lot more space, as he was planning to run a set of massive 33x22x20 Mickey Thompson Sportsman S/R tyres.

It’s a brave move to start cutting up a car that’s pretty much ready for final assembly, but Joe wanted to make it his own; there would be none of that ‘this used to be so-and-so’s car’ this time around. To perform the work, Joe sent the car off to Joe Napoli at Nap’s Tuff Street Customs with some pretty simple instructions: “I told him I wanted it as low as you could get it without ’bags and make the 33x22x20 rubber fit and be driveable.”

Nap’s built the chassis and four-link, fabricated the tubs, fitted all of the brake lines, fuel system and running gear and did a bunch of custom work. The most amazing part was they managed to do it without putting a mark on the flawless paintjob by Bel Air Paintworx, thanks in part to a pretty cool new product from 3M called welding and spark deflection paper – even Joe couldn’t believe it. The work was significant, as Nap’s ended up cutting out the whole floor back behind the seat and fabricating a brand-new boot floor, tubs, tunnel and recessed firewall, and once that was done, the whole lot was painted in the same red as the top side of the body.

As you can see, the car was fitted with massive tubs and a completely new rear floor to fit the hefty wheel and tyre combo

With all of the fabrication done, it was time to fit up the driveline, and while it would have been just fine with a small-block, T350 and nine-inch, Joe wanted something a bit tougher than average and he found it in the form of a blown 377ci SBC that once powered Shaun Horton’s FB wagon, cover car on the Mar ’08 issue of SM. This thing was no slouch, with something like 1200hp on tap thanks to a healthy diet of blown and mechanically injected methanol.

Originally running mechanical injection and on methanol, this engine made around 1200hp. Joe has detuned it – just a little bit – and has it running on E85 through a Joe Blo Speed Shop EFI system. It’s ‘only’ making around 900hp now

These days it’s de-tuned slightly, but Joe estimates it’s still good for 850-900hp on E85. The mechanical injection is gone and a Joe Blo Speed Shop JB007 EFI set-up has been installed into the original Enderle Bird Catcher hat. The JB007 kit is a very tidy system that hides all of the injectors inside the hat and allows it to sit about 25mm lower for a very sleek profile. “It can be very aggressive to drive on the street, so internally we blocked off one of the butterflies so it doesn’t draw so much air,” says Joe. “It tamed it down a little and you’ve got a bit of play in the pedal.”

The brains of the operation is an EMS EM70 ECU that finely controls the air and fuel mixture into a polished 6/71 TBS blower. Internally it’s tough as nails, with a Scat 4340 crank, six-inch Oliver rods and 10.5:1 JE pistons. The heads are CNC-ported AFR 227cc units, while a solid-roller cam with 650thou lift is controlled with Yella Terra shaft-mount roller rockers actuating Manley valves held in place with Del West titanium retainers and collets.

The barrel valve has been replaced with a JB003 TPS block, to retain the look of the mechanical system while keeping the ECU informed of the throttle position. The regulator and fuel lines for the new EFI set-up can be seen at the rear

Joe didn’t want to take any chances with the rest of the driveline, so he employed the talents of someone who knows this stuff inside out. “Rob Campisi is a good friend of mine; we went to school together. He helped me with all the running gear through all of his contacts in the States,” Joe says. “He was a big help and made sure I got all the right stuff.”

A modernised interior features four individual bucket seats, full-length console and Dakota Digital gauges in the smoothed right-hand-drive ’55 Chevy dash. The B&M Magnum Grip Street Bandit shifter selects the cogs in the fully manualised, reverse-pattern Reid-cased Turbo 400

The right stuff indeed, such as a Reid-cased Turbo 400 built by Neal Racing Transmissions strong enough to handle 1500hp, and a sheet-metal nine-inch with Dutchman 35-spline axles, Strange Ultra Case centre, full spool and 3.7 Pro Gears. Yep, that oughta do it, and keep doing it for as long as Joe needs.

Joe’s dream was always to build something blown and injected, really low and with big wheels, and the dream was becoming a reality. He found the perfect rolling stock in a set of Hot Rods By Boyd Motorious rims measuring up at 20×8.5 and 20×16, but he wasn’t going to fall for the trap of having some pissy little brakes poking out from between the spokes, so a set of cross-drilled and slotted Wilwood discs are clamped by six-piston calipers up front and four-piston at the rear.

Joe wanted to make sure the big Chev turned as well as go really fast in a straight line, so RideTech suspension was used, with StrongArm tubular arms up front and an Ultra Magnum four-link out back, with all four corners controlled by RideTech coil-over shocks.

Dakota Digital supplied the gauges, clock and even a gear position indicator. The red LED display ties in with the rest of the car nicely. The chrome trim running the length of the console is actually the same

The custom work didn’t stop with the underside of the car, with the body copping a few tweaks as well. The signature gunsights on the bonnet of the car were smoothed over by the previous owner; Joe admits he wouldn’t have done it himself, but I reckon it suits the smooth lines of the car. Another neat touch is the side trim, which deletes the top piece on the rear quarter panel to create a single piece of trim running from the rear bumper to just behind the headlights. It’s just enough to break up the expansive sides of the car and differentiate it from the more commonly seen Bel Air treatment.

Joe bought the car already painted, but wanted tubs, so Nap’s Tuff Street Customs protected the paintjob with 3M welding and spark deflection paper and didn’t put a mark on the car

Inside features an extra helping of custom work, with four individual Procar buckets split by a full-length console. The dash is actually a right-hand-drive ’55 Chev unit that has had the glovebox filled and all the knobs removed and replaced with Dakota Digital gauges. Custom door trims were designed with a modern flair and highlighted with a stainless strip, and then the whole lot was trimmed in red Italian leather by Scott Jones.

The ride, handling and braking on Joe’s ’57 is vastly improved with RideTech StrongArm tubular independent front suspension, coil-overs and Wilwood six-piston calipers on 13in rotors

“Usually I would tidy them up, drive them for a while and flog them off, but buying someone else’s car, it’s hard to build it with your exact vision,” Joe says. One thing’s for sure: Joe’s vision is spot-on when it comes to creating a tough and classy street custom – as evidenced by the car winning Top Super Street and placing in the Top 20 at Street Machine Summernats 32.


Paint: PPG Custom Red

Type: Dart Little M 377ci Chev
Inlet: Weiand
Injection: Joe Blo Speed Shop JB007
Blower: The Blower Shop
Heads: AFR CNC 227cc
Valves: Manley
Cam: Solid-roller, .650in lift
Pistons: JE
Crank: Scat 4340
Conrods: Oliver 6in
Radiator: AutoRad USA
Exhaust: Custom headers, twin 3in, Flowmaster Super 44 mufflers
Ignition: MSD

Transmission: Reid Turbo 400, fully manualised, reverse-pattern
Converter: ProTorque 3600rpm stall
Diff: Sheet-metal 9in, Dutchman 35-spline axles, 3.7:1 gears

Front end: RideTech, CPP 2in dropped spindles
Rear end: Ultra Magnum four-link
Shocks: RideTech (f), Strange double-adjustable coil-overs (r)
Steering: Ididit column, RetroRack rack-and-pinion
Brakes: Wilwood; 13in discs with six-piston calipers (f), 14in discs with four-piston calipers (r)

Rims: Hot Rods By Boyd Motorious; 20×8.5 (f), 20×16 (r)
Rubber: Bridgestone 215/45/20 (f), M/T Sportsman SR 33x22x20 (r)

Joe Napoli from Nap’s Tuff Street Customs; Steve from Easter’s Auto Electrics; Scott Jones for the interior; Joe
Schembri from Joe Blo Speed Shop; Robert Campisi for his wealth of knowledge