David Martin set out to build a neat, street-driven '57 Chevrolet Bel Air two-door - in candy orange. The end result is a 540hp big-block elite show stunner
This article on David's '57 Chev was originally published in the March 2013 issue of Street Machine
EVERYONE knows that when you build a car, you need a plan. But if everything went according to plan, David and Katrina Martin’s ’57 Chev would indeed be neat and tidy but it would not have been unveiled at MotorEx. Nor would it have stood out in the company of the most awe-inspiring show cars in the country or scored a Meguiar’s Superstars invite.
If everything went to plan, it would have been wearing stone-guarded underpants, with a much more modest interior. It would’ve been finished as a high-end street build rather than to an elite show level. Oh, and it would be orange.
“This really isn’t really the way I intended to go with the car,” David explains. “I had plans to paint it Kandy Tangerine, I had a heap of Auto Meter gauges for it; it was going have heaps of carbon-fibre and generally be a lot more ‘out there’.
“We sprayed no fewer than 19 different candy oranges and couldn’t decide on one that suited the car, so we ended up painting one sample of HOK True Blue and the decision was made.”
That new colour didn’t suit David’s vision for the rest of the car, however, and it prompted him to re-evaluate the entire build.
“It’s a lot more subtle than it was going to be originally but much more detailed,” he says.
Even so, it wasn’t a conscious decision to ramp things up, more something that happened as the build took its course.
“We were going to stoneguard the floor but it came up really well, so we painted it. Then we had to do the chassis to the same standard, and then we added the custom stainless exhaust.”
It just goes to show that while it’s usually good advice to forge a plan and adhere to it, sometimes it’s possible to ignore the rules and still end up with a truly special car.
“It was never my intention to finish the car to this standard — it just sort of evolved. I’m not at all unhappy that it turned out like it did and I’ll still drive it all the time, but it was a lot of work.”
David has owned tough cars his whole life, including a number of ’57s, but he’d never tackled anything of this magnitude and was keen to try his hand at some custom fabrication. As luck would have it, he happened across a 67,000-mile car with an excellent body and rust in all the right areas. By which we mean those areas that he planned to hack out and replace with custom tinwork.
“I got started by cutting the floor and firewall out of it and I remember thinking that I’d just wrecked a good car!” The ensuing build took two years from start to finish, with a six-month break in the middle. “I needed a break because I got tired of looking at it. It was a fairly short build time, but I had good guys helping out, and that made all the difference.”
David is a sheet-metal worker in the air-conditioning industry, so he’s more accustomed to fabricating industrial quantities of square-edged ducting than bespoke, seamlessly flowing custom car components. Even so, the superbly crafted custom engine bay is all his own handiwork.
The engine cover started off with two PVC tubes and a piece of cardboard, evolving over a period of about six months. Having already made the firewall and radiator support in metal, he reasoned that it needed a bridge down the centre to link the two together. He fabricated the cover out of aluminium, and his mate Drew McKenzie TIGed and smoothed it for him. It features the original hood bullets off the ’57, which were rechromed.
Likewise, the rear end of the car was completely owner-fabricated, from the floorpan to the four-bar set-up.
“The biggest challenge with the floor was to make it look good from above and underneath. I’d get it looking good from the boot but muck up the undercarriage,” David says. A set of original rear inner guards was purchased and widened, so the car is mini-tubbed but still gives off a factory appearance. The boot floor remains at the original height, except over the diff where it was lifted by 60mm to allow clearance for the exhaust system.
The 502ci big-block was built by Jack Brothers and dropped into the stunning engine bay without a second thought, where it happily produces 540hp and 612ft-lb with clinical reliability. The transmission is a four-speed T700 auto with a 3000rpm B&M converter — perfect for cruising — while the diff is a 35-spline 9in with a Currie housing and Strange alloy centre to distribute the ample torque to the 20x12 Billet Specialties rollers and Mickey Thompson bags.
The original plan was to retain the factory bench seats but Chris Bakker Upholstery suggested a more contemporary look might be in order. Late-model Monaro seats were the preferred option, and while it was a huge task for Chris to get the trim together in time for MotorEx, he and his apprentice Xanthe delivered a sumptuous camel and butterscotch leather retrim.
“Once we decided to ditch the front bench I needed to put something between the seats but I didn’t want it to be too full-on because consoles in old cars can look tacky,” David says.
The answer was a custom centre console featuring the distinctive oval-shaped emblem common to the interior trim, boot floor and engine cover. The cluster is a Dakota Digital piece that comes complete with gauges and bolts straight into a factory ’57 dash. However, it was rechromed before it was fitted.
Just how far the scope of his build had expanded dawned on David when the phone rang one day.
“Owen Webb from House Of Kolor asked if I would like to unveil the car at MotorEx and I thought that’d be cool, so we took it down with no expectations. We ended up with Third Top Paint and were invited back as a 2013 Superstars finalist, which was overwhelming. Everyone involved in the build came down for the unveil, and it was great to spend the weekend celebrating our achievements with such a great group of people.”
As intended, the car hit the tarmac soon after, cruising to Harrigan’s Rod & Custom Show on the Gold Coast, where it collected trophies for People’s Choice and Top Car, Street.
“That was awesome,” David says. “We want people to know that the car is a driver — that’s why we built it. It was a great honour to get invited back to MotorEx and we’re going to work at keeping the car in top condition until next year’s show but at the end of the day it’s a street car and we’re not going down there to win anything — we just enjoy showing it.”
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Street Machine is the bible of Aussie modified auto culture, celebrating wild muscle cars, customs and hot rods – and the incredible humans who create them.
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