Close this search box.

Surprise package: ’57 Bel Air street sleeper

24 December 2015


Classic looks and a supercharged heartbeat make for one cool old cruiser — first published in NZV8 Issue No. 64

As much as we would like to think all the best cars in the US are thrown up on the web for sale, that is usually not the case. Sometimes, as Rhys Humphries found out, you’ve got to take the initiative, go that extra mile, and find one for yourself. 

In the hunt for a new car two years ago, instead of trawling the net endlessly for that once-in-a-lifetime bargain, Rhys, together with Wayne Hall from Wholesale Imports, jumped on a plane and made the trip to the States to find something himself. The pair began their search in Los Angeles. “We looked all over California and saw some real crap,” Rhys says. “We gave up after a while and ended up making the journey to Portland, Oregon, for a swap meet. Out of 500 cars, it was a 1957 Chevrolet 210 that caught my attention on the first day. I kept going back to it all weekend, and eventually did a deal with the owner and got it transported down to Steve Curle at Kiwi Shipping, back in California.”

Once the bright red Chev was in New Zealand after its long boat ride across the Pacific, Rhys got to work getting the car VINed and complied. New floors were stitched in, and the usual bits and pieces were replaced. Externally, the 210 was already well up to scratch, coming into Rhys’s possession a beautiful shade of red, and bristling with full Bel Air chrome trim head to toe. 

Inside the car it was the same story. Full hand-stitched leather adorned every seat. “I really like the ’50s detail,” says Rhys. “They really made them cool back then. Even the dash is a work of art.” An array of Auto Meter gauges has been added to the area, along with a Grant steering wheel and B&M ratchet shifter. 

Although the exterior and interior were perfect, under the hood it was a different story. Powered by a mild 350ci Chev and backed up by a four-speed manual, the 210 was acceptable, but not spectacular. Rhys put up with it (as you do) for just under a year, but eventually a low oil pressure reading on one of the Auto Meter gauges got the ball rolling on something much more special. 

“I drove my engine builder, Oscar at Hawera Automotive, mad,” Rhys says. “It started out as a simple recondition job and ended up a full-blown race engine.” 

A simple rebuild with a few upgraded bits was all Rhys had in mind until his wife, Kelly, pointed out a supercharged car, and said the ’57 should sound like it. Rhys took that as an open invitation to go a tad crazy with the build, and we don’t blame him one little bit. “Things just snowballed once we started, and when I found a Procharger set-up for sale online, there was no turning back. I’ve always wanted a supercharged street car sleeper, so it had to be done.” 

Now slightly stroked out to 355ci, the clearanced, line-bored, and decked motor runs 9:1 compression. Inside the block, the motor features forged blower pistons, Howards rods, and an Eagle crank, all held together with ARP fasteners. Rhys used an aggressive custom roller cam to match the coming forced induction, while a pair of Dart heads were ported, flowed and port-matched, then gifted Manley valves, roller rockers, studs, and guide plates. 

With the motor back in one piece, it was bolted in position and adorned with goodies. A Pro Systems blow-through carb now channels air and fuel down into a ported Victor Junior manifold, but not before a whining Procharger compresses the air, and a matching Procharger intercooler brings down the inlet temperatures. Out each side, 1⅞-inch Patriot ceramic-coated headers feed exhaust gases into three-inch Flowmaster mufflers and twin 2½-inch exhausts, on the way passing very cool three-inch cut-out butterflies by Summit Racing. These are located just after the headers end, and turn on and off with the flick of a switch inside the cabin. 

“The exhaust cut-outs are a blast; just hit a switch and the car goes from mild to wild. The crowds love it, especially the kids,” Rhys says. 

Although he likes his cars fast, a line had to be drawn — this is, after all, a street car. Instead of running the full 18 pounds of boost pressure through the supercharger system, Rhys detuned it to 10psi, which brings power down to around 600hp. Sensible enough, right?

All this motor work meant that the driveline would need to be upgraded if it was to ever handle the blown power coming through the lock-up torque converter. Transmission specialist Chuck Mann at Chuck’s Race Transmissions was given the task of building something to suit. 
Using a four-speed GM TH700R4, Chuck constructed an absolutely indestructible transmission with aftermarket internals, balloon plates, and Kevlar clutches. This feeds power out to a Ford nine-inch diff with Truetrac limited-slip internals via a heavy duty, race-spec driveshaft.

The nine-inch diff runs 3.5:1 final drive ratio, which, when combined with the smooth four-speed transmission, makes for a very streetable set-up, despite the power. The big nine-inch spins very tasty chrome Coys C5 rims, measuring 20×9-inches on the back, while up front are slightly smaller 18x7s. Peek through the chunky spokes of those rims and you will find big CPP discs and calipers front and back — if they won’t slow the ’57 down, nothing will.

It has been two years since Rhys first made the trip to the States and bought the Chev, and he couldn’t be happier with the result. Doing it yourself may take more work, time and money to start with, but it all pays off in the end. “It’s quite a stressful exercise,” Rhys admits. “If anyone does want to go over to the States to find a car themselves, I recommend a lot of planning if you want a successful result. The best cars are not just sitting round to buy, you have to find them yourself.”

With the car completed, Beach Hop 2010 was its first long journey, and it’s a trip that Rhys and his passengers will never forget. That’s not because of the small teething problems along the way, but rather the characters you meet when you’re driving a car that stands out as much as this one. 

Thankfully, the trip back home to Taranaki was slightly less eventful and the car is now running like a dream, albeit a seriously fast, awesome-sounding and immaculately presented one. If that’s not what you would call a successful result, we don’t know what is. 


  • Engine: 355ci small block Chev, blueprinted, 9:1 compression, crank scraper, baffled sump, forged blower pistons, Howards rods, Eagle crank, ARP fasteners, custom roller cam, modified oil system, ported Dart II cast heads, roller rockers, Manley valves, Pro Systems blow-through carb, ported Victor Junior manifold, Procharger D1SC belt-driven blower, Procharger intercooler, three-inch piping, Magnum 500 regulator, Billet MSD distributor, MSD 6AL blaster coil, MSD ignition leads, 1⅞-inch Patriot ceramic coated headers, three-inch electric exhaust cut-outs, three-inch Flowmaster mufflers, twin 2½-inch exhausts, custom alloy radiator
  • Driveline: GM TH700R4 four-speed automatic, lock-up torque converter, balloon plates, 12 Kevlar clutches, Ford nine-inch diff, Truetrac limited slip head, 3.5:1 gears, heavy duty driveshaft, tramp bars
  • Suspension: Custom heavy duty springs, aftermarket shocks, oversized sway bar, CPP 5000 power steering
  • Brakes: CPP calipers, CPP 330mm front discs, CPP 305mm rear discs
  • Wheels/tyres: 18×7-inch and 20×9-inch Coys Chrome C5 rims, 235/40R18 front tyres, 275/35R20 rear tyres
  • Exterior: Bel Air trim, custom respray 
  • Interior: Hand-stitched leather interior, Grant steering wheel, B&M ratchet shifter, Auto Meter gauges, Dynamat soundproofing
  • Performance: 600hp at 10psi (detuned from 18psi)

This article was originally published in NZV8 Issue No. 64. You can pick up a print copy or a digital copy of the magazine below: