Knowing that buying an already-completed car was the quick way to go racing, Eddie Trybula jumped at the chance to score a ready-to-run ’57 and make it his own!
Fast Eddie’ Trybula is pretty well known around the lower half of the North Island. He’s a top bloke who lives and breathes pretty much anything made by General Motors a decade before or after his birth. Thankfully, that includes the chrome-clad beauties of the ’50s and the monster muscle cars of the ’60s, both of which Eddie has owned plenty of over the years, including a current fleet of machines in various stages of disrepair. A decade ago, while in the US, Eddie was bitten by the gasser bug — hard — and it quickly became a must-have item, so he set about putting together his dream gasser; a ’57 Chevrolet using leftover parts from a few other projects that he already had on the go. When long-suffering partner Mel got wind of yet another project, she suggested that, with a milestone birthday coming up, he may just like to buy one already going. Eddie jumped at the chance, hitting eBay pretty much as soon as the words came out of Mel’s mouth, and before long he was cruising the streets of Lower Hutt
in the ‘Galpin Gasser’. The Galpin Gasser was a big block four-speed ’65 Chevelle with skinnies on a straight axle up front, fats on the back, and an exhaust note that announced his arrival well before he got there. The Chevelle evolved quite quickly and soon had a blown 427 and six-speed in it. It was a great street/strip car, but, with the imminent opening of Masterton Motorplex’s dedicated strip and the rise in popularity of vintage gassers, Eddie decided that a full-on race car was what he really wanted.
Eddie briefly thought about building his dream ’57 gasser again, but then common sense kicked in (probably after another kick from Mel), and the Chevelle was sold so that the hunt for a pre-built ’57 could begin. Once again, eBay delivered the goods and as soon as Eddie saw the words “’57 Gasser, big block and wheel stands” in the same advertisement, he knew that it was time to hit the ‘Buy Now’ button. Located in Humbolt, Illinois, the Chev was owned by a bloke called Mike Spence and had been a race car in the US for over 20 years. It was exactly what Eddie was after. Not only was the ’57 a proven and sorted package, but it also came with a clear title and all the paperwork to get it on the road here, adding more possibilities for the future.
With the years of experience Eddie and son Josh have had bringing in cars from the US, the gasser was soon in the All Fleet Services workshop getting a good going over and being prepped for the 2013/’14 season. A bit different to most gassers, the ’57 was running an Alston front end rather than the usual straight-axle configuration favoured by most. The car was as exactly it said on the box and performed admirably for the first season, providing a good learning curve for Eddie in getting a gasser down the track fast. New signwriting soon adorned the old Chev, but, after the one-piece front came off near the top end of the quarter-mile at Masterton (bouncing off the roof on its way through), some fresh flat black paint with added Kurt Goodin Artworks coolness gave the gasser a new look again. Most would be happy playing around in the mid 10s in a car that looked so cool and ran so reliably, but the gasser bug had bitten Eddie, and he wanted — no, he needed — more power.
Everyone knows that there is no replacement for displacement, and, after a bit of to-ing and fro-ing with Grant Rivers at Rivers Speed and Spares, 496 was decided on as the magical number to make all the power that Eddie would need. A Dart Big M block was filled with a Lunati rotating assembly and a pair of rectangular-port Dart aluminium heads was ported to flow the numbers required. The engine was then topped off with a BDS blower manifold, an 8-71 magnesium blower by Ed Pink, and an old-school Hilborn mechanical injector hat — you don’t get much cooler than that for a gasser. With all that air and fuel being crammed into the engine, Eddie now needed something serious to burn it all. An MSD 7AL-3 was chosen to take care of the spark, as it offered much more control than the traditional magneto set up. While all of this had the required look, it needed to perform too, and, after a break-in period and a bit of tuning by Grant, the new engine was dynoed at a lazy 1000hp and 1000lb·ft of torque on a very safe tune. More than enough to get the job done, although Grant says that he limited the horsepower to 1000 because of the age of the car … and that of the driver!
While the engine was out, transmission guru Chuck Mann was tasked with making sure that the box would last. The TH400 was rebuilt with a full manual valve body and trans brake, which now, when coupled with a 3500rpm stall converter, provides some interesting launches. With the new engine combo, the times soon tumbled, with high eights soon becoming commonplace, even with all the crazy wheels-up launches and the car riding the wheelie bar hard off the line. After running a best of 8.76 at 156mph, Eddie and Josh decided that the Chev needed a new look for the 2019/’20 season. That, and it was finally time for a straight axle up front.
If you are going to rebuild a car like this with a straight axle just for the look, you need to get it right. The front needs to be sky-high with tiny wheels and the rear low with tyres that fill the guards, with the proportions almost reminiscent of an old Ed Roth
cartoon. Removing the stock-styled front, Josh had no issues fitting the Speedway Motors straight-axle kit and Vega steering box, and when it came to height, well, ‘nose-bleed high’ seemed about right. New zoomies by Josh also look the part, as does the genuine Moon tank full of M1 Methanol up front. The only problem now is getting in and out of the car — Eddie almost needs a ladder due to the height and door bars. The one-piece fibreglass flip front, fibreglass boot, fibreglass rear bumper, and single wheelie bar out back also now mean that the old Chev is no longer the heavyweight it once was. This winter’s changes were all about the aesthetics, though, and standing back and looking at it, Eddie and Josh have nailed it. The ’57 just screams gasser.
As with any major upgrade like this, there is going to be another steep learning curve for Eddie — the handling dynamics have totally changed with the higher centre of gravity. At a recent test and tune, Eddie showed that the Chev is still more than capable of pulling up the front wheels off the line, with the normally diagonal “Empty” signwriting on the doors becoming parallel to the ground as it rode the wheelie bar on launch — how cool is that? After a shaky low 11-second first pass, it became obvious that there is still a bit of learning to be done in sorting the straight axle — setting the caster right so that it tracks straight without getting the dreaded front-wheel wobble that can often afflict gassers. We know from experience that Eddie will soon have it sorted and will be back running single-digit ETs with his sky-high ’57 gasser — something that he’s dreamed of for years.
‘Fast Eddie’ Trybula
Occupation: Diesel mechanic
Previously owned cars: A lot of Holdens and Chevs, still own a few ’57s and an HK Monaro
Dream Car: Pretty happy with what I’ve got but maybe one day a chopped Model A or ’32 coupe would be nice but … it would need to be Chev powered!
Why the 57? Masterton was opening and I wanted to step up to a proper gasser race car and a wheel-standing big block–powered ’57 seemed perfect!
Build time: Still evolving
Length of ownership: Six years
Fast Eddie thanks: My long-suffering partner Mel Davis, Josh Trybula, Grant Rivers and Dean Scott at Rivers Speed and Spares, Kurt Goodin, Chuck Mann
1957 Chev Bel Air
Engine: 496ci big block Chev, Dart Big M block, Lunati rotating assembly, Dart rectangular port heads, 8-71 blower, Hilborn injection
Driveline: GM TH400 transmission, full manual valve body, trans brake, 3500rpm stall converter, Dana 60 diff, full spool, 4.5:1 gears
Suspension: Speedway Motors straight axle, parallel-leaf front, ladder-bar rear, Chev Vega steering box
Brakes: Wilwood discs and calipers
Wheels and tyres: 15×5-inch ET spoke front wheels, 15×14-inch Center Line rear wheels, 26×4.5×15 M/T front tyres, 32x14x15 Hoosier slicks
Exterior: Modified wheel arches, fibreglass tilt front, fibreglass boot lid, fibreglass rear bumper, custom airbrushing
Interior: Race seats, eight-point roll cage, Autometer tach, Cheetah air shifter, metal-bladed driver cooling fan
Performance: 1000hp and 1000lb·ft, 8.76 seconds at 156mph