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A ’57 Bel Air With a Give and Take History

ALAN PARADISE July 14, 2022 All Feature Vehicles

Talent seems to cluster. We see this is our sports teams, in movie casts and at schools and universities. The gifted attract others with the same skill sets, or at the very least, are able to inspire others to raise their game. In the county seat of Macomb, Michigan is a town where a gathering of talent comes together. Mount Clemens, a few hours of drive time on Interstate 94 north from Detroit, does not have a pro sports franchise, nor is it a motion picture capital, and although it’s close to Davenport University, it’s not a college town (although it does have a highly rated college of beauty).

Where Mt. Clemens excels is within the car community. In a shop behind Ron Schuman’s Auto-Tech business, seller of vintage car parts, is a 7,000-square-foot shop. It is here where local talents get together to work on their hobbies. “It happens every weekend. We have a large screen television and a refrigerator of beer. But most of all, we have a group of 15-20 guys that are all into building custom cars,” said Schuman. It’s been going on this way for close to 20 years.

One long-time member of the band is Paul Rider. One of the projects built in the shop was his near-perfect ’57 Chevy 210 Bel Air. As anyone else in the group will tell you, the car was built more than once. However, let’s not get too far ahead of the story.

Coddington Wheels and Nitto tires were the perfect choices to fill the classic wheel well openings. Wilwood slotted and drilled disc brakes are able to provide smooth braking for the 540 horses.

Many years ago another Mt. Clemens Paul, that being Paul Reiter of Reiter’s Metal Crafters, prepared a body shell to show off at the famous Detroit Autorama. The ’57 210 Bel Air was taken down to bare metal, perfected and cleared. It was an impressive and risky display. If anything wasn’t 100%, it would stick out like the proverbial sore thumb, but for Reiter that was the point. Not too long after the event, and since the body shell had served its purpose, one Paul sold the roller to the other Paul. It was a Reiter to Rider transaction.

Rider promptly transported the ’57 to the Grand Avenue Auto-Tech shop. This was not his first project. For more than a decade the tight-knit gang of weekend warriors had been party to Rider’s high standards of excellence. He had gained a well-earned reputation for doing everything to perfection. “For Paul, it has always been about the journey and not necessarily the destination,” said Schuman. Thus the trek to build this ’57 continued.

Rider was the third chapter in this Bel Air’s life. What started in a Detroit assembly line was bound for a dealership in Texas. Like the hundreds of thousands of Tri-Five Chevys, this one was bought, sold, loved, used, abused, sold again, modified, raced, cruised, stored and sold again before finding its way back to Michigan.

For the next five years Rider carefully and meticulously put the pieces together in an effort to build a ’57 that would stand out from the forest of famous Chevys. He did it not to be the best, fastest or most unique; glory wasn’t the end game. The test was to quench his own desire to build the absolute best car he could. His friends at Grand Central were all too happy to lend a hand.

Little by little the build came together. With help from many hands, rider assembled one of the finest ’57 Chevys in the country.

The classic gingerbread trim holds onto its ’50s charm.
Step into liquid and fire. Dion of Mt. Clemens painted the Reiter Metal Crafters-perfected body. He later applied the killer flames.

To say Rider was a picky builder would be a huge understatement. He began by collecting parts from across the country. Every component had to be ideal, and if something arrived and wasn’t pristine, it was set aside because a better item was acquired. During the build, it’s estimated that this car was constructed, torn down and reassembled two or three times, all in bits and pieces, mind you. “If something was just the least bit off, Paul would pull it out until he could find or make something that was better. He must have installed three or four steering columns over the years until he was happy,” recalled Schuman.

Little by little the build came together. With help from many hands, Rider assembled one of the finest ’57 Chevys in the country. Starting with a Reiter straight body was only the beginning. Famous local painter Dion shot layers of flawless candy red and clear and buffed them to a shine.

In no hurry to finish, Rider engineered a chassis featuring a Mosher 9-inch rearend with a Jim Meyers 4-link suspension with coil-over shocks. The old factory front suspension was removed and replaced with a smooth-riding, custom-fabricated ride with progressive rate springs and adjustable coil shocks. Meyers A-arms were employed and a rack-and-pinion steering unit was fitted into place.

A full set of Auto Meter white face gauges was mounted in a brushed aluminum panel engineered to fit into the original dash space.

It would have been easy to drop in an LS crate engine or go the common small-block 350 route, but Rider’s demeanor seldom takes the path of least resistance. A ZZ502 big-block was brought in. From here it would have been logical to add a Dominator or perhaps dual 850s. Then again, there were many supercharger options. Instead, Rider wanted that old school look with new-age reliability. This made the Hilborn eight-port fuel-injection system an ideal and unique choice. FAST Engineering provided the programming to regulate the flow and power. A full armada of braided steel line and aircraft fittings sanitized the compartment. A Vintage Air system was added with polished compressor.

At a glance the interior looked to be mostly stock; however, this is anything but the case. A new factory-style rear bench was used to match the Glide front split bench. Black leather was stitched with inserts that pay homage to the past. Vintage Chevrolet V-style emblems were sewn into the shoulder spans. The distinctive original dash face insert was retained, as were the original knobs and buttons. Billet aluminum door pulls and vent cranks dress the panels that were also fitted with GM power window controls. A full complement of Auto Meter white face gauges was crafted into an appropriately styled faceplate. A leather-wrapped Coddington steering wheel was the final touch. The end result was an interior of which even the Damsels of Design would have been proud.

As the five-year anniversary of the start of the build approached, the Bel Air’s final items were being sorted out. All of the handsome factory trim and even the addition of the famed Chevrolet performance crossed flags and “Fuel Injection” emblem were in place. Only a few decisions were left to be made, but they were critical.

The interior features a split bench up front and a full bench in back. Both, along with the door panels, were covered in black leather with vintage pattern inserts

The first was either to keep the chrome-plated round side mirrors or go with something contemporary. The answer was found somewhere in between with a pair of mid-’80s GM items. Casings and perches were painted to match the exterior. New mounting seals were used before the adjustment cable tracks were routed into the inner door panels and the stems and cover plates attached.

Next were tires and wheels. Conventional thought would have been to stay with something tried, true and safe, but what fun would that be? Boyd Coddington C7S billet wheels turned out to be the perfect choice: a hint of the past with the fit and finish the high-end Bel Air deserved. The tread selected was Nitto Extreme ZR with 255/45-18 to turn and 295/45-18 for burn.

With the tires and wheels in place and a new dual exhaust system welded up, all was right with the world. Well, almost. Rider and the Grand Avenue gang took some time to look at the finished car. Rider thought perhaps there was something missing. After some discussion, it was determined that as awesome as the paint was, it needed a little hot rodding. Nothing says rodding like a good flame job. But good wouldn’t be enough; it had to be great.

What the tight-knit team in Mt. Clemens has fostered throughout the past 20 years is special. This transplanted ’57 is proof that it takes many hands to fulfill a dream.

Local Mt. Clemens custom painter Dion, who had also applied the body color and clear, was the only one trusted to apply the licks. In preparation, Rider and crew removed all trim, front bumper, headlights and grille. Dion lived up to his stellar reputation adding a multi-color design complete with pinstripes. The entire car was cleared before all of the components were reassembled.

Rider felt like his ’57 210 Bel Air was complete. You’d think that now was the time to get this bad boy out into the Michigan car community. However, no sooner was Rider done with the trick coupe than he started on another project. Throughout the next few years, the car was driven only a few thousand miles.

Enter Mike McDowell and Mike Parsons from Orange County, California. McDowell was a former Mt. Clemens resident and at one time part of the Grand Avenue builders’ society. He closely followed the build of Rider’s ’57. McDowell put a bug into Rider’s ear that the car needed to be seen and offered to pay the price for the privilege. It took a fair amount of time, but Rider, interested in other projects and fighting some health issues, agreed that the coupe he and the guys had slaved over needed to be in its true element, and no place is that element more intense than Southern California. The deal was done and the flamed ’57 headed west.

After a bit of sorting out, McDowell and Parsons got the five-seven into the scene. The quality Michigan-built Bel Air had an immediate impact on the SoCal car crowd. “This is one of the best driving cars I’ve ever owned,” said Parsons. McDowell added, “It is so well thought out and put together that even Southern California’s upper echelon rod builders have been impressed.”

The car culture is and always should be a community of talents. What the tight-knit team in Mt. Clemens has fostered throughout the past 20 years is special. This transplanted ’57 is proof that it takes many hands to fulfill a dream.


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