The pair of 1957 Chevrolets sit side-by-side in an Arizona church parking lot.
Their massive chrome grilles with distinctive gold trim announce them as cars from an era we are not likely to ever see again. They are wide and long and the interiors are the size of a small apartment. They speak of a time when longer-lower-wider was the mantra of the stylist’s studio.
All around them are cars with flames and stripes, transplanted engines, lowered suspensions and bordello interiors.
In contrast, the red convertible and silver coupe are automotive time capsules.
“We wanted to keep them just the way they came from the factory,” says Ron West, who owns the cars with his wife, Virginia.
For Ron, the drop-top is a trip back to his youth.
He owned one while he was still in college, but sold it to finish paying for his education.
“I won’t even tell you what I got for the car,” he says. “It was a ridiculous amount of money...but I wanted to finish my degree and I figured I could always but another one.”
But he discovered that, by the time he figured he could afford to buy one, he couldn’t.
The prices -on a car that barely his $2,500 when new -- had skyrocketed.
It took him years to find something that he could afford that also was worth the effort to tackle.
“I looked at a lot of $5,000 Bel Airs and a bunch of Chevys in cardboard boxes,” he says.
Ron finally found what he was looking for during a business trip to Denver. He was searching the classifieds when he spotted one available in the mile-high city.
“I took one look at it and made the guy an offer,” he says.
But the seller rejected the proposal, telling West he was certain he could get his price.
“At that point I gave it a bit of thought, realized he was probably right, and wrote him a check as a deposit,” he says.
Once the car arrived in Arizona, Ron began the long process of taking it apart for restoration.
“It was in very good shape,” he says. “There was a bit of rust where the mud and gunk collects inside the front fenders, but beyond that it didn’t need much major work.”
That’s pretty good for a car that was delivered to Arizona wearing studded snow tires.
Still, the project was a ground-up job. All the sheet metal and doors came off, the engine and transmission came out and everything was rebuilt.
“We didn’t do a frame-off, because it didn’t need it,” he says.
Ron had the original 283 V-8 freshened, and took the opportunity to clean and repaint the firewall and inside fenderwells. The interior was redone, using similar fabric and the exact same patters as was used in 1957.
“You can still get just about everything you need,” he says. “But some of it can be very expensive.”
He shows off the hinged piece of chrome along the driver side rear wing. It opens to give access to the fuel filler cap.
“It’s 150 bucks,” he says. “Expensive? Sure. But what’s the option?”
It has been 18 years since Ron restored the convertible. It shows just enough patina to prove it hasn’t spent all its time in a garage or on a trailer.
“We don’t put but about 1000 miles a year on it,” he says. “I think the longest trip has been about 50 miles. I still take it out every few weeks, even if it is to just drive it around the block, just to keep everything lubricated.
In contrast to the convertible, his wife’s coupe needed next to no work.
It has less than 55,000 original miles.
“It also came from Colorado,” he says. “It was owned by a successful potato farmer who had a collection of cars he kept stored in a climate-controlled potato shed.
“When he died, none of his family was interested in the cars, so they put them up for sale via the internet.”
Ron was interested in the coupe, and asked a friend who lived not far from the car to take a look and give him his assessment of it condition.
“He called me back and said if I didn’t but it, he would,” he says with a grin.
Other than riding on radial-ply tires, the car is exactly is it was when it left the assembly line.
“It needed nothing,” Ron says.
“I even had a show judge look at the car and remark that after all these years, even the upholstery is original. He could tell by the stitching.”
He lifts the hood to reveal the engine. It is rare to see a Chevrolet V-8 that isn’t topped with a toilet-bowl carburetor, tuned intake manifold and polished valve covers.
This one still has the factory four-barrel carb and an air cleaner that looks like an upside down bed pan. Even the valve covers retain the special orange paint used in the Chevrolet engine plants.
The pair draws enthusiasts who admire the cars for both their stunning looks and their originality.
It would have been faster -and at times cheaper -to modernize the cars with off-the shelf improvements, but Ron recognizes that once you start down that road, it’s is difficult to stop. And suddenly you end up with a car that doesn’t have a history.
“It was just important to us to keep them original,” he says. “I’m happy we were able to do that.”