I was inspired to write this by two recent articles. One questioned what car we would buy from 1981 and keep for 30 or 60 years. The other was the Eco-Boost 1959 Edsel. Now I’ve had this car for about 38 years, so it answers the first question. But I’ve been neither attentive nor kind to it, so I’m going to hate myself if it dissolves in my yard. So a plan of action to get it back on the road for the next few decades is called for. And maybe you can help me with that.
I don’t want to drive something that averages 13-15 mpg and has a weekly appointment with a mechanic. Brakes, comfort systems, and fuel economy keep it from being a daily driver today. But I’m ready to start on making it more fit for the next thirty years. That involves mulling over a lot of possibilities, and making decisions. That’s the fun, part, right? And the easy part too. The actual doing will be a bit harder, and unfortunately, the internet hasn’t yet figured out how to transport muscle and sweat. So I guess I’ll have to muster my own.
Here’s a bit of background, and some options I’ve been considering. Then you can chime in. Maybe this can be CC’s own Project X if I don’t mess it up.
When I bought this car I was told it was a Bel Air 210. That’s obviously not correct, since there’s no such thing. The Bel Air was the luxury model for Chevy in 1957, and there was no Bel Air two-door wagon, except of course:
The Nomad. The 210 was the model in the middle with the 150 being the bottom feeder. The 210 was also available with Bel Air trim that jazzed it up without making it a Bel Air. Obviously a Bel Air dash here. Possibly original or someone could have added it later. But it’s not a genuine Bel Air and the 150 had no Bel Air trinkets.
There were less than 18,000 210 two-door Handyman wagons like this sold. In comparison there were over 240,000 Bel Air four door sedans. The 210 got its name by dropping one zero off the end of its production series (2100). The 210 model number was dropped after the ’57 and replaced by Biscayne.
The engine was set back from the front axle for better weight distribution and it makes for a large engine bay. This has led to a number of unique combinations over the years. You can fit a 6.2/6.6 GM diesel (one of my recurring thoughts) or a big block (which is not).
My involvement with this car came about while I was learning to speak Vietnamese at the Defense Language Institute in El Paso, Texas. As you can imagine this school was not preparing us for long periods of shore duty in the United States. There had to be a perfect storm for me to buy this car:
1. It really grabbed me;
2. I had a place to put it; and,
3. It was cheap.
When I first saw this car it was colored beach sand with a white top. The owner painted it in his driveway and that paint is still mostly there today.
He decided that he just had to have a ’56 Nomad that he found, so he swapped engines with my baby and sold her to a friend of mine. That friend came upon hard times (a frequent occurrence with sailors) and sold it to me for $500. I liked it and drove it home so my parents could use it while I was overseas.
My dad promptly ran it into the side of a train and had to rebuild the front. He didn’t tell me until he had it fixed. I probably wouldn’t have bothered. They were still pretty cheap. After spending several years in a garage in Kansas, I resurrected it. I’ve always liked these headlights. An early cold air inlet with the screen around the bulbs.
Thanks to the auto shop teacher at my high school I was able to use it as a daily driver for several years. As much fun as it was to drive, rising gas prices caused me to park it in 2007. That’s one of the changes that has me looking at it again. This past year I only put 2,000 miles on the truck I replaced it with. That’s not a lot of gas.
With a speedometer that normally works in the summer only, I needed a way to calculate speed. A measured mile and the tach gave me something that works.
The Powerglide can’t find park despite a rebuild. If you adjust it to find park, it can’t find reverse. This transmission will probably run (inefficiently) for about a million years, but I think I can do better. I think just about any stick is better.
I have certainly thought about the 700r4 or 200r4, as I understand they are pretty simple swaps. The 283 could stand some hardened valve seats or just swap to a set of 305 heads. A propane conversion kit would solve the (non)hardened valve seat problem and gain efficiency. That might be better and cheaper.
The car weighs 3600 pounds according to the title. I don’t think a 235 has quite enough to move it down the road. It probably would with a little help from clifford but I don’t see that as an upgrade. A 261 might be a good answer if you can find one.
More than once I’ve thought of the Nissan/Chrysler 6 cylinder diesel that came in the International Scout. Also 6.2’s (with transmission) have become pretty cheap on eBay. They should be as easy to bolt in as a later model Chevy gas engine. I think the engine setback makes the 6.2‘s additional 100 pounds a moot point. It was made to bolt in where a big block will fit and there sure is plenty of room. Whatever goes in, disc brakes are going on. In today’s world although they are not legally required on this car, seat belts (probably lap only) are essential.
I am a poster child for ADD so I move from one thought to another. It will probably take getting in the middle of this project and finding something I think makes the best fit. It’s also going to be inexpensive without being cheap.
The rust goes first. In fact it’s mostly gone now. A drill, a wire brush, some galvanizing spray and paint. Instructables recently had an article on painting your car at home. I am leaning towards trying that. The body doesn’t need much and it ran well when parked.
I recently discovered how much rubber can deteriorate in four years. The rust on the door and floorboard on the driver’s side was my first clue. Even though the car is unique, I don’t want a concours restoration. I just want to drive it for a long time.
I am not a mechanic and I am retired and don’t want to go back to work to afford this. I think eBay is going to be my friend. I have always been impressed by the knowledge of the commentators on CC. I am curious about what you might think.
The donkeys, the car, and I will be right here waiting for your suggestions. And no, it’s not for sale.
If you want good mileage you can put an ecotec 1.4l turbo in there mated to a 6-speed auto. Oh the horror on people’s faces when you park it at a Classic auto show and open the hood!
And gee, that would only cost like $5000 if you could find a used engine, and then pay some guy like $3000 more to make it actually work given the electronics on said engine.
But you’d save gas for sure!
Yep, the horrors. You take a car that wasn’t a big seller to begin with, then has been worked to death leaving way fewer survivors than other models (care to venture a guess on the percentage of survivors of this model compared to a ’57 BelAir convertible?) . . . . . . . and so you hack it with all sorts of changes.
There’s nothing un-driveable about a properly restored ’57 Chevy station wagon (non-Nomad). And I’m firmly in the “vintage car as a rolling museum for future generations” crowd. Restore it to original, or sell it to someone who will. We’re losing the ability to save antique cars in their original form, all due to a constant determination to either personalize, or do figure a way to do it on the cheap.
Restore it right. Period.
If it was mine Id go diesel manual trans the tallest diff I could get and let it lug like a good diesel can clean the surface rust off blow on some primer and your good to go or mail it to me this car is worth 25-50k in NZ we could split that any way you like.
I assume ready availability of small blocks of more recent vintage from a nearby recycler, and that the mount points for the small block are available on the chassis. A small block, and a more recent tranny (4 speed manual), would give it a very satisfactory drive train.
Brakes and suspension bits for this vintage should be readily available. I also would guess that replacing at least the front brakes with discs is not that hard.
Oh, the possibilities.
I’d look at a computerized V-6. Why? You want the oomph to move its bulk away from the stoplight. The former Buick engine is short and stubby; if you pack it against the firewall, you are that much better balanced.
The computer controls give you the best possible fuel economy with that sort of engine. Of course, you’d have to patch in an entire wiring harness from the donor car, but while that would be tedious, it wouldn’t be overly hard.
The devil’s in the details, however. If I’m not mistaken, those things depend on the (pulse electric) speedometer for a lot of settings. And I don’t know how you’d get the guts of a modern electronic speedometer into your housing there. Maybe, you’d have to have the original panel installed under the dash? An auxiliary control panel.
Transmission is another problem. What manuals came with the various 6s, I don’t know. With something that old, and not having a clutch pedal, I’d just bite the bullet and put in a modern THM. But then, your quadrant is wrong, too. And putting a floor lever in, cutting a hole, all that…and taking off your column shifter…too much like backwoods field engineering.
Perhaps the diesel would be easier in the end – but you’d be looking for more rare parts and you’d have that much more weight under the hood. And, who knows what’s going to happen with diesel fuel vis a vis gasoline? Once upon a time, diesel was far cheaper.
Good luck with that. The Bel Airs and Nomads were the prized ones; but a two-door base wagon today, is far more rare.
I own the same car. Bought mine in 1999 from Richmond, VA. Time/finances keep it in a corner of the garage.
My plans are:
Gen III/IV engine, 5.3-6.2 with either aftermarket controller or adapt factory computer.
Overdrive transmission, preferably 5/6 speed Tremec but could go with 4L-60E if it comes with the Gen III/IV engine, budget and availability will determine…
Upgrade to 11″ discs from 68-72 GM A-Body.
Choice for rear end will be determined by time/budget/availability. Mine was a stick shift so I have 3.55 gears, yours, as an automatic, is a 3.36 if it is the original rear end.
The suspension has so many possibilities…I bought tubular upper control arms and will most likely buy new lowers to match, for a more modern feel in steering. Steering box itself will be upgraded…there are rack & pinion units available but also bolt-in power steering boxes that give a tighter response. I’ll also install front/rear sway bars. Some people adapt an entire 70-81 Camaro front clip if you want to go as far as to cut the frame.
Your dash trim is not original, but a nice upgrade. I also notice you have the 6-cylinder rear emblem on yours.
I’ve heard of these cars doing mid-20’s highway with the right powertrain and gearing. If one of the new Chevy Silverados can knock back 20+ in a 5,000+ lb. package, how would it do in a 3,600 lb. Handyman…I’d think exceptional.
I owned a ’57 2-door sedan back in the 80’s. It was my daily transportation. It’s amazing just what a set of good radial tires can do.
The fact that 5 million total Tri-Fives were built helps with tracking down parts…also thanks to their continued popularity, you can now build a BelAir hardtop/convertible entirely from repro parts. Soon you’ll be able to do the same with a 2-Door sedan. Just about every sheetmetal part is now reproduced so don’t let rust stop you here.
Seeing one of these makes my day…they’re so rare as most of them were used up and scrapped back-in-the-day. Keep us posted.
You could sure save a lot of gas if you spent like $15,000 on all those mods you you list here! Think of how much money you would save! Like $500 a year.
But I’m not building a toy…it will be driven and enjoyed on a regular basis. In extreme weather I have my ’97 Blazer. My wife has her Outback.
I’ll have no 3-year-old Camcordibu for regular driving. It will be the Handyman or my other project, a ’68 C-10 which will be built much the same way and in fact probably come first.
So it’s this INSTEAD of something newer – and pretty boring.
Having spent more than a few hours by the side of the road trying to patch together something I tried to save a few bucks on instead of doing it right the first time, taught me a lot when it came time to rip the 307 Olds out of my ’89 Caprice wagon and swap in a 350 TPI. The $3000 spent on that swap gave me another 135,000 miles of mostly trouble-free – and very enjoyable – driving. In fact I still have that engine and could swap it into one of my projects but it’s been sitting in the garage for ten years and for the time, effort and expense of making it drop-dead reliable again, I could probably find a Gen III/Gen IV V-8, bolt it in and take terms like “distributor” and “rotor” out of my vocabulary.
For me it’s not so much about the investment. I have no plans to sell either vehicle. Just rebuild when they need it and leave them for my kids when I’m gone.
It’s about a ride I can get excited about, that I can drive anywhere I want when I want, that didn’t cost an arm-and-a-leg to build and won’t cost an arm-and-a-leg to maintain or drive. It’s a plus I chose two vehicles for whom replacement sheetmetal is pretty plentiful and/or being reproduced.
I’m going to go against the grain here – keep the 283 and Powerglide. You have a running engine and a working transmission, and they are both free and already hooked up. Spend the money on the disc brakes and other modernizations. Then, when you (or your heirs) are done with it, you have something that you can sell in a heartbeat.
No more than you drive the car, the extra fuel mileage will be peanuts compared to what you will spend on an engine/transmission swap. Not to mention the headache. If you have to swap something, convert the car to a stick shift, either the old 3 speed or something with overdrive.
Finally, it just HAS to be turquoise and white when you are done. 🙂 You have a great project there, even better, a car that has a long history with you. Enjoy.
+1 on that. If it works don’t mess with it. You will have more than enough to do just getting it safe and cleaned up. Once it’s back on the road save your money for a while then spring for quality body and paint. Go for something that will really stick to the car (epoxy or urethane) rather than something really shiny. If you must replace the Powerglide keep the 283 and go for a TH350 or one of the newer O/D transmissions, which I suspect would bolt right up.
Since you’re ADD like the rest of us DO NOT TAKE THE CAR APART, I’m going into my 4th year of reassembly on the infamous VW project after having it painted. Tackle small bits and get it completely finished before moving on to the next thing. Do as I say, not as I do….
I must agree with JPC on this. I would not alter the drivetrain, as the parts are plentiful, and it’ll hurt you downstream in the details. If it were mine, I’d repaint it in its original color, as a color change is never a good idea for the type of functional restoration you intend to do, as I would. I feel too many old cars are restored into something that never existed, extremely expensive full-scale models – if that’s what a person wants, buy a Revell kit…
I think most on here know I’m a cruiser, not a hot-rodder, so fix her up, roll down the windows and have fun!
I believe this is the least-expensive option, as you appear to own something that’s a good start. How far are you from Cincinnati, as I’d love to see this, someday?
Oh yes, if you can’t find original hubcaps, baby moons would be a splendid look.
Of course, this is the point I have been making here. Trying to swap in a modern engine would cost a ton o’ moola and you would never regain the investment you made before you hit the grave.
If I really had to do an engine/tranny sway, it would be a small block crate engine and a THM 350. Even then you are looking at $3000 before you are done.
I do not understand the obsession with fuel consumption. The biggest cost of any car is depreciation. If you are buying used, then for sure don’t buy an old V-8 sled and then complain it is hard on gas and then spend like $10k swapping in a new engine with electronic controls. You’d be much better off getting a used Civic instead of swapping the engine out.
Fuel consumption meant nothing when I bought it. I was fine till it hit about $4/gal. You guys are making some good points and one of the best is to not take it apart.
You got ahead of me because I was working outside and didn’t realize it was up. I am listening and I am not disappointed with the results. Even the sarcastic ones are based on solid ground and I am enjoying hearing them (thats you ckh).
With all due respect, I’d rather try to stick a blunt object in my eye than have a used Civic as my daily ride. Sorry.
Chas, I get around that by drawing a clear line (in my head) between transportation and interesting vehicles.
If you have a used Civic as your daily driver you will get to work every day, and not spend a ton of money doing so. With the extra money that results you can get an interesting car, motorcycle, boat etc. etc. You can also choose when to fix or upgrade things and not find yourself wrenching at 2am on Monday so you can get to work at 8.
IMHO daily driving a classic vehicle is a great way to get poor and/or fired and/or divorced, and mess up a classic vehicle.
Of course Paul N is the exception but he has the advantages of being self employed, living in a gentle climate and having an understanding partner.
I know that this post and response is quite a few years old but feel I must respond. To the gentleman who doesn’t understand the obsession about fuel consumption, I suggest you find a H2 Hummer with its 6.0 and least it for 3 months and your attitude will be changed forever!! lol for all the responses I’ve read! Wow!! Most are just flat out arrogant and don’t address what was originally asked. There was a guy who wants all original and nothing else. Him I understand and if this cat had been found in a barn in this condition I would agree and support his opinion… probably rather loudly, lol. 40 plus years now that you’ve had this car? Sir it’s yours! Do with it what you will! Any choice you decide, any route you take, is right as long as it’s for you. All I ask and would hope for…. for the love of all that’s holy, please keep, clean and if possible restore in your spare time all the parts you take off of the car. I swear it’s easier to find a true Bel Aire than it is to find a handyman in this complete and unmolested condition. I had 2 several years ago, the first one was in a bad way when I found it, it retained the look and the lines put was a completely remodeled hot rod when finished. I bought a wrecked doner vehicle, a Silverado, made the chassis of the truck for the Body of the wagon and it worked! It wasn’t a lot of money just work. The frame of the wagon was bent broke and rusted through in the wagon, the body was decent though other than the floor. With the 5.3 from the 2001, after having a buddy who’s a programmer whisper do his thing, I got hwy 26 to 30 mpg and 18 to 21 running around town. That hot rod became my DD, btw i left it as a 4X4, until somebody stole it. Now here’s something to prove it’s a small world!! It was stolen in El Paso TX and I have no doubt is probably driving around Mexico somewhere to this day!! I was at Ft Bliss for the Sargent Major Academy. The other was restored to original my Dad swindled me out of it and has been a Gorgeous weather driver since lol. So do what you want! Put in an Iszuzu Diesel, half the weight of a 350 with twice the torque and 30 plus mpg and can be done fairly cheap. Find a smart SUV doner and swap motor computer and all, just keep and preserve the original things you take from it because maybe one day you’ll find you have a grandchild who will turn out to be an avid restorer and want more than anything to restore and cherish his grand dads ride. And that’s my 2 cents!!
+1 the engine and the trans should be the least of your worries. you’re right to concentrate on stopping the rust. the body & the frame are the legacy that you hope to pass on to your heirs. put in some modern brakes, fix the steering. let the next generation worry about the powertrain.
Let me second the motion for turquoise and white. It may be a cliche ’57 Chevy color scheme, but it’s perfect.
I have a soft spot for these 210 2 door wagons because I was brought home from the hospital in one, in 1959. That’s it below with Mom in the driver’s seat. Unfortunately, Dad traded it in on a Lark in 1961.
I would agree with the idea of keeping the 283 and PG if they were both in tiptop shape, but you are having issues with the trans. If you are going to swap the drivetrain, drop in a modern fuel injected small block with either a 4 speed manual or a modern automatic with overdrive and a lockup converter. You ought to get pretty decent mileage as this is not a particularly heavy car.
A ’57 Chevy is probably one of the easiest old cars to use as a daily driver because every single doggone part is still available, many of them at any local parts store, and every town has some shop where all the guys grew up wrenching on them.
Plus there are forums full of people building these on a budget. There’s a wealth of info and ideas out there.
I am going to chime in w/JP – keep the 283 and Powerglide; upgrade to discs and stiffer suspension. If you must go modern, but low buck, pull an SBC w/Port FI and a THM400. I have seen many tri-five aftermarket shift quadrant devices that fill in the gauges for a “factory” look available.
If I was looking for a Tri-Five, I’d happily take a 110 or 210 two or four door sedan or wagon any day, even with ‘Glide. Hardtop coupes, ragtop and Nomads went through the f$!@!%! roof years ago!
Surely this is worth too much as a 60’s time capsule to go changing it into a daily driver ?
If you put a fuel efficient motor into it ( a two litre BMW diesel will give it plenty of shove) you will be taking so much weight off the front wheels that it will sit too high on the springs.
You got it. You want a tri-five for a daily driver. Just get yourself another common BelAir two-door hardtop that somebody has already turn into a fugitive from ‘American Graffiti’ and have fun.
Leave the rare models alone. This little matter . . . . . . rare (which has nothing to do with desirability or retail net worth) . . . . . . . . says don’t screw with it.
Diesel and stick, you won’t need much rear gear to get it going and you’ll likely get some pretty crazy fuel economy. Oh and fill in the “inside the trim” with some of that automotive grade vinyl contact paper in a woodgrain pattern, just for the irony factor… 😛
If you want to say gas powered my vote is Atlas I-6 pulled from a Trailblazer totaled out in a rear end accident. Smooth inline power and a dead reliable auto trans FTW. Plus the Stovebolt 6 would have likely been the choice of a true cheap-ba$tard who would have ordered a 210 handyman.
For Diesel power I would recommend a Cummins 4BT over the GM 6.5. The 6.2/6.5 carry roughly the same dimensions as a 454. As big as that engine bay is, it’s tight with a Big block. A 4BT would take about the same space as a 235. Giving you room to move.
For gas power, any of GM’s Atlas engines would be a great choice. Take your pick, 4, 5 or 6 cylinders. You’d have to run it on an aftermarket computer like Megasquirt though.
There are some Pros and Cons to going the 4BT route.
On the plus side they can be found easily, best bet for value would be to buy one wrapped in a medium-light commerical vehicle that’s been totaled. Copart is your friend. Parts and service will be easy as everything is shared with the more common 5.9 I6 Cummins.If you pull it off you’ll have the proverbial truckload of Redneck street cred at any car show.
On the other hand this is an older industrial motor. Its going to be absolutely brutal from a NVH standpoint. An older mechanical injection Cummins wakes up the whole block when you start it on a cold morn. To make it bearable in an older vehicle you’ll have to soundproof the heck out of the hood & firewall. Its also a heavy bugger tipping the scales at ~100lbs more than a big block.
If you’re going “off the reservation” of GM parts for a resto-mod diesel a VW 1.9 TDI 5 speed manual is just the ticket for every day drive ability and economy IMHO.
You’re right on the drawbacks. The 4BT has become a popular swap into older light duty trucks and SUVs, so as time goes on the problems that arise will be easier to overcome. The weight is a concern but the 4BT weighs about the same as a 6.2/6.5 Detroit V8.
If it were me, and I was going for Redneck points I’d find a “little” Detroit 3-53 really freak people out.
If you are thinking diesel, and there engine compartment swallows it without a lot of fuss, then the Chevy 6.2 diesel is a good, though gutless, choice. The Nissan diesel from the Scout is probably difficult to find and get parts for.
If you have the room, how about a Cummins 12-valve turbodiesel? You can get a 2nd gen 6cyl from a 94-98 Dodge pickup. You will want a 2WD one though, not 4WD. Also, they made improvements to the automatic transmission in 1995 so a 95-98 would be the preferred donor vehicle. Apparently the 4cyl version of this engine was also used in delivery vans, if length of the 6cyl Cummins is a problem.
My other recommendation would be to buy a Buick Roadmaster and swap over as much of the drivetrain and suspension that you can. They get exceptional fuel economy for their size because the engines are cammed for low-RPM torque, and the gearing is so low that the engine is running just above idle on the highway.
This could make for a great series here at the Curbside.
First off you need to determine just how an how much you want to drive it. You said that the truck you replaced it with only logged 2K. If you are going to be driving it less than 4-5K per year I really wouldn’t be that concerned with MPG. You are reporting 15 mpg is that in mixed driving? If so that really isn’t that bad and I don’t think you are going to get that dramatic of an improvement no matter what power train you choose.
I’m not sure about your area but in my Diesel runs as much as 20% higher than regular. So that 20 MPG diesel costs about the same to fuel as a 16-17 mpg gasser.
I’ll suggest a couple of options with a budget minded DIY flavor.
#1 retrofit a TBI system onto the 283 and back it up with a 700R4. You can use an adapter and keep the stock intake and maybe modify a stock air cleaner to keep it stock looking to the untrained eye.
#2 swap in a 4.3 with your choice of the matching AT or 5sp. If you are going to do a swap and you’d prefer the 5sp then do it.
Those will give you the most MPG bang for the buck and amount of labor.
Curiously enough, my 2k/yr truck is a 91 S10 with a 4.3 and a 700r4. I am starting to lean towards staying stock because of the comments here (some are quite forceful) and I really had an open mind about it. Something you have had for this long becomes like wallpaper. Just blends into the background.
My lifestyle changed. Nothing I owned would have gotten away with 2k/yr while I was still working. thanks
Don’t listen to these guys who are saying you MUST leave it as is. First and foremost it is your car so you should do with it what ever makes you happy. Becoming a resto-mod or surivi-mod and seeing 2-3K per year on the road is a far better fate than sitting in the yard as a stocker.
That being said there is no reason you can’t do what ever mods you do in such a manner that you can return it to stock.
A dual circuit disc/drum conversion can be done w/o doing anything that can’t be undone. Drain, clean, grease, seal, cap, tag and store the removed parts.
Ditto for the 700R4 swap. If something needs to be cut or welded get a repo part, mod that one, and set the original aside.
For the TBI you can get tanks with FI pumps ready to drop in and go. You will need a way to get a couple dozen wires inside the car and that could require a hole, but other than that you wouldn’t have to harm any original parts. I’m betting you can get a plug and play engine harness to work with an alternator which the EFI will be happier with.
A set of sway bars will make it handle better but they may require drilling of holes.
After all driving your Curbside Classic is half or more of the fun, so doing things to it that make it easier to live with as a daily driver and/or makes you put more miles on it, for what ever reason, is a very, very, good thing.
So #1 on my list would be what is the minimum it needs to get back out there on the road? If it’s more than a new battery and some fresh fluids what ever system that needs attention should be considered the first project. IE if the brakes need work make the disc, dual system, and power boost if desired, the first project.
Then drive it while you plan the next project and acquire the parts. I’d keep on the look out for a TBI’ed 305 700R4 truck for your donor. Pull the trans driveshaft and related parts. Scavenge the EFI, the accessories, heads or maybe even just keep the entire engine for now. Then haul the rest to scrap. If you get the right deal you can break even or maybe even put a couple of dollars in your pocket if you can sell a few parts. Free EFI and no core charge for the trans.
If you do a 4.3 be sure to swap the intake gaskets if it’s a “W” motor. Otherwise a great engine, I’ve owned several.
My ’84 Suburban would get 23 mpg at 60 with the worn out 6.2 Detroit diesel and leaking 700R4 that was in it. I’d put in half a bottle of fluid every tank. That wagon is about a ton lighter and more aerodynamic – with the proper rear end gearing (like 2.5:1) and a fresh drivetrain and low rolling resistance tires you could see close to 30 mpg Shouldn’t be too difficult a transplant.
If it were mine I’d probably just do an overdrive automatic gear with TBI fuel injection and call it a day.
The other more involved possibility is a frame swap. Measure out some modern stuff and swap the frame under that lovely vintage body. You’d get better suspension, brakes and engine all in one. Something like a Caprice or S10 might work.
And look at spending like $20k before you actually try to mount the BWW diesel in the car and make it work. That will save a lot of gas for sure!
Injected Smallblock and transmission (mayeb even 6 speed?)from a late F or B-body. Or at least get rid of the silly powerglide…
The only reason I think the 6.2 Diesel was a popular alternative in 4×4’s in the 80’s-90’s in Norway was because the diesel was cheaper pr gallon then gas. The mileage isn’t great compared to the lack of power.
If you must go diesel, I’d heed the words of the learned folks above–and prepare yourself for noisy clatter. I’d use a modern unit instead of the Nissan you mentioned (parts are more scarce each day) and budget for a few hundred pounds of soundproofing. I’d vote to either modernize the current mill (add FI) or replace it with an injected SBC.
In all seriousness, I have been at this juncture with cars many times. Not me personally but people wanting to monkey around with cars in the name of “saving gas.” Herein lies the rub: unless you have a shop and complete set of tools of your own, and the knowledge of doing these things, you can very quickly spend a fortune.
Get a pen and paper and figure out how much you are spending on gasoline every year. I would wager when all is calculated, it is not a lot. I drive quite a bit and in Vancouver, Commieland, I pay $1.45 a litre or so a litre for premium fuel. I spend about $3500 a year on fuel.
A Toyota Prius is going to cost me $30,000, and no, I do not pay the taxes because since they are refunded to me as it is for business use. A Prius has about the lowest depreciation on the market. Look at 20% the first and 10% from years 2-5. This means in year one, I have already spent $6000. The Prius will use half the fuel of my present car, so save me $1750 a year. I will also spend an extra $1000 in insurance on it. Total loss $5350 in the first year.
See where I am going here? Spending large sums of money to “save gas” is fruitless.
When you get wrenching on an old car, you need two things:
1) Patience. No matter what you plan on, it will take at least twice as long because it is old and things break. This leads us to:
2) Honking big bank account. If you plan to spend $3000 to save gas, count on at least twice this amount. You never know what you are getting into with old cars. Opening on thing leads to other things.
For $5000 you could on this car:
1. Put a 305 4BBL crate engine in it.
2. Add THM350.
3. Disk brakes (essential in today’s traffic).
4. Paint job.
It would look cool and be fun to drive but you’ll never save enough gas to pay back the money. And $5000 is probably too low; look at $8000 when you are all done! And with a car like this, you are never really done.
I’m passionate about saving gas. I’ve also done enough of my own ambitious projects to know our Canadian friend here is right. My advice is keep your classic’s drive train and do incremental improvements.
An engine swap would be a great project for someone getting into the hobby, or an auto mechanics class. Maybe you can find a partner who wants the experience?
As for the Prius, it does pay off over the long haul, as the figures show. I kept my ’01 Prius almost ten years. But that’s not why most people drive them. Hybrid technology is why I drive a Prius, and why I was willing to be an early adopter. To help get more hybrids on the road, and because (until recently) a Prius has the most advanced technology on wheels. People pay big $$$ for all kinds of non-economic reasons, else there’d be nothing but beige Corollas. Hybrids are no different.
“And with a car like this, you are never really done.”
You say that like you think it’s a bad thing.
In spite of my previous post, I think Canuk nailed it.
To spend, even a smallish sum, say $3000…to save $500 a year in fuel…isn’t the smart plan. If you were looking at a high-mileage daily driver, it would be a different story; but with your low miles…you’ll never recoup; and you’ll detract from the wagon’s value.
Best plan, I say after consideration, would be: Disc brakes; three-point harnesses; good tires and a paint job. Then when you’re done with it, it’ll be all the more saleable, as a drivable time capsule.
When all said an done stock is youre cheapest option but get it back into good order a decent tune up will get more mpg rebush the linkage for the stock tranny so it has park and reverse thats only a worn joint or 2 and just drive it to enjoy having it thats why Ive rebuilt my old Minx it has no real value it is quite rare now but I want to be able to take it for a spin now and then just to be different.
I want to thank everyone for their comments. Right now I think the folks who are recommending staying pretty stock are making good sense. I am, however, the poster child for ADHD.
The thing is, at 68 years old I might have to drive into the next lifetime to get any payback. I knew that but probably was into denial.
I’ve already started to remove the rust. It was surface only and easy. The S10 I am driving now is a 91 ex plant truck with 81k miles. I’m sure it will hold up till the chevy is done. So… I can take my time. Curiously enough, turquoise and the original beach sand were the two colors I have favored most.
Hard to eliminate the thought of a bolt in diesel but hard to pay for it too.
I will keep you posted from time to time. It’s not when I can get around to it. I have started and don’t procrastinate when I have any money. This could be real cheap.
You guys are great. Have a great christmas and hope the next year finds us all with the projects we seem to need.
Nobody has suggested a late-model RWD Chevy 4.3 swap yet. Find a complete drivetrain, radiator to tailpipe, and swap over what you need.
My friend did this to his contractor friend’s GM step van that had a tired 250-6 in it. He was amazed at the number of parts which were the same between two vehicles 25 years apart!
You will get enough power, and excellent fuel economy.
But I can also see your point about keeping it as-is. I’ve found that in my own stable of vehicles, the ones that are actually running I tend to pay more attention to. The ones that are dead tend to continue to be ignored. I have the same problem of taking something apart and then moving on to other, bright & shiny things!
So it makes sense to leave it be and to do everything you can to keep up on the typical maintenance & repair issues.
+1 on this idea.
For a resto-mod that will be driven regularly its GM “Canon” and the best value.
Phosphoric acid will eat the rust from it with the added advantage of leaving a rustproof coating easily washed off ready to prime
I know what I would do, gm 3800 and 5 speed out of a camaro. 200 hp, lots of torque, and great mileage. Fairly simple electronics too (you can get a firewall mounted ecu from a Rivera).
My first thought. When did you pick up the 283 auto?? If the owner that painted it in the drive way swapped motors to the 56 nomad then you should have had a 235 six or a 265 V8?. Provided the 56 was an original motor. Next came the name 210. I always understood that the 210 became the Belair in 58 because the Impala was new to the line up. Then all changed again in 59 and 62. I have had the 210 wagon and loved it before Hurricane Katrina took it. I have now the *bottom feeder* 150 4 Dr. Nor did I know you could order the Belair trim in any vehicle. But being a retired *sailor* I know how all those sea stories go. That wagon you have is yours, do what ever makes you feel good. Isn’t that was the hobby is all about. Michael USN Ret
Good question. When I first saw this car it had a 327 and a four speed. The guy found the 56 and bought it. Then he took the engine and powerglide from the 56 and swapped it into the 57. I always thought it was a 265 until we tore it apart in the auto class. It is a 283 that has the front only mounts like the shoebox. That means it was made NLT 1958 IIRC.
The powerglide is a cast iron model and tough as nails. Both engine and transmission came from the 56 but it’s obvious that the engine was not the original. I’ll bet the transmission was. An earlier commenter said I probably need bushings for the linkage but I think it may actually be internal to the transmission. It works now but I’ll get it fixed when it’s on the road.
Anyway, in the world of small block chev nothing is as obvious as it seems. If I hadn’t watched this car through two owners before I bought it I would have been confused.
If you are retired Navy, I have an article that Paul is reviewing right now on the evolution of Subs. Hope you enjoy it. It’s just like farms. You can take the kid out of the Navy but you can’t take the Navy out of the kid.
Thanks for the comment
In ’58, the 110 became the Delray; the 210 the Biscayne. Bel Air was still top dog for all models (sans two-door h/t flagship) as in ’58, Impala was “coupe only”. For ’59, Biscayne became the entry-level car, Bel-Air the middle where the 210’s and Biscayne used to be as Impala was the 1959 top line Chevy spanning all models and ragtop only. Chevy counted sixes and V-8’s as separate models. Pat Boone and Dinah Shore had trouble keeping up!
I truly believe that for what it would cost to rebuild the 283/PG and make it bulletproof, you could do a late-model swap instead.
As mentioned above, I’m going to look for a Gen III/Gen IV for my Handyman. A less expensive and probably simpler (at least more well-travelled) route would be an ’87 or later Gen I 305/350 w/Turbo 700 or 4L60E (same trans, only the 4L60E is controlled by the computer, GM went to the 4L60E in ’93-’94).
These swaps are quite common and assuming the front mounting bosses aren’t taken up with accessories, would bolt in from the front. For the rear, use an adapter mount offered by most everyone who sells Tri-Five parts. That said…the best way to go here is to switch to side mounts…those adapter kits are also common as cockroaches. Plus the Ram’s Horn manifolds will bolt up.
You can wire this up yourself or get an adapter harness. Either way…before starting, I strongly suggest reading Mike Knell’s “Chevrolet TPI/TBI Engine Swapping” from Jaguars That Run in Livermore, CA. http://www.jagsthatrun.com/
Mike doesn’t believe in toys any more than I do. His manuals are for people who intend to drive their vehicles daily as if they were a 3-year-old Camcordibusion. His philosophy is “make the engine think it’s still in the donor vehicle”. Using that credo answered a lot of wiring questions for me when I did the TPI Caprice swap mentioned above.
When doing the actual wiring, you’ll need the manual for the donor vehicle from which the drivetrain came, and a ’57 Chevy shop manual…reprints available from anyone selling Tri-Five parts.
The donor vehicle manuals come from Helm, Inc. in Warren, MI. http://www.helminc.com or 1-800-782-4356.
I also suggest joining Eckler’s Classic Chevy Club, once known as Classic Chevy International. I’ve been a member for 28 years. http://www.classicchevy.com/
True, many members are people who just buy their way into the hobby but there’s a lot of good DIY tech/historical info too. Of course Eckler’s is just one of many parts sources but the monthly Classic Chevy magazine is why I keep up a membership.
Finally…if you can get an entire donor vehicle…I think that would be the best way to go. For example…you could adapt the latter-day crossflow radiator from the donor vehicle (saving big $$ over the fancy “Be Cool” and other style aftermarket radiators) and not have to wonder if/how the original-style radiator will work with the higher pressures and temperatures required by a modern engine. And once you get the wiring completed and any bugs worked out…the electrical system will be much simpler and require far less maintenance/repair.
A final advantage of going late model is due to improvements in manufacturing techniques and technology incorporated into the engines themselves. The engines are simply built better and last longer. You don’t need to restrict your search to something with less than 30,000 miles. You could swap in a 50,000 or even 75,000 mile engine and expect another 100,000 or more with routine maintenance.
A ‘Bolt-in Diesel’ is a misnomer to say the least. Swapping engines/trans always involves lots of small details that add up. Even a later-model small block and turbo 350 trans will require changes to engine/trans mounts, linkage changes for throttle and shifter, etc. A diesel will require a redesign of the cooling system, the fuel system, the exhaust system, wiring, etc. You are talking about a good amount of work but your comments seem to indicate that you don’t have any engine swapping experience. I think that a diesel swap would be more work than you think.
I would get a rebuilt turbo 350 and swap out that PG and freshen the 265/283 with gaskets, valve job/valve seals, a modern carb and a recurve of the distributor.
That said, I am a hot rodder and there isn’t any reason to leave it stone stock. You can do suspension and brake upgrades without altering the body irreparably and some of the commenters are talking like this car is super rare–18k production doesn’t make this so rare that you need to worry about cutting up the last one or something…
Right on Jason! I agree with you about the ‘bolt-in diesel” comments. I’ve only participated in about a half dozen engine swaps in my life, mostly same make swaps (Ford to Ford, Mopar to Mopar, etc, usually bigger engines.) and even some of those can be problematic. GM has a much higher (IMO) rate of common parts that make swaps easier, but going from one type of fuel and upgrading 30 or 40 years of advances in one fell swoop like that will not be easy, by any means. And, several other commenters on here have noted this too.
I also agree that swapping out the ‘glide for any more modern transmission would give the biggest bang for the buck. There has to be thousands of available THM 350’s or 700’s available at any time, and probably any price range you’d be comfortable with. Since they’re not computer controlled, it is simply a swap, no rewiring required. Any additional money can be spent on the rest of the car, although a set of front disc brakes seems like a smart idea, as agreed upon by the rest of the commentariat.
If I were blue-skying this whole idea, I think it would be fun to put a modded 292 six in the engine bay, backed up by the aforementioned THM 350. But that would probably be a $10,000 idea by the time it was implemented.
Upgrade the trans, the brakes and the paint. Good to go! I’m envious, I’d like to have something as practical and stylish as your wagon.
Whatever you do with it, good luck. It’s an awesome car!
It’s not as practical, but what about a 4200 I6 swap? I am sure they could be found cheaply enough with transmission. Like I said, it’s not practical, but then again, almost nothing we do with our cars ever is.
The car is in remarkable shape considering it’s not been stored indoors all these years. It’s definitely a keeper. I’d go with a 350 chevy since it offers the best of most worlds, maybe a 400 small block if you can find one. Gas mileage as you state isn’t a huge concern but having enough to motivate 2 tons with the aero of a brick requires some torque. I would look into 3 on the tree just for laughs and reliability. Make this car as quirky as those 60’s graphics on the fins appears to be.
You will benefit from parts available for similar models but wagon specifics are a bitch. I had a Fairlane wagon years ago that I gave up on because I could not find wagon parts for the tailgate.
Find a parts car if you can although even the hanger queens are overpriced these days. I’m a little jealous, I would love to dive in and strip it down just to rebuild it a bit at at time. Good luck with her!
That’s a really nice car! Converting to stick shift will probably give you the maximum benefit in terms of performance and fuel economy, that is after all things are tuned properly. I’d look into 3-on-the-tree plus overdrive unit, with the right setup you’ll effectively have a 5-speed. That would really rock. 🙂
I’m not very mechanically-inclined, but I tend to agree with a rebuild of the existing engine and a THM. I think a repaint in the original colors would be neat too, I have never seen a coral and white ’57 at a show. A friend of mine has a ’57 2-door hardtop he bought years ago to fix up. He was not a professional when it came to restoring a car, but he wound up doing all the work on it except for paint, engine and upholstery. He wound up putting a 327 and turbo transmission in it, but the rest of the car is stock. It was painted in the original colors of harbor blue with a larkspur blue top, which really stands out! No matter what you do, have fun with your wagon and keep us posted!
I know this is a very late post but would like to add my 2 cents and also correct a misconception you have about the 210 designation.. First and foremost I completely agree with those saying to keep everything as is and just restore it. secondly Chevrolet marketed its mid-priced line as the “210” series from 1953 to 1957.
Up Date? How did it turn out? I have one of these Wagons and will never part with it. I updated the drive train to 383 stroker in front of TH4 trans updated breaks and suspension but kept body lines original. custom interior. LOVE MY WAGON!!!
10 years ago, what’s happened with this 57 Chevy Wagon. i have questions to ask. His statement about finding out is was a 283 from the 56 Nomad because on only front motor mounts make no sense because the 56 265 didn’t have any wither as did the 55 265. Measure the Bore…. 3.750= 265….. 3.875=283. Block casting numbers could be the same also as the early 57 283’s were just factory bored out 265’s until a new casting was made for the rest of the 57 model year. 1958 had a different casting number and 10 horse power more that the 57 283.
57 also had a 265 used with a 3 speed/overdrive trans, they were painted Chartreuse color
After reading the story and all the comments and also looking at all the pictures, I’ve come to the conclusion that the 56 Nomad’s V-8 Engine was indeed transplanted into the 57 Chevy wagon for the 327 that he said was in the car. I looked at the V-8 engine and Zoomed in a bit and noticed Two things right off. The Exhaust Manifolds are the Log manifolds used in 56, and NOT the Rams horns used in 57. They must have swapped them out with the engine. Also the distributor in the picture is also the 56 smaller clip-on cap. The 57 Distributor was the 1st to use the NEW taller cap with the Aluminum window that allows setting the Dwell while the car is running. These are things that I noticed because I’ve been a Chevy Owner and mechanic of 55-56-57 Chevy 265’s and 283’s. One other thing, the 57 Chevy cars equipped with a 265 V-8 all came with a 3 speed transmission/ some had overdrive. NO Power Glides on 265’s in 57. I was also the Founder and 4 years president of San Jose Classic Chevy Club 1977-1981. I’ve been doing this for over 50 years and have been around the Block a few times.