California Dreamin – A Show-Stopping 1957 Bel Air On Air Ride

Charles McClendon has always been into cars, but he waited for the right time to make his 1957 Bel Air dream car a reality. In high school, a few of his friends had classic Chevys. Charles knew that one day he would own a hot rod of his own when time and money allowed. After semi-retiring from his family travel business, Charles finally has the time to enjoy his classic car hobby. McClendon currently owns three red “Bowties”: a 1959 Corvette, a 1957 Bel Air and a 1971 Chevelle SS454.

Starting with the 59 Corvette, Charles found himself attending car shows where he lives in southern California. Car culture is ingrained in the California lifestyle and Charles went all-in. McClendon describes how he decided to get a Tri-Five. “When I was at my 2nd car show I wound up parking my Corvette next to the most beautiful red 1957 Bel Air that I had ever seen. It was then and there I decided I just had to have my own example.”

After a nationwide search for the right car, Charles found a Viper Red ’57 hardtop in Dallas complete with an LS/T-56 swap . The paint and body were excellent, so fit and finish were already show quality. While the “expensive” parts of the build were done, the car needed a few things like custom upholstery, suspension, an A/V system and a few other upgrades. The car was purchased and a plan was set in place to make it car show winner. That’s no easy task in Southern California, which is home to some of the finest classic cars in the world.

The car arrived in December 2016 and the build took 14 months. McClendon took his new ride to Stefan at Safe and Sound Design in Woodland Hills CA to discuss an A/V system. After sharing the overall plan for the car, Safe and Sound made it clear that they could handle the entire project — not just the stereo. After reviewing pictures of previous builds, Charles decided to have Safe and Sound Design tackle the entire project.

Part of that overall plan included modern suspension upgrades. Charles was considering air suspension. Stefan sold McClendon on RideTech’s top of the line TQ Series system with triple adjustable shocks and ride height sensors. Charles and Stefan both liked RideTech’s App that lets you adjust vehicle height from outside the car with a smart phone. 

The first step was to strip the undercarriage and floors so that everything could be repainted with a fresh coat of Viper Red. When the RideTech order arrived, Safe and Sound Design sent the MUSCLEbar sway bar, upper and lower control arms and 4 link out to be chromed. The shiny RideTech suspension was installed along with new Wilwood Disc Brakes with drilled and slotted rotors on all four corners. The underside of the car was finished with new stainless steel exhaust, polished Magnaflow mufflers, and polished Rock Valley gas tank.

Next up was the interior. Charles had researched Tri-Five interiors for many weeks and decided on a Ron Magnus inspired design with two-tone leather and a textured upholstery accent fabric. The interior, headlining and trunk were gutted. Full Dynamat was added to the pan, doors, trunk and roof for optimum sound from the new A/V system.  All new wiring was run for all the new electrical components which include Dakota Digital HDX gauges, Vintage Air, Oracle LED headlights with multi-color halos, Digitails sequential LED taillights, front and rear NuRelics power windows, and multi-color LED interior accent lighting.

New TMI Pro Series low back seats were ordered and stripped so they could be recovered in matching leather. A full length custom console was crafted from dash to rear package tray to create rear bucket seats. The console was designed to house a Pioneer AVS 7” monitor, four way electric window switch and the RideTech control panel along with cup holders powder coated to match the leather.

Custom 3D door panels were constructed and covered in leather along with matching trunk panels to hide the sub-woofer, amp, RideTech AirPod, dual Optima Red Top batteries with kill switch and circuit breakers. A custom package tray was fabricated with custom pressed speaker grilles painted to match the leather just like a new modern car. A lighted and chromed Chevron trunk accent was also added for a  truly custom look.

New American Racing VF498 forged polished aluminum wheels were added, 18 x 9’s in the rear and 17 X 8’s in the front. New hi-performance Goodyear G Force Comp-2 tires were also installed to make full use of the new RideTech suspension. The build was completed in March 2018, just in time for car show season. McClendon’s ’57 won 14 shows last year with 7 Best In Shows. Charles McClendon stated, ” I really love arriving at a show, parking, and then getting out and gradually dropping the car with my iPhone. That always gets a lot of attention.”

After decades of dreaming about classic Chevrolets, Charles McClendon now has three cars of his own. Car culture has also inspired McClendon get more involved with his local car community.  Charles is part of the Classic Chevys of Southern California car club. The group puts on a charity car show to benefit the Rancho San Antonio Boys Town — a home for troubled youth. Cars bring people together. Charles McClendon’s dreams have come true. Likewise, Charles and his 57 Chevy are helping others achieve their dreams. That’s what “California Dreamin” is all about.

The chassis has been hyper-detailed. The factory frame has been upgraded with chrome plated RideTech suspension at both ends. The oil pan cover looks like a custom piece.
The rear air suspension consists of a RideTech Bolt-In 4-Link with TQ Series triple adjustable ShockWaves. The axle is aGM 12 bolt.
The custom interior features TMI seats that have been recovered to match the one-off door panels and console. A Tremec T56 six speed manual transmission adds some excitement to driving experience.
1957 bel-air-trunk
The custom upholstered trunk is as stunning as the interior.  Panels hide the batteries and audio equipment as well as the RideTech air tank, compressor and electronics. There’s still plenty of room for luggage.
1957 Bel Air Engine
The LS engine is dressed with a custom cover that features 57 Chevy “rockets”.
1957Chevrolet Bel Air Rear
The license plate says it all: “A bad 57”. While performance is not over the top, this tri-five is a capable pro-touring machine. The Viper Red paint job was already on the car when Charles bought it in Texas.
1957 Chevrolet Bel Air Lowered
Lowered down in show mode, you can really appreciate the benefits of RideTech air suspension. At the push of a button on his smartphone, McClendon is able to lower the car as onlookers approach. High tech headlights work well with the classic Bel Air trim.

For details regarding the 37th Classic Chevys of So Cal car show, click HERE

For details regarding the Rancho San Antonio Boys Home, click HERE

For Tri-Five Suspension systems and products, click HERE

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