Jeff Mann's '57 Chevy runs a blown Hemi under its hood, and lots of unexpected details The external changes to Jeff Mann's '57 Chevy are mostly subtle. Like the driving lights fitted to the front bumper where one usually finds rubber bullets. And the machine gun barrels where chrome spears once were on the hood. You know, subtle, like a machine gun. By John Pearley Huffman, Contributor Email Date posted: 06-05-2007 We've entered the era of the Stepford Chevys. Once upon a time, 1957 Chevys were nasty street racers driven by the socially maladjusted and feared by the decent citizenry. But those days are long gone. Today '57 Chevys are driven to the nostalgia diner by grandfathers in "Foose Design" T-shirts. You've seen the guy's ride. It's the monochrome red 1957 Chevy Bel Air with the 502 big-block crate engine parked next to five others just like it over by the D.A.R.E. car. Jeff Mann's '57 Chevy is a heretic in this Church Of Conventional Wisdom — Chevy Synod. There's not a single GM component in the entire drivetrain; nothing in or on the car came preassembled in a crate; it's defiantly multichromatic; it's more than a little dangerous; and any fuzzy dice that get near the car are likely to be sucked in and consumed by the blown, electronically fuel-injected early Chrysler Hemi under its hood. Professionally Creative Classic '57 styling tricks — like the bumper from a station wagon that allows fitment of the license plate down there — mix with contemporary details like the engine-turned "Bel Air" panels on the rear flanks. Today Mann is a big-time motion picture production designer; the guy decides what a movie's on-screen world looks like. It was Mann who decreed that the Mustang Nicolas Cage drove in Gone in Sixty Seconds should be painted silver and black. And it's Mann who directed the design of the Autobots and Decepticons coming in this summer's Transformers. This is not a guy who gets paid to recycle the same old ideas. Jeff Mann's business is creativity and the fine art of the telling detail. But back in 1984, he was a 19-year-old working as a mechanic on offshore boats in San Diego. Back then, there was a faded blue '57 Bel Air coupe always parked in the same place along his commute. Every body panel was bashed in some way and the whole thing seemed to be sagging over its worn springs. "There wasn't a 'For Sale' sign in it," Mann recalls, "but I tracked the guy down and bought it anyhow. It was $2,400 and I had to take out a loan at 26 percent interest to get even that. I was deluded. The guy I bought it from had found it buried in an Oklahoma oil field." Cars once buried in oil fields not only demand a lot of attention, they need a bucketful of money, too — well beyond Mann's reach at the time. So the car went into hibernation at a relative's house while Mann's career improbably evolved from mechanic to production designer as he worked on friends' music videos. By the early '90s, Mann was working in show business full-time, living in Los Angeles, and he was accumulating restoration pieces and hot-rod parts for the eventual resurrection of his '57. Then he decided he had to have a Hemi. Chrysler's Finest This car's most glorious (and troublesome) element is the 450-cubic-inch, blown and electronically fuel-injected 1958 Chrysler Hemi under its hood. On race gas it's good for more than 900 horsepower. On unleaded premium it's good for "only" 830 hp. In the pre-eBay world, Southern Californians had The Recycler (a cheaply printed weekly book of classified ads) around to get rid of their junk. "I was building a 327 Chevy small-block for the car," Mann remembers, "and I was already bored by the idea of another '57 with a small-block in it. Then I saw an ad in The Recycler that said ''58 Chrysler New Yorker, $500, runs good,' and suddenly I thought I really needed to own a Hemi." Mann found the New Yorker molting in one of L.A.'s funkier neighborhoods and, after buying the car, pulled its 392-cubic-inch Hemi V8 and Torqueflite automatic transmission out of it on the spot. The engine and tranny went home with Mann in his truck while a junkyard claimed the gutted New Yorker shell. Somewhere around 1993, while working on The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, the combination of his '57 Chevy and the ancient Hemi sitting in his garage came to Mann's mind. So the Chevy body went to Ellery Engel Restoration Specialties of Piru, California, where the floorpan, rear quarters and rockers were replaced with fresh steel. The frame went to Tierno's General Fabrication in Los Angeles to figure out the engine transplant. Getting the Hemi into the Chevy chassis wasn't particularly tough — all it took was a whole new front suspension. The Chrysler V8 is about the same length as a small-block Chevy and swapping the stock front suspension and recirculating-ball steering for a Jim Meyers Racing front suspension and rack-and-pinion steering provided the clearance for the additional width and crankcase depth. It got more complicated from there. Engine Development Program Early Chrysler Hemis are always best when blown. But very few use a 21st-century Vortech supercharger to do that deed. Early Hemis are very different beasts from the Hemi that comes in today's Chrysler products. Besides being physically much larger (and heavier), Chrysler never offered the early Hemi with any sort of fuel injection. So when Mann decided to equip his with modern electronic fuel injection, he was basically undertaking his very own engine development program. That's never cheap. With the body now pristine and perfect — and wearing Dupont Lime Gold paint on most of its surfaces with Metallic Charcoal on the roof — it was mated back with the now Hemi-powered chassis. Churning a Richmond five-speed manual transmission and a Lincoln Versailles rear axle, the naturally aspirated version of the injected Hemi produced a disappointing 350 horsepower at the rear wheels on a chassis dyno. This was more than disappointing in light of the stroker crank that upped total displacement to 450 cubic inches, the Hot Heads aluminum heads and all the other premium performance pieces stuffed into it. But while coming home from that dyno run, the engine chewed through the teeth on its aftermarket oil pump, causing it to seize and propel itself through the engine block's webbing. That was that for that block. Fight or Flight Mann's car has a near-perfect stance; it's low, mean and slightly raked without being so low as to be undrivable. The color scheme is unique without being either stuck in the '50s or jarringly contemporary. It just looks right. At that point, Mann could have heaved the whole thing aside in frustration. Instead, he got another Hemi block and stuffed the surviving parts from the first engine into it. Then he added to the engineering challenge by throwing a Vortech V7-YSi centrifugal supercharger into the mix. A few horrendous snafus later (at one point the blower had been accidentally engineered to run backward), the Hemi wound up with Kenny Duttweiler of Duttweiler Performance in Saticoy, California. Duttweiler rebuilt the fuel-injection system using wideband sensors, huge injectors, a Holley throttle body and an Accel DFI engine control computer. Now running a crank trigger ignition, Duttweiler made about 30 pulls on his engine dyno, tuning the Hemi to run both on pump gas and racing fuel. After some blown gaskets and another catastrophic failure, which necessitated the adoption of J.E. custom-built pistons, the Hemi produced 830 hp on pump gas and more than 900 hp on race fuel. Jeff Mann finally had his fast and beautiful, blown and injected Hemi-powered '57 Chevy. By the time he was done, it was late 2006. Details, Details, Details Any set of rear tires on Mann's '57 are doomed to a short and smoky life. Jeff Mann has more than 20 years of blood, sweat and cold hard cash in this project. And only now is he getting to drive it regularly. With its snarling exhaust roar and distinctive blower whine, Mann's '57 is an undeniable beast. But the unique paint choices and accumulated details make it a visual feast. From the machine-turned panels along the car's flanks to the '68 Impala door fabric modified into a headliner, every element of Mann's car is subtly unique without turning the car clownish. It presents the classic lines of the '57 cleanly; there are no graphics or flames fighting for attention. It's immediately apparent that this '57 is something special, but it doesn't shout it out. It's a clean, beautiful car. But at its heart, it's one nasty street racer.