Great Lengths for a Short Build - 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air Station Wagon
Article and photography by Richard Butschi
When discussing early American classic cars, the ‘57 Chevy is bound to pop up. It presented modern styling offered in 20 models, including 2 and 4-doors, sedan deliveries to sporty convertibles. Overall sales totaled 1,555,316 units including 168,293 Bel Air 2-door hardtops and 47,562 convertibles. The rarest offering was the 2-door Nomad station wagon with only 6,264 produced.
Ted Sedlacek, of Iowa City, was very aware of the “Nomad dream” and the odds of it coming true, but realizing that you may have to settle for something less. In 1975, at age 16, Ted came upon an opportunity to do just that. It came in the form of a 4-door Bel Air wagon that was in pretty solid condition, with a 327 engine and 3-speed manual trans. The second owner had purchased it for high school transportation and related well to Sedlacek’s situation. A sweet deal was made for $500 which included a spare Muncie 4-speed transmission.
In high school, the 4-door wagon came in quite handy for hauling friends and running errands. After graduation, things changed and Ted turned to thoughts of Nomads and removing the rear doors, which is obviously a major undertaking, but no one that to “self-taught” Ted. After the metal surgery, Sedlacek loaded up the two body/frame remains and headed to Sharon Center Welding where friend and owner Reggie Yoder joined them. This took place around 1981. After getting the wagon back home, Ted “got busy with life” and the ‘57 sat for almost 30 years. During this time he started another car build which required some welding, so he purchased his own welder, read directions, remembered Reggie’s techniques and refined his skills. He was also building a business in decorative ceramic tile (again, self-taught) working through Randy’s Carpets.
In 2010, Ted decided to “get serious” about the wagon, moving the rearend housing back 4”, along with the wheelwells and shortening the opening. He also decided to shorten the front clip, putting it in better overall proportion to the rear half. This is something most don’t attempt to do in such a project, resulting in an odd-looking vehicle. Sedlacek shortened the hood at the back and the fenders at the front. He wisely tried this on some old fenders first, even attempting a forward-tilting 1-piece hood/fender assembly. After working out some splash pan problems behind the grill, things fell into place with fenders intact and a normal opening hood.
Under the hood sits an Edelbrock 350/320hp crate motor with altered valve covers. Sedlacek had the tops milled and installed glass panels with a Chevy insignia. He also added a glass piece to the steering box – truly unique! The transmission is the Muncie 4-speed that came with the original purchase. The rearend has 3.55 gearing along with Posi-Traction. The ‘57 also has 4-wheel disc brakes. Vintage Air was installed by Steve Yoder at Sharon Center Body, along with most of the car’s wiring. Steve advised Sedlacek through much of the build, including the Corvette LeMans Blue paint job done by Ted. The interior work was handled by Keith DeWalle of McFalls Interior, Iowa City. The cool gauges are from Dakota Digital. There is plenty of chrome on the car due to Ted’s keen interest and determination to learn the process of prepping metal for the chrome plating. Again, self-teaching comes into play!
The resulting build took about 7-8 years, and the wagon debuted at ADM’s Sweet Rides for Charity car show in the fall of ‘18, where it took 1st place in the custom class. Later at a show in Dixon, it garnered the Firemen’s Choice (Best of Show). In Fairfield it was awarded the Club Choice trophy. This past February, it earned an invitation to the prestigious Monticello show and received a 3rd place cash award and trophy. Not bad, for just getting started.