A Hot Rodder Builds His Own Version of a Classic Ride
By Scotty Lachenauer – Photography by the Author
As a car-crazed kid growing up in Northern New Jersey, young Mike Lagomarsino developed a perpetual passion for GM’s iconic 1957 Chevy. “From the beginning 1957s were always my favorite car,” Mike says. “I had models and HO cars everywhere—all of them were 1957s. When I got older, Popular Hot Rodding magazine’s Project X was my favorite feature. I read and studied every article with the intent to one day build an ‘X’ of my own.”
So, at age 15 Mike got his hands on his first 1957—a project car that basically needed everything under the sun just to get it out on the street. Holding him back as well was the fact that he was still a few years short of legal driving age in New Jersey. “That Chevy didn’t last long, as I worked on it for a few months and then decided to pass it on,” Mike says. However, a few years later, at age 19 he got another 1957. This one had a 327 stuffed with 12.5:1 pistons and a tunnel ram with two gas-guzzling four-barrels up on top. With 4.88 gears out back, it was pretty fast.
Well, it might have been too fast. One fateful night in 1979 that particular 1957 saw its last days on the road. “I totaled that car coming from the George Washington Bridge on Route 46 at 2 o’clock in the morning,” Mike recalls. “At 85 mph, a 1965 Rambler Marlin came out of a side street. I swerved and hit a pole with the right side of the car.”
With that accident he began the process of building Chevy number three—his best build yet.
Mike bought this particular 1957 before he unceremoniously dismantled the previous one. Luckily, the young gun thought ahead and had one standing by. Once back from the crash scene, Mike was already scheming up a recipe to help get his latest 1957 on the road. But this time a big-block was the ticket to make Mike a little happier.
Mike purchased this particular Tri-Five for $1,200. “It was just painted gray but had a stout 283 with two four-barrels up top,” Mike says. “With the big-block in mind, I sold the small-block to a buddy for $200, less the distributor. What a bargain my friend got.”
So now he was on an all-out search for new motor-vation for the Chevy build. He soon narrowed it down to an LS 454 or an L88. “I decided to go with the L88 powerplant that was available in the 1969 Corvettes so I picked the later-design L88 to power my Chevy,” Mike reports. “Of course, you couldn’t just buy one complete, so I decided to start from scratch and build the one I wanted.”
With a list of the important things desired in his L88, such as the 1969 heads and the 12.5 compression pistons, he headed to Demartini Chevrolet in nearby Cliffside Park to purchase the goods for the build.
He collected all the parts, assembled it to his taste, and set it up for a single four-barrel with the aluminum dual-plane high-rise intake at first then added the L88-optional aluminum water pump and a set of Corvair turbo mufflers.
The car was finished off with a paintjob for the ages; it consisted of 13 coats of Sierra Gold, complemented with an Ivory roofline, and a set of period-correct Cragars. The M20 Muncie was freshened up and a 12-bolt posi was now sitting out back and stuffed with 4:11 gears. This setup let everyone know that Mike meant business.
Once the 1957 was running, Mike didn’t hesitate to take it out on a high-speed shakedown. “I lived close to the New Jersey Turnpike, so one night I pulled it out, paid the toll, and let her rip,” Mike remembers. “I think I hit 150 mph because the speedo stops at 120 in the 4 o’clock position and it was pointing straight down, which made me think there was another 30 mph left on the gauge. It was very scary with those bias-ply tires.”
After detonating the engine, missing a shift at over 7,000 rpm one night, Mike needed to pull the engine and do a complete rebuild … and that’s when he got an idea to add a little bit of pop to the already-potent drivetrain.
He tore down the L88 and bored the block 0.030 over and built it back up with a 647 full roller hydraulic cam in the mix. He then bolted on a complete Hilborn mechanical fuel-injection system. “The Hilborn really brought out the potential hidden in the 427 and, with the help of a Kinsler Jet Selector, I was able to run it trouble-free on the street,” Mike recalls. “It actually took about three years to get it to run the way I wanted it to.”
To date Mike has only put about 6,000 miles on the setup, treating the 1957 with the “kid gloves” he didn’t use back in the ’70s. The paint still looks fresh and the Cragars are clean, which is quite an achievement living in crust-ridden New Jersey. Mechanically the car has never been better and the owner likes to flaunt his drivetrain by running it hoodless, which adds an aggressive hot rod flair to the Chevy.
“I’ve owned it for 42 years now, and I cherish the time I get to drive it. I only have about $15K in the car, but I’ve had a $100K worth of fun with it,” Mike says while sporting a huge grin on his face.
Owner: Mike Lagomarsino
Vehicle: 1957 Chevrolet
Displacement: 427 ci
Compression Ratio: 12.5:1
Cylinder Heads: Stock “snowflake” aluminum heads
Rotating Assembly: Forged crank, forged dome-head pistons,
Valvetrain: Valves; 2.19 intake, 1.72 exhaust valves hydraulic lifters
Camshaft: 647 hydraulic camshaft
Induction: Dual-plane aluminum intake, Hilborn mechanical fuel injection
Ignition: MSD Blaster, dual-point distributor
Exhaust: Custom headers and 2.5-inch stainless straight pipes
Ancillaries: Hilborn injection, Holly fuel pump, four-core custom radiator, aluminum water pump (factory option)
Output (at crank): 650 hp
Rear Axle: GM 12 bolt, 4:11 gears
Front Suspension: Stock with GM station wagon springs
Rear Suspension: Stock with Lakewood ladder bars
Brakes: Front GM A-body, rear disc by Classic Performance Products
Wheels & Tires
Wheels: Cragar 15×6 (front), 15×10 (rear)
Tires: Cooper Cobra 225/70R15 (front), Mickey Thompson 275/60R15 (rear)
Seats: 1970 Camaro buckets, stock rear seat
Steering: Aftermarket wheel
Instrumentation: Sun gauges
Bodywork: Riverside Auto Body, Edgewater, NJ
Paint: Riverside Auto Body
Paint: Sierra Gold