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The beginning of the bellybutton

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Image courtesy The Old Car Manual Project.

The picture tells a thousand words. Dad grins knowingly as his India Ivory over Matador Red Bel Air Sport Sedan pulls the steep grade. His wife and daughter are smirking, their eyes on the scenery but their mind replaying the scene still visible in the rear-view mirror: A blue hot rod, probably the same one that passed them obnoxiously a half hour before on flat ground, is pulled off to the side of the road with steam pouring from its open radiator cap.

The days of the Ford V-8 are past, this ad says. If you’re a performance buff you were weaned on the flattie, but now it’s time to look at Chevrolet. That big, gold V on the hood means this ’57 has a V-8 underneath. Maybe it’s the basic, 170-horse 265 carried over from 1956, but more likely it’s a 283 with anywhere from 185- to 283 horsepower on tap. We’re betting on the Super Turbo Fire V-8 with 220 hp @ 4800 RPM from 9.5:1 compression, a single four-barrel and dual exhausts.

Maybe Dad traded in his own flathead Ford for this one, though, say a ’53 Crestline Victoria that he equipped with dual carbs and a pair of Offy heads. In that case, it’s not hard to imagine that he sprung for the dual-quad, 270-horse Corvette V-8. After all, those extra doors on the back that help get Mary Sue in and out add some weight, so it only made sense to get some extra power to compensate.

What Dad probably doesn’t realize is that in sixty years there will still be lots of hot rod Fords and ’57 Chevys running around and more likely than not, they’ll have a small-block Chevy between the radiator and the firewall.

The guy in the roadster knows, though. After he and the flattie cooled down and took his girlfriend home, he likely started stalking the wrecking yards for his own SBC. How else do you think they became so ubiquitous as to be called “the bellybutton motor”?