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In 1957 Chevrolet touted the magical "1 HP per cu. in." - but they weren't the first.
DeSoto beat them to it in 1956 with their 355 HP NASCAR "adventurer" package.

1957 - The first crest of the performance wave!

Detroit shows up with bigger V8's and lots of carbs!

In an all out effort to win on the NASCAR and USAC circuits as well as in the top stock classes at the drags, the Big 3 Manufacturers kept up a steady pace of development on their power plants. If we look at the top engines offered in 1957, what we see is truly astounding. In just a few short years from the introduction of modern V8s, the manufacturers offered the following:

  • By 1956 at Ford, their little 239 cu. In. Y-block V8 was enlarged to 312 cu. in. In 1957 it could be ordered with two optional induction systems: a dual 4 bbl carburetor developed by Holley, with a solid lifter cam rated at 265 HP or a single 4 bbl carb solid lifter engine that used a McCullough VR-57 supercharger that was rated at 300 HP - but in racing trim developed a lot more.

  • By 1957 Chevrolet's 265 V8 had grown to 283 cu .in. it was now available with a dual Carter WCFB 4 bbl system and the famous "Duntov” solid lifer cam for a rating of 270 HP, Or it was available with the Rochester fuel injection system developed for Corvette that raised the horsepower to to the magical 1 HP per cubic inch mark (283 HP). 

  • Pontiac's engine was now enlarged to 347 cu. in. The "Trophy A" engine sported a 3–2 bbl carb set up and a solid lifter camshaft. This was good for 317 HP and used heavily in NASCAR.

  • Oldsmobile's 303 cu. In. engine of 1949 was now a stout 371 cu. In. with the legendary J2 option of 3 – 2 bbl carbs rated at 300 HP. There was also a J-2R version with a special high lift-long duration cam version rated the same as the street car - but outlawed by NASCAR because of its dominating performance.

  • Chrysler was coming off stellar 1955/56 NASCAR seasons where the privately operated Kiekhaffer Chrysler 300s had dominated the series. His "Mercury Outboard" sponsored racing team won 16 consecutive races in the 1956 season (a record that still stands). In 1957, Chrysler released the 392 cu.in.  Hemi in the 300 C and the Dodge version of the Hemi – D500 354 cu. in. with dual 4 bbls rated at 340 HP. Plymouth had a wedge head (poly) engine of 350 cu. In with dual 4 bbls rated at 290 HP. ALL had wins in NASCAR in 1957.

  • Even American Motors and Studebaker had high performance offerings, with the Rambler Rebel capable of performance matching the fuel injected Corvette and Studebaker's Golden Hawk featuring a supercharged V8.

Here's a snapshot of the '57 NASCAR seasons, by manufacturer:

  • Ford had 13 wins with their 312 cu.in. 300 HP cars – for 4 different drivers
  • Chevrolet had 16 wins with their fuel injected 283 cars for 3 different drivers
  • Oldsmobile had 4 wins with Lee Petty, Richard's dad.
  • Pontiac had a win with Cotton Owens

Buck Baker, driving a 283 cu.in. 283 HP Chevrolet was the NASCAR Champion that year with 10 wins.

Drag racing in 1957

With the growing popularity of stock cars at the drags, NHRA, in 1957, expanded the Stock classes from 4 to 6 and created the "Super Stock” category (S/S). Top Stock Eliminator at the 1957 NHRA Nationals was a 1957 Pontiac Star Chief with the 317 HP package hitting a speed at the end of the quarter mile of 97 MPH.

While the manufacturers were going all out to develop and produce engines, transmissions and packages for stock car racing (both NASCAR and NHRA), by 1957 the "top of the heap" drag racers had settled on the Chrysler Hemi engine as the engine of choice for nitro burning cars while the "gas” rails were experimenting with virtually every engine combination (including dual engines) In 1957, Oldsmobile and Chevrolet engines were the most popular for gas powered dragsters. 
Nitro burning Chrysler Hemi engines were consistently running in the high 150 MPH range and were crowd favorites at the numerous southern California drag strips. In February, the team of Cook & Bedwell, with a Chassis Research frame and a nitro burning 354 cu. in. Chrysler Hemi, stunned the drag world with a run of 166.67 MPH at Lions Dragstrip in Long Beach, California.

This quantum leap in speed prompted Lions Dragstrip (managed at the time by Mickey Thompson) to ban nitro burning dragsters at that strip. The NHRA soon followed suit. But the other sanctioning bodies, in particular the AHRA, not only allowed nitro, they encouraged these cars to participate in their events. And in November of 1957, Big Daddy Garlits shook up the fuel dragster world with a 176.48 mph quarter mile.

Given all of the activity from the automobile manufacturers and the hot rod community, the Automobile Manufacturers Association (AMA) issued a ban on all forms of "factory” involvement in motorsports. Their rationale was that the involvement fostered automobiles that were unsafe in the hands of the general public. With this ban, all "factory support” was publicly withdrawn from race teams. In reality, the manufacturers continued to support race teams–but just "out the back door”.

Ford Motor Company sold its DePaolo Engineering company (which was responsible for all NASCAR/USAC activity) to a newly formed company called Holman-Moody. Holman-Moody opened as a business after purchasing the entire stock from DePaolo Engineering for $12,000! Their "Competition Proven" logo would be seen on many of the Ford Stockers, and the winners, from then until today!
Ray Nicholas Engineering and the famous Smoky Yunick became outlets for Pontiac performance equipment. Jim Rathman, through his Chevrolet dealership in Florida, was a major outlet for Chevrolet's factory speed parts. Other well known race shops such as Cotton Ownes, for example, and others had "sponsorships” by various manufacturers' dealerships and continued to receive the latest equipment. 

Thus, we should consider the significance of the seminal year of 1957.

  • Stock cars from the Big 3 manufacturers reached new heights in terms of horsepower and engine combinations.
  • At the drags, the Super Stock class (S/S) appeared to let the best combination of engine & transmission/suspension options by the Big 3 run against each other.
  • Top fuel dragsters (A/FD) were hitting close to 180 MPH in the quarter on nitro.

So intense was the action that the AMA banned all factory participation in racing, and the NHRA banned nitro as a fuel.

But it didn't slow down the escalation of performance and the power curve of US V8s one bit. What we would later call the Super Stock "wars” were just starting. And bolting on GMC superchargers and adding fuel injection to the already potent nitro burning Hemis would push terminal speeds past 200 MPH and elapsed times into the low 7's within a few years.

By the very next year–1958–Ford and Chevy would introduce their "big block” engines of 352 and 348 cu. in. respectively. Pontiac and Oldsmobile would continue their triple carburetor options, and Chrysler would introduce the huge at the time 413 cu. in. "B” engine series. In Drag racing, Don Garlits and Art Chrisman both topped 180 MPH.

Things would get better and better for the performance nut in the next few years, but we would not see another year where so many innovations and changes in the performance landscape coming together like 1957 until 1964–but that is for discussion in the next installment.

Ford's brochure for the Thunderbird listed the Supercharged 300 HP option. NASCAR versions made better than 340 HP!

The fuel injected 283 in the famed "Black Widow" 210 coupes

The first of the legendary tri-powered Pontiacs

Olds released their awesome J2 - on a 371 cu.in engine

Check out the starting grid for NASCAR's Martinsville race. Every brand seems to be represented!

Pontiac touted its win "on the beach" at Daytona in 1957.


Don Garlits' A Fuel Dragster in action in 1957.

The Rambler "Rebel" powered by the company's 327 V8 (no relationship to Chevrolets') could out accelerate a "Fuelie" Corvette!

Dodge's D500 was a hot "streeter," but the D500 sported the '56 Chrysler 300B's 354 cu. in. "race" engine.

This picture is from the 1957 Studebaker "Hawks" brochure. Studebaker had both the Golden (supercharged) and Silver Hawk in the lineup.