Danny Vandergriff's 1957 Chrysler
1957 Chrysler New Yorker owned by Danny Vandergriff of Fort Worth, Texas. In 2019 Vandergriff told Sondre Kvipt of Kustomrama that he bought the car in 2007 after spending five years searching for it. "The 1957 Mopars were truly all-new cars, with Torsion-Aire front suspension, the pushbutton Torqueflite automatic, and the second iteration of Virgil Exner's incredible Forward Look styling. Sales were way up, but the cars had been rushed into production, and quality suffered. The new cars rattled and leaked, and almost instantly had a reputation for being rust-prone. Over the years, many Imperials and New Yorkers were butchered by drag racers looking for 392 Hemi engines, and there is always the normal attrition of cars wearing out or lost to crashes over time. It is rare today to find these cars in any body style or condition, so when I found a rust-free 1957 Chrysler New Yorker two-door hardtop on my local Craigslist, it was nearly miraculous! The Hemi had been torn apart and the interior was completely destroyed, but it was the car I'd spent five years searching for, and I had to have it."
It had to be a mild custom
Danny's New Yorker came from the factory with nearly every available option; air conditioning, pushbutton Torqueflite, power steering, power brakes, 6-way power seat, power windows, tinted glass, Searchtune radio, etc. "A lot of people wanted to see such a rare and desirable car get a high-quality restoration, but that's not really my style. It had to be a mild custom!" He worked up some ideas in Photoshop, and ultimately decided that he wanted the car to be low-key. "Let the car's awesome lines stand on their own merits. Add a few bits from different Forward Look models, and play up that late '50s space-age imagery. I wanted it to plausibly be a factory-built concept car to pitch their ideas for 1958 - 1961, something like that. I wanted it black, partly because of Clif Inman's amazing custom, and partly because that's just what looked best to me. It would get a Desoto front bumper and a custom scoop. Then I spent eight years finding parts!"
After Danny got married in 2016, he finally decided it was time to focus some effort on building the Chrysler. "My dad and I attacked this thing for a year and a half. We pulled stuff apart, cleaned it up, and put it back together. The shop was a mess and we were tired, but we stayed on it! Eventually, a stock 392 Hemi was cleaned, painted, and detailed. I decided to run a Tremec TKO five-speed transmission in it, so a three-pedal box from a 1958 Plymouth was converted to use a Mustang clutch cable arrangement. The rear end was replaced with a Ford 8.8 with 4.10 gears. A pair of high-perf 300D manifolds and 2 1/2" exhaust with Thrush mufflers was used. The suspension is stock rebuilt stuff, with turned down torsion bars up front, and 2" lowering blocks in the rear. The 8.8 is 1 1/2" narrower than stock, allowing 1956 Ford wheel centers to be run on a reversed 15x7 rim while maintaining enough clearance to keep the tires off the quarter panels. Front wheels are 1956 Ford in 15x5. Tires are Coker 7.10-15 and L78-15 bias plies with 3" whitewalls. The gas tank is a 1965 Ford Mustang repro, and is filled with a flush deck marine fuel filler in the trunk. Wiring is a Painless trunk harness to keep the engine compartment clean."
My dad, the master
"In keeping with the 'factory concept car' idea, body modifications are substantial without screaming that it has been modified," Danny told Sondre. The scoop is the leading edge of a 1970s Jeep hood that has been trimmed and welded to the stock Chrysler hood. The factory license plate was in a box in the trunk, so when that was shaved, the license plate was relocated to the rear bumper. The front bumper is a stock 1957 Desoto unit with a steel mesh insert. Danny and his dad shaved the door handles, gas door, antenna, mirrors, fender ornaments, and every emblem on the car, but kept the stock side trim to make the car look even longer, if that's possible. All of the stock chrome and stainless around the hood, fenders, roof, and headlights and tail lights were retained. "I actually added a piece of trim around the rear wheel openings. It looked blank without it!" Once the bodywork was completed, the roof and side sweeps were painted Ford Sterling Gray while the rest of the car was done in straight PPG Black. Stripes of chrome tape were added to dress up the roof, giving the car a late 1950s custom flavor. "My dad gets all the credit for getting this car straight and nice, and he did every bit of the work in our cold dark shop. He's a master!"
Power swivel seats
The steering wheel was painted the same colors as the body. The front seat was replaced with a power swivel seat from a 1959 Imperial. "The seats were redone in the stock materials and patterns that this car was originally built with, but with gold piping around the inserts." The speedometer was replaced with a 150mph unit from a 1957 Chrysler 300C. "The carpet is Trinidad from a late 1950s Bonneville. I made the door panels using the stock ones for patterns, with an extra band of gold added. The headliner is white to brighten up the interior, and the dash pad and package tray are semigloss black to continue the exterior color inside. The shifter is an old three-speed truck shifter that was found at a garage sale, topped with a white knob."
It turned out nicer than intended
Danny and his dad completed the build in 2019. He drives the car a lot. "Probably too much," he admits. On nice days, you are more likely to see him in the Chrysler than his daily driver. "It turned out a little nicer than I intended, but I have my dad to thank for that!"
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