When did your love affair with the ’57 Corvette begin? Maybe it was when you saw the first one arrive at your hometown Chevy dealer. Or perhaps it was the first time you spotted one on a race track. There’s also a good chance it was when you finally got to see one up close.
In Al Salomone’s case, he’s had a love for the ’57 Vette for three decades, a passion that culminated in his finding one advertised for sale in Hershey, Pennsylvania. An original RPO 579E/four-speed model, the car was already something of a world traveler. “It came from Japan,” Salomone recalls. “From what I was told, the owner was some kind of personality in the entertainment field, and he road raced it. So, it wasn’t taken care of very well.”
After its racing days, the ’57 ended up in a Japanese museum. “This fellow I bought it from, who was in Japan on business, bought it from the museum, brought it back to the States, and did nothing to it,” says Salomone.
That collector had about 10 other cars in his garage, and he’d put the C1 up for sale because he never used it. So, in 2002, Salomone purchased it and took it home.
For the next decade, he worked at restoring the ’57. “I did a little bit every year,” he says. “I had the engine rebuilt, the upholstery—everything was redone, outside and inside.”
Almost everything, that is. “The only thing that I didn’t touch was the body,” says Salomone, who recounts the “sticker shock” he got when he sought out quotes from Corvette refinishers. “They wanted $45,000 to completely strip it, gelcoat it, and repaint it. I didn’t have that kind of money, [so] it was just out of the question.”
01 Just like it was installed in St. Louis—an RPO 579E fuel-injected 283, complete with s
02 Can you tell if the bright trim on this corner is N.O.S., or refurbished original?
03 Same as it ever was—down to the painted stock wheels and BFG Silvertowns.
For Salomone, that meant making the best of what was on the C1’s body, regardless of whether it was the original nitrocellulose lacquer that went on at St. Louis, or a later Venetian Red re-spray. “I brought it back by wet-sanding it, and tons and tons of polishing,” he says. “When it’s in the sun, the car just ‘pops.’”
Salomone used outside assistance where needed, like Tuffer Wilton at Corbo’s Automotive in Somerville, New Jersey, and Corvette Paramedics over in Mount Holly. But for the original Rochester mechanical fuel-injection unit, he sought out some truly in-demand help. “I had it rebuilt by probably the Number 1 person in the country, Jerry Bramlett in Alabama,” he says. “I had to wait a year to get him—that’s how busy he is.”
When the restoration of that FI unit was complete, Salomone ventured to Mobile, as he wanted to see Bramlett’s operation. “After he rebuilds one, he puts it on his own ’57 Corvette and road tests it, then takes it to the shop and dynos it,” says Salomone. “When I got there, my unit was on his car, and we took it out for a spin. He ran it through the paces and showed me how to set it up, even though it was [properly] set up the way he gave it to me.”
According to Salomone, Bramlett’s rebuild also cured one of the system’s recurring issues. “I always ran it on racing fuel, because I had a problem with vapor lock otherwise. After the rebuild, I can run it on pump high-test.”
04 Jerry Bramlett’s FI unit restoration cured a vapor-lock problem the car had with pump
05 The ’57 model was the first Corvette with an available four-speed gearbox, and Salomon
For the rest of the restoration, Salomone kept his ’57—and the parts that went onto and in it—as original as he could. “Whatever I replaced, I replaced with either original or N.O.S. parts. Or, if I could save what was there, I had it rebuilt,” he recalls.
The result is a ’57 fuelie that Salomone drives weekly during the good weather, especially to shows and club events with the Central Jersey Corvette Club. While he enjoys his time behind the wheel, he adds that it’s no C7. “It rides like a ’57,” he says. “You feel every bump and stone. It doesn’t have power steering, so the effort is a little tough. But that’s what you expect from a 50-something-year-old car.
“It’s part of the ‘patina’—that, the way it rides, and it also has an old-time smell to it.”
If you’re thinking about restoring a Vette of that, or any, vintage, Salomone suggests that you have plenty of green—and not the Cascade Green that was an original ’57 Corvette color choice. “Have a few dollars,” he says. “If you do it right, it’s not cheap. The regular shop rate here in Jersey is $110 an hour.”
He also says that, while he did a lot of the work himself, he wasn’t afraid of getting help when he needed it. “I knew my limitations—like, the fuel-injection unit was way over my head,” he says. “I also had the engine rebuilt professionally, along with the interior. Things like the brakes I was able to do myself.” Salomone notes that he used to joke that while he had the ’57 in his garage for work during the winter, “I would just open the doors and shovel money into it.”
Still, he adds that if you like your car—like he does his ’57 fuelie—it’s a labor of love. “Every winter, I would do something to it,” he recounts. “I wanted to spend the summer driving it. I got to the point where all I was doing was replacing things as needed—everything else was done.”
And it was time to resume the on-road part of his love affair with ’57s Corvettes—especially this one.
||Stock Chevrolet SBC iron, casting #3731548
||Stock iron, casting #3731539
||Stock flat tappet/solid lifter
||Stock forged aluminum
||Stock forged steel
||Stock forged steel
||Stock with mechanical pump
||Stock Rochester “RamJet” mechanical, PN 7014360
||Borg-Warner T-10 close-ratio four-speed manual
||Stock Positraction with 3.70 gears
||Stock unequal-length A-arms, coil springs, tubular shock absorbers and antiroll bar (front); stock semi-elliptic leaf springs, tubular shock absorbers, and antiroll bar (rear)
||Stock 11-in manual drums (front and rear)
||Stock 15x5-in painted, stamped steel with chrome “spinner” covers
||Reproduction BFGoodrich Silvertown bias-ply, 6.70-15 (front and rear)