If hot rodding is a sport, then customizing is an art. And just like paintings or sculptures, custom cars can be created in many different styles. One painter might look at a landscape or a beautiful woman or a bowl of fruit and paint a photographically realistic picture. Another painter might create something completely abstract-something that might take a second or third look before you recognize what it is.
For a lot of customizers, building a '57 Chevy is like that first way of painting-keeping it conservative and not straying too far from the familiar factory look we've been seeing in movies and TV shows, posters, car shows, and magazines for the past 50 years. Not Mark Giddings. When Mark started putting together ideas about how to customize his '57, he was thinking of something a little more abstract. Which is why, when you first see his candy green custom, it might take you a little longer to see what it is.
It didn't start out that way. The car was an unremarkable 283-powered four-door hardtop when Mark bought it 15 years ago as a daily driver for a girlfriend. It was clean and rust free, but not what you'd call cool. Girlfriend, dog, and Chevy eventually moved on, but Mark pursued the car and eventually bought it back. In 1997, with a few ideas and not much money, he started customizing it, enlisting the mechanical skill of his friend, Mike Hardesty, who built the 383 stroker motor for the Chevy.
By 2002, the ideas-and the budget-had increased to the radical custom level. When his idea got ahead of his time schedule and fabrication skills, Mark took the '57 to Riverside, California, to talk to designer, fabricator, and painter Jimmy Ruiz at Sledsville about taking the job to the next level.
"We had some new sketches made of the new design, mixing up parts from Buick, Mercury, Plymouth, Dodge, Packard, and a long list of odds and ends, all with a '50s vintage look," Mark said. "The idea was to make this old beat-up four-door into something people wouldn't recognize when we rolled down the street." It worked. As you can see, the car looks a little like everything, but not much like a '57 Chevy. Virtually every piece of sheetmetal and every component was customized by Jimmy, until there was very little left, outside or inside, that hints at the car's true identity.
After years of planning and a long buildup, it was a panic to finish the project in time for the Paso Robles car show. "The last nut was turned on Wednesday night," he told us. The car's heritage might not be instantly recognizable, but the quality of the car is easy to see, and Mark came home from Paso with the prize for the most radical custom in his class.
Now, Mark's having a ball driving the car on local trips with his kids. Every outing ends up turning into a one-car custom show, with people doing double takes and asking questions. Of course, the most common question is, "What is it?" The answer is obvious. It's a custom.