Isle plumber builds dream car with a lot of help from his friends
There’s some irony in first encounters with Butch Jewell’s 1957 Chevrolet 210. It’s set up for quarter-mile speed, the sort that shoves you back into the seat and makes your jaw clench — the kind of speed Americans invented.
But spotting it sitting in the sunshine, buffed out, gleaming red and silver, makes people slow down to appreciate it.
Jewell, who lives in Galveston and has owned Paul’s Plumbing for about 40 years, and his wife, Patricia, found the 210 at a car-nut gathering on the mainland in about 2000. They had both owned classic Chevys before — she a ’57, he a ’55. They thought it was a good car and a good project to work on together.
No matter how nice the 210 was back then, though, it was not the car it is today — which is a classic American street rod, right down to the fuzzy dice and the suicide knob.
The transformation began by installing a 383 Stroker crate engine — a 350 cubic-inch block tricked out with such things as a roller camshaft — producing about 400 horsepower.
The Stroker is bolted to a six-speed Richmond manual transmission and driving one of Ford’s esteemed nine-inch differentials.
The 210 has been upgraded with modern air conditioning, disc breaks on all four corners and lots of high-quality chrome and aluminum, including a huge, chrome Edelbrock 850 carburetor and a Be Cool radiator, both of which are works of automotive art.
Jewell designed the chrome wheels and spinners and replaced the original steering wheel with one from a 1959 Impala.
“The car is my vision,” he said. “With a whole lot of help from my friends.”
Patricia was among his main collaborators, he said.
“I’m very lucky to have a wife who’ll let me do what I want, no matter the cost.”
The 210, which most may mistake for a Bel Air — a slightly fancier trim package available on ‘50s-era Chevys — is as easy on the ear as it is on the eye.
It produces a deep, loping rumble that could be the official anthem of Gearhead Nation.
Jewell said his favorite thing about the car is driving it, and that you have to actually drive it.
“I like the transmission,” he said. “I know people really like their automatics, but I like shifting gears. I like coming into a curve and dropping it down into second.”
Jewell calculates the 210’s top end at about 130 mph, but he hasn’t tested that theory.
“I ran it though a quarter mile one time at 98 mph,” he said. “That was in third gear. I still had three to go.”
Mostly, he just takes it easy, though.
“It’s a smooth ride,” he said. “I like cruising along at 70 mph and 1,700 rpms, just like the modern cars do.”