Special highlights of the 1957 Chevrolet Corvette:
- Originally purchased as a used car for drag racing, Bill Shelley ended up working with custom builder Bob McNulty and lines artist Tommy ‘the Greek’ Hrones to turn his 1957 Corvette into a custom show car.
- The Corvette ‘Bali Hi’ last major public appearance was at the 1960 Oakland Roadster Show, but after roughly 60 years in storage, it’s back and restored.
- A historic hot rod, this Corvette will likely be worth more than $100,000 if sold after restoration
While today’s exotic and classic cars, especially specialty ones, are tracked with a very wary eye, many have fallen through the cracks of the history of those days. So, when a rare and lost antique treasure is found in a shed or garage, it is an important event. Not only because of its possible monetary value, but also because of its historical value. And the term ‘historic’ no doubt applies to the ‘Bali Hi,’ the once lost 1957 Corvette that has just been found.
Bill Shelley had no intention of turning a used 1957 Corvette into a show car—at first
1957 was a big year for the Chevrolet Corvette. While it wasn’t the first year for a V8—namely 1955—it was the first time Corvette buyers were able to get a fuel-injected V8. The 283-cubic-inch (4.6 liter) V8 engine is only the second production fuel-injected engine after the Mercedes Gullwing inline-six. And in a (dirty) 283-hp tuning with the new optional four-speed manual, it makes the 1957 Corvette reach 60 mph in under six seconds.
However, even the fastest sports cars end up being used cars. That’s the only 1957 Polo White Corvette for Oakland, California Bill Shelley when he bought it in 1957, MotorcycleTrend say. It had a carbureted version of the 283-ci V8, but previous owners had changed the three-speed manual gear ratio for drag racing. And that’s what Shelley started using it for.
But before she did, Shelley wanted to give her Corvette a special touch. So he called his brother’s boss, Tommy Hrones. Tommy ‘the Greek’ Hrones was a well-known Oakland regional line artist, a contemporary of other icons such as Von Dutch and Ed Roth. And by the late ’50s, he was famous for his signature striping style, which often incorporated hash marks, teardrops, and arrow-shaped embellishments, Customrama report.
Tommy ‘the Greek’ gave Shelley’s 1957 Corvette red-and-black stripes around the taillights and headlights. He also made the red and white-black side panels “‘look like shadows,'” Customrama say. But soon, Shelley wasn’t satisfied with just the lines.
With stripping from Tommy ‘the Greek’ Hrones and custom bodywork, the 1957 Chevrolet Corvette ‘Bali Hi’ made a splash on the SoCal hot rod scene.
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In 1959, Shelley befriended custom Corvette maker Bob McNulty, and the two decided to modify Shelley’s car. They removed the original bumper, exhaust tips, headlights and taillights, then installed a handcrafted grille. And using welding rods, cardboard, and lots of fiberglass, they gave the Corvette tail fins, reshaped the fenders and front end, and installed Chrysler taillights and Edsel headlights.
At that time, metallic flake paint was not widely available. Instead, Shelley and McNulty mix roofing mica into the paint to give it a shine, then rub it with steel wool to keep the flakes from sticking out too much. Shelley also covers the seats themselves. Finally, Tommy the ‘Greek’ stepped in and gave the Corvette some new stripes and purple shells.
And thus, the ‘Bali Hi’ Corvette was born. First shown publicly at the 1960 Oakland Roadster Show, the custom 1957 Corvette soon began making regular street appearances. Some of them will race the six-cylinder ‘Shark’ McNulty Corvette, while others will focus more on cruising with local Corvette owners.
Unfortunately, back then as now, the Californian police were not very comfortable with the Bali Hi modification. After repeated tickets, Shelley finally went to court to protest, and after following the judge’s advice about asking for a badge number, the harassment stopped, Customrama say. But the ticket, plus a new family to raise, meant Bali Hi had to say goodbye. For a while, at least.
Lost for more than 60 years, Bali Hi is finally back in the public eye
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Officially, Bali Hi’s last public appearance was at the 1960 Oakland Roadster Show, MotorcycleTrend say. But according to CustomramaShelley didn’t park her striped 1957 Corvette until 1964. However, this colorful Corvette hasn’t been seen in public for some 60 years.
Until now so. Earlier this year, Shelley sold Bali Hi to an as-yet-unnamed buyer. Despite being covered in dust and losing most of its interior, the Corvette’s custom paint job is still intact. Seeing that McNulty gave him 53 coats of clearcoat, it was almost to be expected. As such, it’s basically a time capsule of 1950s hot-rod culture, MotorcycleTrend say.
And about six decades after we last saw the sun, Bali Hi greeted the crowds at this year’s Grand National Roadster Show. Now, its current owner is getting ready to clean it properly for future shows.
How much does a 1957 Corvette like the Bali Hi cost?
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Back in 1957, Shelley paid $3000 for her Corvette by selling “’a little herd of cows,’” Customrama say. And he estimates that about $4,000—in 1960 bills—was spent on customs work. Translated to 2022 dollars, that’s more than $30,000 for the Corvette and $40,000 for the job.
Given its unique nature, it is almost impossible to determine the true value of Bali Hi. But based on the current value of the 1957 Corvette, it costs at least $70K, even in its current state. Cleaned up, it’s likely worth more than $100,000. However, seeing this car out in the open to be cleaned? It’s priceless.
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