For most red-blooded car enthusiasts, Wegner Automotive is a well-known purveyor of custom/race engines and parts. The company has grown from a man-and-wife operation in the mid-seventies to the powerhouse manufacturing entity it is today. Not only that, they are a key supplier to GM, Harley Davidson, and NASCAR, to name a few.
When you have that kind of experience and talent under one umbrella, you can rest assured that any personal build will leverage all that engineering wampum. That’s exactly what Casey Wegner did when he built his monster LS-powered 1957 Chevrolet. To get the backstory of what it took to conjure up this Tri-Five, let’s look back at the origins of the mighty Wegner Automotive.
In The Beginning
In 1974, company namesake Carl Wegner purchased a 350-acre farm in Markesan, Wisconsin to escape the ills of city life. Originally, it was just one man, and his passion for creating a project better than the last one. With a little help from his friends working part-time, Carl wrenched on everything from hot rods, pickup trucks, and even an occasional farm tractor. As his reputation grew, so did the list of customers.
Wegner engines have competed in nearly every NASCAR division, most notably winning multiple championships in the BUSCH Grand National series. Wegner short-track engines have won championships on asphalt and dirt throughout the United States. With the purchase of several CNC machines, they not only distilled their performance engine expertise, but also began to manufacture many of the parts used on their engines and offered an entire line of products to consumers as well.
Passing The Torch
Sadly, Carl Wegner passed away in 2019 and his wife handed the torch to their son Casey and his spouse Amber. Since then, the company has grown to fill over 35,000 square feet of manufacturing space and employ 30 skilled workers.
Casey told Street Muscle, “I had some big shoes to fill. I’m a hands-on guy, but my wife Amber is truly the mastermind of the business running the books, social media, and day-to-day operations. She is a huge part of our success.” Casey has formidable credentials as well. He has a mechanical engineering degree and just like his Dad, has gasoline in his veins. Casey bought the car with his Dad when he was in high school, and it joined Carl’s 1955 Chevy and Mom’s 1957 Chevy Convertible. The family still owns all three cars.
The Starting Point
Casey told us, “The car was originally blue when it rolled off the assembly line. It was black when we bought it, with small block power, two Edelbrock 750s, and a 1071 blower sticking out of the hood.” The car was once a test bed for the world’s first carb and distributor LS motor, which later went on to see NASCAR duty. Wegner eventually sold the rights to the intake, distributor, and front cover to GM and still builds the parts for the General today.
Putting An A-Team Together
The two Wegners began working on the car in 2013. Casey told us, “We had a Tri-Five graveyard on our property so I was always “borrowing” parts,” much to my Dad’s chagrin. Together, we fortified the body for safety and to withstand the rigors of high-performance driving. When Dad died, the project stalled. I was running Wegner full-time so I completed the car with outside help.”
Casey assembled a trio of skilled tradespeople to build the car in 2019. Eric Curtiss and his son handled the overall build. Donny’s Restorations did the wiring, final assembly, troubleshooting, and tuning of the engine. Shane from Cassin Customs in Chicago stitched up the retro-modern interior.
Casey wanted a stout foundation for the car so he went with Roadster Shop Fast Track chassis, with tubular, coil-over suspension, six-piston Baer brakes, and a Woodward rack and pinion steering system. The car rolls on Ringbrother’s HRE wheels, 19s in the front and 20s in the rear. Out back, a Ricks 20-gallon tank was installed.
Under The Hood Lurks A Monster
Of course, when you own one of the biggest custom engine outfitters in the country, you can choose the creme de le creme hardware from the company’s coffers. Casey spec’d out a 427cid LS mill with a prototype 3.8-liter blower from Whipple. He added an in-house built front drive (Wegner PN #WAK O75) with a dedicated ten-rib belt for the blower and a six-rib belt for the accessories.
The ornery LS is kept cool with a C&R radiator, exhales through a custom-built stainless steel exhaust, and sends power to the rear via a Bowler TREMEC six-speed transmission. The result is 1300hp and 1000 lb-ft of torque. Sometimes more is too much, and Casey told us “It was a bit hardcore for the street, so we detuned it a bit and mellowed it out.”
Getting Back In Shape
Resurrecting the old 66-year-old body and making it fit on the modern RS chassis took some finessing. Roadster Shop makes everything much easier, but getting the engine, transmission, and other components in the precise locations to clear the body takes some massaging.
As Casey told us, “You have to make sure everything is mocked up and just right before you add paint and trim. Eric mounted and removed the body several times to get it aligned. Only when everything was true and plumb, did the prep for the bodywork begin.”
Casey wanted a shaved look for the car, so they removed the hood bullets, emblems, and simplified the spear down the side. The HRE wheels were sprayed out in body color but the guys left the barrels chrome. The brightwork that was retained was sent out to Polisher Dave and shined to perfection.
Then the car was sprayed out in a Ford stealth gray without any scoops, flames, or fluff to muck up this mid-century Chevy masterpiece. Every mod done to the exterior distilled the car to its essence in a thoughtful, appropriate way. In other words, this old Chevy will be cool forever.
Inside the cabin, the goal was to retain as much of the 1957’s original DNA, but bring it into the 21st century. Cassin Interiors did a great job of straddling both eras. First, most of the cabin is swathed in yards of two-tone charcoal leather. Four bucket seats, a custom full-length console, and a Ringbrother steering wheel anchor the interior and relay an all-business attitude. Be sure and check out the cool details like the wing jewelry on the seats, and the nice detailing on the door cards.
For now, Casey and Amber are getting re-acquainted with their 1957 Chevrolet. As we all know, custom cars are never really done but for now, they are driving and enjoying the car. Casey is a busy guy but plans on showing the car this year at the Tri-Five Nationals in Bowling Green, Kentucky. We have a feeling wherever Casey goes with the car, Dad will be riding shotgun from up above.