September Featured Car
1957 CHEVROLET MODEL 210
By Ray Mahoney
OWNERS: Ken and Lori Nieto
ENGINE: 350 V8 small block w/ MSD / 260 (RV) 260 Competition cam
TRANSMISSION: Built 700r w/ shift kit /600 stall converter.
GAUGES: Running both factory equipment and Stewart Warner.
STEERING WHEEL: Billet Banjo SUSPENSION: 2 1/2" front drop spindles.
REAR END: Limited slip posi-traction rear end with 373 gears.
BRAKES: Disc brake front WHEELS: 15" first generation Halibrand aluminum
UPHOLSTERY: Red Cloth and White vinyl
“I think that cars today are almost the exact equivalent of the great Gothic cathedrals; I mean the supreme creation of an era, conceived with passion by unknown artists, and consumed in image if not in usage by a whole population which appropriates them as a purely magical object.” - Roland Barthes, Mythologies
Days spent exploring & playing in fields in Colorado; climbing through rusted abandoned Model T’s; a young Ken Nieto grips the steering wheel of an old jalopy & pretends to drive through his "field of dreams". This thread, a love and passion, runs throughout Ken’s life. It’s the same feeling he had when sitting in his father’s car, reaching small arms as wide as possible to reach both sides of the large steering wheels of the early 50’s automobiles.
His father, a WWII wounded veteran, had many of the cars we wished we had owned or kept; but the one Ken was especially keen on was his father’s ’57 Chevrolet; a Silver/Grey 2 door Hardtop. At 16 years old he was responsible for the care and maintenance of the family car; a learning experience that as a youth served him well. In his senior year of High School, he came home to find his father had traded-in the ’57; devastating and dashing his hopes of owning the car upon graduation. Through a friend, that worked for the Dealership where the car was traded, he followed the ‘57 from the dealership to a used car lot to a new owner; hoping that one day he could acquire the vehicle, but that ended when the owner hit a pole and totaled the car.
Not long after graduation in 1965, Ken entered the Navy and trained as an electricians’ mate. Serving aboard the USS Joseph Strauss (DDG-16) and USS Berkeley (DDG-15) both ships were Charles F. Adams class guided missile destroyers operating and serving special ops in the Gulf of Tonkin, Vietnam. After mustering out and serving his reserve time (1971) he worked in the building trades before hiring on with Southern Pacific Railroad as a journeyman electrician 73-77. Ken then went to work for Amtrak in 1977 – 2007 (30 yrs.) Ken was given an opportunity within 2 weeks after hiring in with the Amtrak mechanical department as a gang foreman II and in 3 years, because of his sagacious ability, an ability to understand difficult ideas and situations and to make good decisions, became the first Hispanic to make Management Facility Manager assistant in Los Angeles Locomotive and passenger car maintenance facility. In 1991 he took over the Seattle Washington “King Street” yard facility until returning back to Los Angeles in late 1999 where he finished his last years of his career with Amtrak in Los Angeles, California.
In 2003 Ken acquired a 1956 Chevrolet 2dr. Bel Air which needed everything. He started with wire brushing the frame; he actually got Lori under the car to help…. once. 5 years into the build the car received upgrades of a built (350) small block Chev that had been blue printed and balanced, married up with a M21 Borg Warner Muncie four speed transmission.
Ken was working on a ’56 Chevrolet when a friend told him about someone selling a ’57. The seller needed money for medical bills and the car had sat for a year but it was too hard to pass up for $12,500 and it would be a reconnection with his father’s car. His first chore was to check out the howling rear end which the previous owner thought was seriously damaged. The drive shaft was too long and had to be shortened and resealed. The car had a 307 small block with a tired 700R transmission. Ken replaced both engine and transmission; the drive train is all new. Currently it’s in the paint shop getting a shiny new coat of paint but only after a lot of sanding and body prep work done by Ken and John to discover that there are 14 paint jobs on the hood and rear deck lid of the car. Ken says it’s was like looking at a Sequoia tree’s growth rings.
Ken is anxious to get his car back and enjoy driving his prize possession. Because of his Military service, Ken supports many Veteran car shows as well as Cal-Rods shows and functions. Ken and his wife Lori are a kind and generous couple, family orientated and great examples of Cal-Rods members.
First Picture taken in 1959 - Ken on the right with his father, Manuel, & his younger brother Mike on the left.
Fifth picture - prior to new paint
Last picture - It’s off to the paint booth