Danny Vandergriff Showcases Mild Custom Class with His Forward Look 1957 Chrysler

We’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: Some of the best mild customs often don’t look “custom” to the casual observer or untrained eye. When the modifications are well designed, carefully executed, and period appropriate, a good custom might appear like an exceptionally clean factory offering that’s simply been lowered and treated to a nice set of wheels.

Danny Vandergriff’s jet-wing 1957 Chrysler New Yorker is a stunning example of that theory. Cleanly crafted and built using period-style components – most from Mopars of the same era – it doesn’t appear overly garish like some ’50s customs. Given the inherent flamboyance of Virgil Exner’s finned “Forward Look” design, the car really didn’t require much embellishment. Instead, Danny’s goal was for it to be a classy and low-key, like a cross between a factory concept car and Clif Inman’s well-known chopped custom ’57 Chrysler built by Joe Wilhelm in the early-’60s.

Danny has long been infatuated with ’57 Mopars and had originally bought a ’57 DeSoto project that proved too rusty to build. After years of searching, this 1957 Chrysler New Yorker turned up in a local Craigslist ad. It was straight and amazingly rust-free and complete, though the top half of the Hemi engine was disassembled and in the trunk. Still, it proved to be the perfect starting point for his mild custom project.

It took another few years for Danny to truly begin the build in earnest, with a lot of help and guidance from his father, Verne. By that time, Danny had done plenty of planning, which included an inspirational Photoshop rendering showing the coupe dressed in black paint with a ’57 DeSoto grille/bumper combo, plus other minor design mods. The image proved to be an effective motivational tool.

Additional online hunting netted Danny a 1957 Chrysler four door parts car that had a 42,000-mile 392c.i. Hemi. He and his father cleaned that engine up and added a dual-quad intake with Carter WCFB carbs from a Chrysler 300, plus hi-po Chrysler 300 exhaust manifolds leading to a 2.5-inch exhaust with Thrush mufflers. They used a Wilcap adapter to back the Hemi with a Tremec TKO five-speed, giving the car a little hot rod flavor.

The father-and-son Vandergriff team rebuilt the Chrysler’s stock suspension, upgrading to front disc brakes using an AAJ kit and cranking down the torsion bars to lower the front suspension. In the back, they installed a Mustang 8.8-inch rearend with 4.10:1 gears and lowering blocks. Chrysler wire wheels with wide whitewalls were part of the original plan, but Danny ultimately opted for 15×5- and 15×7-inch chrome wheels with spider caps and Coker 7.10-15 and L78-15 whitewall rubber.

Bodywork was being done by Verne and Danny in between the many mechanical tasks. Besides the aforementioned DeSoto grille, they integrated a faux hood scoop, trimmed from a ’70s Jeep Cherokee, in a nod to ’50s custom style. They also shaved the emblems and door handles, filled the gas door and relocated the filler to the trunk, and filled the license plate recess on the trunk lid. A new license pocket was cut into the rear bumper before it was re-chromed.

Verne gets credit for the beautiful black PPG paint, which helps to reinforce the Chrysler’s sophisticated character. The finish is even more impressive considering it was sprayed in the cold, dimly lit “dungeon-like” shop Danny rented for working on the car. The roof and side sweeps inside the trim were sprayed in a complementary Sterling Gray hue, and Danny has added chrome tape stripes to the center of the roof for a little extra ’50s flair.

The “enhanced original” approach was carried over inside, where the factory dash and gauges were rebuilt and repainted and a Chrysler 300C 150mph speedometer was added. Danny injected a bit of Jetsons-era fun when he scored an electric swivel front seat from an Imperial. OEM-spec black jacquard mosaic fabric was sourced from SMS Auto Fabrics and Danny had upholsterer Robert Lopez pair it with silver vinyl and gold piping in a factory-style pattern. It was complemented with Trinidad carpet, which has metalflake-like gold and silver flecks for true futuristic ’50s flavor.

The finished cruiser is almost exactly as Danny envisioned it – a comparison to his initial Photoshop rendering is almost uncanny. It achieves the “factory custom” look Danny was after which, considering the scarcity of late-’50s Mopars, keeps many onlookers guessing. While standing near the Chrysler in Texas, we heard comments that ranged from “I haven’t seen a Dodge like that in years,” to simply, “what is it?” All were accompanied by smiles, though, and the second glances and closer looks were ample evidence that Danny’s understated modifications are the perfect fit for this Forward Look custom.

Photos by John Jackson

Editor, Goodguys Gazette

Damon Lee began snapping photos at car shows when he was 10, tagging along with his father to events throughout the Midwest. He has combined his passion for cars and knack for writing and imagery into a 20-year career in the automotive aftermarket, writing for titles like Super Chevy and Rod & Custom and, more recently, working for respected industry leaders Speedway Motors and Goodguys Rod & Custom Association.