Custom 1957 Chevrolet Corvette highlights:
- Originally purchased as a used car for drag racing, Bill Shelley eventually worked with custom builder Bob McNulty and pinstripe artist Tommy ‘the Greek’ Hrones to turn his 1957 Corvette into a custom show car
- The ‘Bali Hi’ Corvette’s last major public appearance was at the 1960 Oakland Roadster Show, but after roughly 60 years in a barn, it’s back out and getting restored
- A historic hot rod, this Corvette would likely be worth over $100,000 if it was sold after restoration
While today exotic and classic cars, especially custom ones, are tracked with hyper-vigilant eyes, many fell through history’s cracks back in the day. So, when a rare, lost vintage treasure is found in some barn or garage, it’s a momentous occasion. Not just because of the possible monetary value, but the historic one, too. And the term ‘historic’ undoubtedly applies to ‘Bali Hi,’ a once-lost 1957 Corvette that’s just been unearthed.
Bill Shelley didn’t set out to turn a used 1957 Corvette into a show car—at first
1957 was a big year for the Chevrolet Corvette. Although it wasn’t the first year for the V8—that was 1955—it was the first time Corvette buyers could get a fuel-injected V8. The 283-cubic-inch (4.6-liter), V8 was only the second production fuel-injected engine after the Mercedes Gullwing’s inline-six. And in 283 (gross)-hp tune with the new optional four-speed manual, it let the 1957 Corvette hit 60 mph in under six seconds.
However, even the fastest sports cars eventually become used cars. That’s what one Polo White 1957 Corvette was to Oakland, California’s Bill Shelley when he bought it in 1957, MotorTrend says. It had the carbureted version of the 283-ci V8, but a previous owner had changed out the three-speed manual’s gear ratios for drag racing. And that’s what Shelley started using it for.
But before he did, Shelley wanted to give his Corvette a custom touch. So, he reached out to his brother’s boss, Tommy Hrones. Tommy ‘the Greek’ Hrones was a famed Oakland-area pinstriping artist, a contemporary of other icons like Von Dutch and Ed Roth. And by the late ‘50s, he was well-known for his signature striping style, which often incorporated hashmark, teardrop, and arrow-shaped flourishes, Kustomrama reports.
Tommy ‘the Greek’ gave Shelley’s 1957 Corvette red-and-black pinstripes around its taillights and headlights. He also striped the red side panels white-and-black to “’look like a shadow,’” Kustomrama says. But soon, Shelley wasn’t satisfied with just the stripes.
With pinstriping from Tommy ‘the Greek’ Hrones and custom bodywork, the ‘Bali Hi’ 1957 Chevrolet Corvette made a splash in the SoCal hot rod scene
In 1959, Shelley became friends with custom Corvette builder Bob McNulty, and the two decided to modify Shelley’s car. They removed the original bumpers, exhaust tips, headlights, and taillights, then installed a handmade custom grille. And using welding rods, cardboard, and plenty of fiberglass, they gave the Corvette tail fins, reshaped the fenders and front end, and installed Chrysler taillights and Edsel headlights.
At the time, metal-flake metallic paint wasn’t widely available. Instead, Shelley and McNulty mixed roofing mica into the paint to make it sparkle, then rubbed it with steel wool so the flakes wouldn’t stand out so much. Shelley also reupholstered the seats himself. Finally, Tommy ‘the Greek’ stepped in and gave the Corvette some new pinstripes and purple scallops.
And thus, the ‘Bali Hi’ Corvette was born. First shown in public at the 1960 Oakland Roadster Show, the custom 1957 Corvette soon started making regular street appearances. Some of them were to race McNulty’s six-cylinder ‘Shark’ Corvette, while others focused more on cruising with local Corvette owners.
Unfortunately, then as now, the California police weren’t too comfortable with the Bali Hi’s modifications. After repeated tickets, Shelley eventually went to court to protest, and after taking the judge’s advice about asking for badge numbers, the harassment stopped, Kustomrama says. But the tickets, plus a new family to raise, meant Bali Hi had to say goodbye. For a time, at least.
Missing for over 60 years, Bali Hi is finally back in the public eye
Officially, Bali Hi’s last public appearance was that 1960 Oakland Roadster Show, MotorTrend says. But according to Kustomrama, Shelley didn’t park his pinstriped 1957 Corvette until 1964. Nevertheless, this colorful Corvette hasn’t been seen in public for roughly 60 years.
Until now, that is. Earlier this year, Shelley sold Bali Hi to an as-yet-unnamed buyer. Although covered in dust and missing most of its interior, the Corvette’s custom paint job is still intact. Seeing as McNulty gave it 53 coats of clearcoat, though, that’s almost to be expected. As such, it’s basically a 1950s hot-rod culture time capsule, MotorTrend says.
And roughly six decades after it last saw the sunshine, Bali Hi greeted the crowds at this year’s Grand National Roadster Show. Now, its current owner is getting ready to clean it up properly for future shows.
How much is a 1957 Corvette like Bali Hi worth?
Back in 1957, Shelley paid $3000 for his Corvette by selling a “’small herd of cows,’” Kustomrama says. And he estimates that roughly $4000—in 1960 money—went into the custom work. Translated to 2022 dollars, that’s just over $30,000 for the Corvette and $40,000 for the work.
Given its unique nature, it’s nigh impossible to determine Bali Hi’s true value. But based on current 1957 Corvette values, it’s worth at least $70K, even in its current condition. Cleaned up, it’s likely worth well over $100,000. Seeing this car out in the open about to be cleaned up, though? That’s priceless.
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