The challenges of staring down a life threatening disease, and keeping a positive outlook while doing so, are thankfully an unknown for the vast majority of us. ALS (also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease) is a particularly formidable opponent for it’s victims. ALS is a thus-far incurable and progressive neurodegenerative disease that shuts down the body over time.
Blake Evans is a 35-year-old physical therapist from McKinney, Texas, who has witnessed firsthand how challenging this disease is to cope with. Inspired by the positive outlook of one of his patients who was battling ALS, Blake felt a need to give back. He began an effort to support research that could possibly help find a cure for this insidious disease.
Last year, Blake started the Sweet Patina ALS Road Trip Challenge, which has established a goal of raising awareness of ALS and generating $100,000 in donations to help fund ALS research. Blake intends to visit all 48 contiguous states in his quest to bring awareness to ALS. So far, he’s visited 13 states with the odometer still counting the miles. With the 2019 road-trip season now in full swing, the Evans family will no doubt have a lot more opportunities to add more souvenir decals to their luggage.
Blake’s steed on this noble journey is the crusty companion you see here. A 1957 Chevy model 210 station wagon was found for sale on the Street Machinery Sales and Service Sunday Swap-A-Rama Facebook group. It was in relatively solid condition when discovered, except for the fact most of its paint had fallen off. But shiny cars are pretty common when you think about it. Seeing a survivor like this does get your attention, and what better ambassador for Blake’s cause than a ride that just won’t quit?
After Blake and his Dad Terry acquired the wagon, Blake’s then-three-year-old daughter instantly named the car “Sweet Patina.” The name stuck, and a glossy topcoat hasn’t really been missed since. The weathered look is a permanent fixture. It just wouldn’t be the same without it. In fact, the well-worn sheetmetal has led to many conversations with the average Joe about how this car is still racking up miles after 62 years of service. The car’s appearance is a good ice-breaker that can easily lead to Blake explaining the real purpose of his travels.
The car brings so much attention at gas stations and random places that the conversation of the ALS Road Trip Challenge can start up anywhere at anytime. – Blake Evans
Once the well-seasoned station wagon arrived in Blake’s original hometown of Pearl Mississippi, he and his dad immediately set forth as participants on the 2016 Hot Rod Power Tour. It was a learning experience and a shakedown of the wagon, which would expose many flaws. It was also an adventure that would never be forgotten. The ’57 Chevy wagon’s original 283 engine was weak in the knees, so they broke down . . . often.
They were helped along the way by other participants. A retired GM mechanic came to their rescue at one point and rebuilt the distributor on the side of the road, revealing the sort of mechanical skills that only come with experience. The journey allowed them to understand what needed attention on the car for sustained highway use. They made it home intact, and were armed with a plan.
A Family Affair
From the outset, the intent was to make the wagon a family project with room for the whole gang to see the USA from their vintage Chevrolet. To that end, the initial modifications were all done in the spirit of making the Chevy a roadworthy family-mobile. A luggage rack, a small camper trailer, three car seats, and an untethered wanderlust were essential items that took Blake’s family across the country. But, some key mechanical upgrades were also needed to make it a more reliable venture.
Installing a fresh 350ci GM crate engine into the ’57 Chevy wagon was job one. Then came the Street Machinery Corvette C5 disc brakes and drop spindles, while Billet Specialties wheels wrapped with Continental rubber were used for rolling stock. Champion Cooling was contacted for one of its aluminum radiators, and a set of Auto Meter American Muscle Gauges would keep the new Holley Carburetor-equipped mill happy. Not to ignore the creature comforts, the roached interior was upgraded with snazzy red and black upholstery from Ciadella Interiors, while Vintage Air provided the needed temperature control for the passenger compartment.
Then a funny thing began to happen. As word of Blake’s ALS Road Trip Challenge began to spread, the automotive community took notice and began to offer sponsorship for the cause. Blake developed several ways for sponsors to be involved, from financial contributions, to showcasing wares on the wagon as it travels from event-to-event across the country. The list of supporters has become quite extensive, and many products featured are specific to the Tri-Five roots of this car. Others are applicable to just about anything on wheels.
So, despite its initial appearance, the ’57 Chevy wagon was gradually transformed into a very well-equipped long-distance cruiser. All the better for spreading the word far and wide for ALS research. Danchuk Manufacturing provided a number of upgrades for the car that include everything from power steering to HID headlights. Holley stepped up and upgraded the fuel system to a Sniper EFI unit. Betts Performance Hot Rods set Blake up with a GM 700R4 transmission, while Lokar provided the floor shifter by which to stir the gears.
HPI Customs donated one of its new Tri-Five frame reinforcement kits to the project, and the folks at Ridetech set Blake up with a Street Grip suspension kit. Painless Wiring got into the act with one of its Tri-five harnesses, and Magnaflow helped out with exhaust system products. The luggage rack also received some fresh survival gear with the addition of an iKamper Skycamp roof-top tent. One of Blake’s biggest supporters has been the folks at Vintage Flatz, despite the wagon not having a drop of its paint of its flanks. A stronger endorsement of a great idea could not exist. Blake’s sponsor list grows daily, and you can visit the Challenge website for the latest roster of who is involved.
A Helping Hand
One of Blake’s biggest assets in seeing the wagon become the road warrior it has morphed into, is his old high-school pal, Robby Costello of Pearl, Mississippi. Robby is the go to guy for almost all of the installation work of the numerous upgrades the wagon has received since the project landed in Blake’s garage two states away. Robby works from a home shop, and has a short-list of regular clients. Blake is high on the list.
I trust what Robby tells me. If he says we need to do something a certain way, then that’s the way we do it. – Blake Evans.
Blake intends to hit the road again in his ’57 Chevy wagon again soon, as a participant in the 2019 Hot Rod Power Tour, while exiting the tour for a run through New England, letting Sweet Patina stretch its legs as far as the Northernmost state of Maine. He plans to rejoin the Power Tour afterwards, and will settle into the Danchuck Tri-Five Nationals August 8-10 in Bowling Green, Kentucky, to bond with other Tri-Five enthusiasts and further spread the word as an advocate for ALS research.
The Evans’ adventures with Sweet Patina can be tracked online, as Blake is a prolific user of social media, and shares his progress through the Sweet Patina ALS Road Trip Challenge Website, as well as through the Sweet Patina ALS Road Trip Challenge Facebook Page. He’s also on Instagram, so you can keep up with the latest developments almost as they happen.
While you’re on the website, you can buy a T-shirt or otherwise donate to the Challenge and help Blake reach his goal of raising $100,000 for ALS research. You can even buy a raffle ticket for a 30-percent discount on a Magnuson Supercharger Kit of your choice from the ALS Roadtrip Challenge website.
Look for the ’57 Chevy wagon named Sweet Patina at an event you attend this year. Considering Blake plans to visit 48 of our 50 states, there should be a lot of opportunities for all of us to see this survivor ’57 Chevy wagon and support his cause of fighting ALS nationwide.