Bringing History Back to Life: The Journey of a Restored 1955 Chevy Bel Air
Inside the 28-year adventure of finding, purchasing and restoring a dream vintage car—a 1955 Chevy Bel Air.
The beginning of a love affair
My 28-year love affair with my 1955 Chevy Bel Air has unexpectedly come to an end. It all started as a childhood memory, when I saw one of the first 1955 Chevy’s in our village drive by our home a few days after being introduced to the market. It was then that I recalled saying to myself that I would one day own one of these vehicles. Thirty-eight years later, while reading an auto trader magazine, I noticed a 1955 Chevy for sale and the picture of it looked great. The vehicle was located east of Kingston, Ont., and I, along with my family, made the trip from Oakville, where we were living at the time. As we came down the street, I saw the car parked in the driveway and it looked awe- some. After a closer look, I realized what a “ten-footer” really meant. Once inside the ten-foot range, some of the problems became clear, and my initial reaction was that it needed a little bodywork to restore it back to its original condition.
The next step was to take it for a drive. That was an experience in itself. It had been a long time since I’ve driven an old car and I was amazed at how loose the steering felt. With some deliberation and negotiation, I agreed to buy the car, on the condition that it would be certified. I also requested that the seller drive it through Toronto, because I was not comfortable doing that myself. Once I had the car at home and examined it more closely, it turned out to be mechanically unfit.
Inside the restoration process
Therein began my long lesson in old car ownership and the costs involved in bringing the car to the point of meeting my expectations. A bank loan started the process. I did some research on the vehicle and found that it was imported into Canada in July 1978 and had 13 different owners before I bought it in 1993. Many of the owners were car wholesalers, who re-sold the car for a small profit. I couldn’t fully trace the car in the U.S., but I did find out that it was originally sold, brand new, through Tyrrell Motors in Cheyenne, Wyoming. It was built in Flint, Michigan on Friday, May 2, 1955.
When it comes to owning a car such as this, originality is important to me, so it still has its original 136 HP Blue Flame six-cylinder engine and two-speed power glide transmission. Interestingly enough, oil filters in those days were dealer installed options and this car did not have that. So, I changed the oil regularly myself.
When beginning the restoration process, I first addressed the mechanicals. Once that was accomplished, I was on the road, cruising on joy rides at night and attending a few car shows. Not knowing much about restoration, I was fortunate to meet John Dryden who agreed to do a frame-up restoration. His dad, who retired from the autobody business and having a passion for Chevys, saw my car and also wanted to help. Therefore, I was incredibly lucky to find two professionals to work on my car and it was fully restored in 1995.
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Bringing it back to life
While this all took place almost 26 years ago, the car still looks like it did the day I picked it up after restoration. It was repainted with the original colours of Shoreline Beige and Glacier Blue.
The car has been driven throughout southwestern, central and eastern Ontario, Michigan and New York State. She has never left me stranded, and even survived a severe thunderstorm where we were almost hit by a falling tree. Branches did hit the hood of the car but she escaped undamaged, and she’s also never flinched when 18 wheelers came alongside to give a thumbs up!
I’ve taken her to many car shows—even an indoor car show in London—where I met a gentleman who confirmed that he was the one who imported the car to Canada. The trigger to this claim was the dealer plate on the trunk. He indicated that he used the car as a camper vehicle, putting the kids in the backseat, and the tent into the trunk, taking many trips to Algonquin Provincial Park.
My car won numerous awards and has done particularly well at Performance World Custom Car and Truck show in Toronto; Motor Mania in Rochester, N.Y.; Fantasy Island Old Fashion Car Show, N.Y.; and at the Willistead Classic & Antique Car Show in Windsor, Ont. She was invited to participate in the Eyes on Design Car Show at the Edsel and Eleanor Ford House in Detroit, Michigan where she won the Design Distinction Red Ribbon Award.
Even before being restored, she was invited to participate in a special display at the Molson Indy in Toronto, in 1994. It was remarkable for a six cylinder to even be invited, a recognition I dearly treasure.
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Passing the torch
Now, you may be asking yourself what the “Wow!” factor of this story is. Years ago, I pledged to myself that I would keep this car as long as the Department of Motor Vehicles allowed me to drive. However, another car enthusiast spotted my vehicle a couple of days ago and his desire for the car was overwhelming.
Today (May 21, 2021), I turned the keys over to the new owner who resides locally. I keep asking myself why I have done this, but truth be told, the car is being passed to an individual who has a passion for vintage steel. This gives me great peace of mind, knowing that the car will be appreciated for many more years. Besides, he has offered me the opportunity to take the car for a drive anytime I want. It just doesn’t get any better than that!
As I turn the page on my first-ever dream car, I am glad to report that a new adventure has begun. I have replaced the car with another classic—a 1962 Chevrolet Impala 2Dr HT, and arrangements are now in the works to restore (and modify) the vehicle by changing the drive train. The vehicle will look vintage from the outside, but modern day technology will be housed under the hood!
Next, read one contributor’s memories of his dad’s 1960 Ford station wagon.