DACC Feature Car
August 2004

David Graves
1955 Bel Air Hardtop


Unfinished Business

I have always been attracted to cars.  My dad had a '55 new and he belonged to the 'Accelerators' car club in Dallas during the 50's.  I suppose this 'inherited' gene and seeing all the '55-'57 Chevy gassers on the drag strips made these cars become such a big part of my life.

 I purchased my '55 in 1976 and soon after became a part of those that started the DACC.  The car came from Arkansas and I drove it as my everyday car through college and for some time after that.  I spent many evenings cruising, going to club events and simply just driving my '55.  It was in need of paint and bodywork to really bring it up to the condition I wanted, so I sought out a paint and body man for the job in 1982.  The decision was made to strip the car down and do a "body on" paint job.  The front sheet metal was removed and all was painted from the firewall forward.  This would give me the 'driver' car I wanted but also the appeal that I wanted when the hood was opened.  The process went well, and I was very excited as the car got closer to completion.  The plan was to have the car finished and drive it to New Orleans for the '82 Classic Chevy International Convention where the Show-N-Shine judging was in the Superdome.  However something terrible happened before the job was finished.  The body shop caught fire one night.  Inside a '57 Chevy, a Cameo pickup, and several other collector cars - along with my '55 Chevy.  The car was toast.  The paint was scheduled to be applied in just days.  The fire was very intense and hot, the roof of the car warped, all wiring burned, interior ruined, glass smoked.  Needless to say, I was devastated. 

After some time to re-group, I proceeded to rebuild this car.  I had this attachment "thing" about the car.  I had driven the car to Colorado on several trips and even driven it on a three week tour to the northeast to Connecticut and back. The car had been good to me and I was determined to bring it back.  This time the process was going to be much more involved due to the damage from the fire.  A full body off restoration was in the plans and that was ok with me since I had always wanted to do one.  So the body came off, went to the dipper, frame sandblasted, all new parts ordered from glass to wiring.  The top of the car was cut off and a donor '56 top went on as that '55 top was just a bit crisp to work with.  The dedication it takes to do one of these things is alot, but I was on my way and loving it.  Wire wheels, 605 power steering, AC, Silver over Candy Blue paint, this thing was coming together just like I wanted.  The car came out of the paint shop and to my house and I continued to 'build' it.  I built model cars as a kid, (and still do) and well this was about the same, just bigger!  Time for the upholstery to be installed and so I drove it the first time in years across LBJ Freeway to the shop using a crate as a seat.  I remember how nice the power steering felt after all the years without it.  The car was complete, just interior was left to finish.  I left it at the shop and the seats, carpet, door panels all were installed.  All went well and most of the interior work was completed.  The car came home for me to continue on some items I needed to complete and I pushed to get the car completed as I was hoping to have it finished to drive to Amarillo for the Lone Star III Classic Chevy Convention that was coming up.  But time was not on my side.  I conceded that I would go to Amarillo in a 'regular' car.  That Thursday before the Lone Star event I returned my '55 to the upholstery shop for touch up work.  I planned to pick up the car that next week after returning from Amarillo but it didn't happen that way.  I went to Amarillo for Lone Star, returning Sunday night.  On my telephone answering machine was a call from the upholstery shop.  I returned the call.  The upholstery shop had caught fire that Friday night, and again my car was toast.   This was frankly unbelievable.  The car was finished, only some minor interior work was needed.  The next day I went and brought home my '55.  Now what?

Again a bit of time to re-group and again the car came off the frame.  Been there, done that.  Same process, this time I built a new motor for it, installed a custom manifold that accepts four down draft Dellorto carbs, for a different approach to the intake system.  The car went back to the rotisserie and the frame sand blasted and painted black imron.  The body found its way back to the frame and the engine to the frame.  That was over ten years ago, and that is how it sits today in my garage.  'Life stuff' has kept me from proceeding with it and I almost sold it a few years ago.  But my good friend and DACC member Mike Cook allows me to drive his '55 Convertible occasionally, and it's that behind the wheel feeling with a '55 Chevy that convinced me not to sell it and simply shelf the project until I am able to go back to it.  In the meantime, I have a '56 Corvette project and the car is driveable and that is how I enjoy my old car hobby today.  Plans call for an on body restoration on the vette and then my attention (and money if there is any left!) will be directed to the '55.  




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