In 1967 I decided I should and that I could buy my first car. It was time to stop sharing with my Dad. I found a 1956 Chevy Bel Air hardtop in a salvage yard. It had no drivetrain but the body looked good ( I was 19 and an expert ). So with the help of the man who owned the yard we put a used 283 engine and a 3 speed transmission in it and I drove away with my "new" car for $250. You see, the former owner used the Chevy to street race since he had a 409 in it, but for some reason he decided to keep the engine and scrap the body. As I got to know the car I learned the wiring system was a disaster and soon I had no lights, front or back. Maybe that was why he decided to keep the motor and part with the body, you think? This is tough to deal with for a college student with no money, but a desire to date at night. I found myself always using neighborhood streets to pick up my girlfriend and we would duck and cover from the police all night long. I grew up in Tulsa and back then it wasn't that hard to avoid them. Actually it was fun and in reality it made me love the old car that much more. We affectionately named the '56 "Animal" since it roared when I started it and it loved to hunt at night, in the dark.
After about a year of "roaring in the dark" I traded the ‘56 to another guy for a '57 Bel Air. All it needed was a hood and a paint job. The hood came first since I decided I wanted to go more than 30 mph (gasoline flew all over the windshield when I went fast). I gave the guy my '56 and $100. I don't think I ever mentioned the lights, since we did the trade in the daytime. He thought he got the best deal but probably changed his mind later that night.
Because of those good times (and I had a lot of them in that car) I have always had a soft spot for the '56 Chevy and the look of that body style. I never bought another one, and actually I don't know why, until last year when I came across this car on Ebay. The family had recently lost their Father and the Husband who had done all the work on it and they had to sell it with really no knowledge of what they had. Just a clean '56 and a folder full of receipts.
I feel I bought the car right and as I have grown to know it better I think it's a keeper. So, that's what I'm going to do.
The first thing that convinced me this is a good car was the electrical system. The car has been totally rewired and it all works, even the glove box light. But the history in the receipts and a complete inspection of the rest of the car have done more to convince me this is a keeper. I took the car to Carr's Corvettes and Customs in Plano for a complete inspection. They went all over (and under) the car and the report was that this is a solid investment. There is zero rust and a solid body with new rubber seals in all the right places and a good drivetrain. The engine is a 383 stroker with a 350 automatic. No smoke and no issues. The former owner put a ‘69 Camaro front end under the car with disc brakes and a lot of correct torsion and sway bar aftermarket add-ons. The car drives out tight and solid. The custom work, paint and interior, was probably done at least 10 years ago due to the look of the car. Such as a velour interior, to match the maroon exterior. Actually they called this exterior color Dusk Plum. And with the Adobe Beige two tone it's a great look. When I first got the car out of the transport one of the first things I saw was the bright paint job, bright backup lights and then the maroon velour interior. The first thought I had, as I opened the door was, "Velvet Elvis". And the name stuck. The family calls the car Elvis and we're all ready to let the ‘Good Times Roll’. As we drive away we all say "Well, it's one for the money, two for the show, three to get ready now Go Cat Go!"
We are enjoying the Bel Air and look forward to the Tri-Five Nationals this summer. The trip will be very special and now possible since "Elvis Lives".
John & Beke Gibson
BACK TO FEATURE CARS