- The Washington Times - Friday, November 29, 2002

It was about 45 years ago when a preacher showed up in Manassas driving a red-and-white 1956 Chevrolet Bel Air two-door hardtop
The preacher was welcomed, but the flashy car had to go. That's when Ed Johnson saw his opportunity, and in 1957 purchased the 1-year-old car.
"I loved that car," Mr. Johnson said. He must have, because during the next seven years he drove the car almost 300,000 miles.
"The transmission was about ready to leave me," Mr. Johnson said, "so I sold it in 1964."
Twenty years passed before Mr. Johnson acknowledged to himself that he missed his old 1956 Chevrolet Bel Air and began looking for a replacement. After a year or so of fruitless searching, he gave up. Naturally, that's when he found virtually in his own back yard what he had been after.
Mr. Johnson bought the Chevrolet in November 1986. Except for being green and white, the automobile was identical to the car he owned in the 1950s. When new, the Chevrolet sold with a base price of $2,176.
Once Mr. Johnson had his new/old car home, he set about returning it to like-new condition. He wanted a car with no plastic filler in the body. Consequently, all the plastic filler was removed, along with rusted metal. Healthy, rust-free steel was put in place. "I welded it myself," Mr. Johnson recalls.
While he was returning the body of the two-door hardtop to showroom condition on its 115-inch wheelbase, the 265-cubic-inch V-8 engine with a dual exhaust system was rebuilt. The Powerglide transmission was serviced and found to be in good condition.
Mr. Johnson had the car repainted in the same two-tone color scheme as his first 1956 Chevrolet with a white top over a matador-red body. The appropriate parts of the interior dashboard and window frames were painted red.
In 1956, the 3,222-pound Chevrolet came from the factory equipped with an AM radio, power steering, power brakes, a heater and wheel covers.
Behind the wraparound windshield, a design element that was all the rage in the late 1950s, was a full-size, shoulder-wide, two-spoke steering wheel. Nestled prominently in the dashboard is the 120-mph speedometer. With the engine equipped with a power pack, reaching top speed is a real possibility.
The interior of the car has undergone a transformation. The carpet is now red. Typical of many General Motors cars in 1956, the headliner consists of a white perforated material. The seats and door panels match the color of the car, as does the steering wheel. The wheel has a 360-degree chrome horn ring.
With the Powerglide transmission functioning properly, Mr. Johnson finally realized his goal in September 1995 when he drove his fully restored Chevrolet on its 6.70x15-inch white sidewall tires on its maiden tour.
It's always a treat to pull into a gasoline station and watch the attendant search for the gas cap, which is cleverly hidden behind the left taillight, he said.
Mr. Johnson, owner of Johnson Tool and Die in Manassas, keeps his red-and-white 1956 Chevrolet Sport hardtop coupe close at hand. Although 128,382 of the model were manufactured, he treats his like it's one of a kind.


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