- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 9, 2003

In the early 1960s, when Kit Cooper was a high school senior, his father bought him a 7-year-old 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air convertible.

Life was good for a teenage boy with a Chevrolet convertible and a V-8 under the hood. The car survived his high school days plus a year and a half of college before misfortune struck. That was the conclusion of Mr. Cooper’s relationship with Chevrolet — at least for the remainder of the 20th century.

The old Chevrolet may have been long gone but in the spring of 2003, Mr. Cooper had not forgotten. He attended the annual spring car event in Carlisle, Pa. with the intention of buying a new old car.

Hundreds upon hundreds of cars were on display with Mr. Cooper busily inspecting likely candidates for his garage when, he says, “I saw it roll in.” The “it” was a 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air Townsman station wagon. By the time he had worked his way through the crowd to the handsome larkspur-blue-over-harbor-blue car, the owner was nowhere to be found.

While waiting for the owner to return, Mr. Cooper gave the exterior of the 16-foot, 8-inch-long wagon a thorough once-over and liked what he saw.

When the owner returned, Mr. Cooper listened with approval to the 235-cubic-inch V-8 engine start and the consequent rumble of the exhaust through dual pipes. The engine left the factory with a single exhaust pipe, but Mr. Cooper isn’t complaining because he likes the throaty sound emitted from the twin pipes.

He bought the Chevrolet on the spot and, because the owner was a dealer from Florida, he arranged to have the wagon trucked the next day to his Arlington home. The car’s history is a mystery; however, there are indications that it originally was a Michigan car. It was built in Norwood, Ohio.

When Mr. Cooper slid behind the shoulder-wide two-spoke steering wheel with a 360-degree horn ring, old memories were rekindled. He thought, “I am home again.”

The six-passenger wagon is supported by G78x14-inch tires (originally 7.50x14-inch) on a 115-inch wheelbase. The white-sidewall tires, mounted on red wheels, and the two-tone blue body make a very patriotic package.

To access the cargo area it is necessary to first lower the tailgate.

Only then can the liftgate with the window be raised. The rain gutters on each side of the car are connected at the rear as the gutters continue over the tailgate area.

Two small drain holes at the rear corners allow water to exit without drenching the tailgate.

Research shows that Mr. Cooper’s 3,460-pound Chevrolet is one of 27,375 such wagon models built in 1957 and it carried a base price of $2,580. While a 235-cubic-inch six-cylinder engine was available along with a variety of 283-cubic-inch V-8 engines, his 265-cubic-inch V-8 cranks out a healthy 162 horsepower. Additionally, it is mated to a three-speed manual transmission with the optional overdrive.

Other accessories include the AM radio and the heater.

Mr. Cooper believes that the interior, worn in some sports, is original from the headliner down to the carpet. He says the exterior has been repainted but in the original colors.

After purchasing the car and having it delivered, he discovered that his new acquisition with the twin hood ornaments barely, just barely, fits in his garage.

The fit is so tight that he is comfortable garaging his station wagon only by watching his wife, Pat, through the wraparound windshield, giving inch-by-inch directions.

Only once has Mr. Cooper driven his Chevrolet, with its trademark ribbed aluminum panels on the rear fenders, to his work in Crystal City at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Perhaps those ribbed aluminum panels on the Chevrolet’s flanks aren’t a registered trademark after all. He’ll have to look it up.

“It runs nicely,” Mr. Cooper exudes, “and it can be driven at good highway speeds.”

Most importantly, he acknowledges, “I can catch second-gear rubber.”

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