- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 30, 2004

One of the 205,545 Chevrolet 210 model two-door sedans manufactured in the 1956 model year went straight from the factory in Baltimore to Harrisonburg Motors in the Shenandoah Valley.

The only accessory on the all-black, 16-foot, 5.5-inch-long middle-of-the-line Chevrolet was a 265-cubic-inch, 162-horsepower V-8 engine. The original owner took the car home to Runyon’s Creek Road near Timberville, Va. After 55,000 miles, the owner parked the Chevrolet next to an old school bus he called home. The car sat there so long that it sank axle-deep in the mud.

That’s where Tom McGehee first saw the car as he drove by in 1985. Many years before, he had owned a 1956 Chevrolet and the stuck-in-the-mud car caught his attention. “The original black paint had been covered with a coat of black house paint,” Mr. McGehee says.

With persistent help from his father-in-law, the two convinced the owner, after two years, that he should sell the Chevrolet. Mr. McGehee purchased the car in November 1987. After a tractor pulled it out of the mud, it was towed to his in-laws’ house in nearby Broadway.

Mr. McGehee’s wife, Fran, recalls, “I thought it was just another folly of his and paid no attention.”

Rodents had taken up residence inside the car while under the hood was a mess of another sort. “There were broken eggs on the motor when chickens had roosted,” Mr. McGehee says. Residue from the chickens was cleaned and after a bit of a struggle with the two-barrel Rochester carburetor, the engine started. It ran without making any omelets.

After the Chevrolet languished a few years at the house of patient in-laws, Mr. McGehee had the car hauled to his home in Dunn Loring, where it remained parked a few more years.

The black house paint covering the car was depressing so Mr. McGehee, after towing the car back to the Shenandoah Valley, went to the other extreme and had it painted all white. Soon afterward, it was towed to storage on Cobb Island in Maryland.

Since 1987, when he acquired the car, Mr. McGehee had been traveling to Carlisle, Pa. for the spring and fall antique auto events.

There he would rummage through the goods of countless vendors in search of whatever part was needed for the eventual restoration of his 1956 Chevrolet.

Friends over the years saw him buy parts for a 1956 Chevrolet but had never actually seen the car and began to question its very existence.

Nevertheless, Mr. McGehee persevered and in 1998 had the car towed to the garage of his mechanic brother-in-law, Kent Cullers, in the Shenandoah Valley.

The restoration clock began ticking.

Both the engine and manual three-speed transmission were removed and rebuilt. Everything electrical was replaced, as was the interior. The unpadded dashboard is painted black to match the medium-grade black carpeting. Ivory vinyl and green fabric were found to match the original upholstery. The headliner is white and the visors are gray. Regardless of the color of the car, when it came to visors, Mr. McGehee says, “One color fits all.”

As restoration of the black car, now white, progressed, a color — or colors — had to be selected.

Mr. McGehee and his wife agonized off and on for five years about the color. Eventually they settled on a black/white combination.

A new set of small hubcaps was found to add sparkle to the black wheels wrapped with 6.70x15-inch B.F. Goodrich Silvertown white sidewall tires. The wheelbase is 117 inches.

During restoration Mr. McGehee was pleased to learn the car had never been wrecked. Rust, however, required the replacement of the floor pan along with both rocker panels.

Earlier this year, upon learning that the end of the restoration was in sight, Mr. McGehee, now living in Annandale, had to hustle and build a suitable garage for his Chevrolet. On Sept. 19 — his birthday — he slid behind the two-spoke steering wheel of his 3,167-pound car and drove it into its new garage.

The speedometer can register speeds up to 120 mph but he has no intention of testing the accuracy of that instrument.

After more than 17 years of ownership Mr. McGehee finally has registered his 1956 Chevrolet, which had a base price of $1,912 when it was new. That was 56,410 miles ago.

The same month he brought the car home, he found a new carburetor in Pennsylvania. As soon as he gets it installed, he hopes to take his wife for her first ride in the car.

He will probably find a malt shop for their destination, just like the good old days when she liked banana milkshakes.

The only difference now, Mr. McGehee says, “She can’t eat in the car.”

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