Bob Brown says he bought his 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air convertible for a song. Actually, it was a much sought-after 1941 Martin guitar that was sold to provide the funds to purchase the car.
More than 50 years ago, he and most of his teenage classmates at George Washington High School in Alexandria, drooled over the new 1957 Chevrolet models. Years later, he acquired a 1957 Chevrolet two-door hardtop. “I loved it,” he says, but it was sold to a man in Philadelphia - a sale he came to regret.
Last year, Mr. Brown decided he needed another 1957 Chevrolet in his life and began looking for a Bel Air convertible. His search for a pristine example took him all over the country before he went online and discovered what he was looking for in Knoxville, Tenn.
It was a matador red Bel Air convertible with a white top that was fresh from restoration in Beggs, Okla. Mr. Brown promptly drove to Knoxville to see if the car lived up to the advertised claims.
He found a car with no rust or plastic body filler, and it had been driven only 27 miles since the completion of the restoration. “It was done right,” an impressed Mr. Brown exclaims.
The 283-cubic-inch V-8 engine was topped with a pair of four-barrel carburetors under a batwing air cleaner. The carburetion setup wasn’t functioning properly, so Mr. Brown was offered a steeply discounted price if he would accept a functioning single four-barrel carburetor.
He quickly accepted the deal. He knew the dual carburetors and air cleaner could be overhauled and installed after he got the car home.
He purchased the Chevrolet on April 23, 2008, and returned to his Leesburg, Va., home to anxiously await the truck that was to deliver his car. It arrived a week later on April 30. Papers that came with the car indicate it was manufactured in Oakland, Calif., but until it reached the Oklahoma restoration shop, it’s whereabouts were unknown. A total of 47,562 Bel Air convertibles were built in the 1957 model year, each one weighing 3,409 pounds and leaving the factory with a base price of $2,511. Precious few, however, were built with no accessories.
“It’s beautiful. It’s a good-looking car,” a satisfied Mr. Brown says. The trunk is high, wide and deep with the 6.70x15-inch spare tire standing upright on the right side. Part of the chrome trim at the end of the left rear fender swings open to reveal the gas cap. The reupholstered silver, red and black interior stands in contrast to the black carpet. The car is equipped with power steering, power brakes, power seat and a power top. “I look at the car and can’t believe I have it,” an incredulous Mr. Brown says.
Soon after he got the car home, he discovered an unpleasant surprise: a puddle of gasoline under the convertible. Luckily, the leak was traced to a sending unit, which simply had to be tightened to fix the problem.
Matching the dual hood ornaments at the front are the dual radio antennas at the other end of the car. “One of the antennas is a dummy and doesn’t work,” Mr. Brown says. In 1957, style still counted for something. “Sometimes,” he says, “I look at the car and can’t believe I have it.”
Since becoming the owner, Mr. Brown has driven his Chevrolet convertible about 300 miles on its 115-inch wheelbase. The rear wheel covers are almost covered by the teardrop-shaped fender skirts.
Mr. Brown laments the fact that so many 1957 Chevrolets have been hot-rodded. He prefers the cars that have been kept the way they were built. As for his Chevrolet, he says, “I can drive it anywhere, and I intend to.”