In 1958, I turned 16 and got my first car, a ’50 Chevy convertible my two older sisters had abandoned. I fixed it up, and for the next two years it was my cruiser for school, and most importantly, the drive-ins at night!
Back then, on the west side of Denver, the hot spots to cruise were Berry’s Drive in, 2 Frosted Scotchman’s, The White Spot, and a couple more.
One early summer night, I was backed in at Berry’s and in the show lane” here comes this beautiful yellow and black ’51 Chevy Bel Air. A friend was behind the wheel. It turned out his dad was a parts manager for one of the Chevrolet dealers, and a lady traded it in for a new 1959 Chevy. His dad bought it for him and this was his first night to cruise in it.
The car was like new. He had put some chrome wheels on it, and lowered the front-end a little, but the rest was original.
A few weeks later, I’m parked again at Berry’s and here comes that same Bel Air, but this time the hood was off and there was a 283 V8 in it. At that moment, I forgot all about girls!
From that moment on, I wanted a yellow and black ’51 Bel Air. A few years ago, I got serious about it and found one with 38,000 miles. It had been setting out for a while under a tree that dripped sap on it that made it look like it was rusted. It didn’t look very good, but I saw the body was very straight and not one single piece was missing from the car.
It had nylon-covered seats. (Folks used to buy a new car and right away cover the new seats with store bought seat covers)
I was curious to see how badly it needed upholstery, so I took out my pocketknife and made a small slit to see if the padding and springs needed to be replaced. I tore a larger slit and to my surprise, the seats were like brand new! That’s the original interior you see in the photo. Real black leather and fabric inserts. Only convertibles and Bel Airs had this leather/fabric interior.
We did a body off restoration and while that was going on, the frame was reinforced and a 502/502 horsepower Chevy crate motor was fitted with 3-inch stainless steel exhaust. A Richmond 6 -speed trans with overdrive and a narrowed ’97 C4 Corvette rear were installed. So the exhaust pipes can go over the rear axles, the fuel tank had to be removed and a fuel cell was installed in the trunk.
The original yellow that came on the car had too much brown and even some green in it, so I picked ’67 Camaro butternut and black.
Everything was re-chromed, pot metal restored, and 140 feet of stainless steel polished. All the glass was good, but was replaced with new tinted glass.
The result — A stunning example of an original-bodied ’51 Chevy Bel Air that runs and sounds great. This is another of my cars that turns heads wherever I show it. I have shown my ’ 50 and the ’51 together on occasion.
They gather a crowd!
— Roxy Vendena, Arvada CO
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