Classic 1957 Chevy Bel Air surf beach cruiser auto biography. Story includes history, facts and information about 57 Chevrolet Belair surfing hardtop. 1957 Chevy Bel Air Surfing Beach Cruiser History - 57 Chevrolet Belair


Classic 1957 Chevy Bel Air surf beach cruiser auto biography. Story includes history, facts, and information about 57 Chevrolet Belair surfing hardtop. Collectible nostalgia memorabilia
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 1957 57 Chevy Chevrolet Surf Car Beach Cruiser   

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'57 Chevy Bel Air Auto Biography

Chapter 1
     A blinding snowstorm raged outside GM's Flint, Michigan production plant the day I rolled off the assembly line. It was Election Day, Tuesday, November 6, 1956, and Ike was winning a landslide second term in the White House. I came to life when a young man slid behind my steering wheel, started my engine for the first time, and drove me to a storage lot. As he did so he turned on my "Wonder Bar" radio just as the deejay was announcing the Nation's new Number One song, "Love Me Tender" by Elvis Presley. It was the King's fifth Number One hit of the year (although no one was yet calling him the King). Little could I have imagined at that moment the very special relationship I would enjoy with Elvis in the years ahead.

   A top-of-the-line Bel Air Sport Coupe two-door hardtop, I was one the first '57 Chevy's made. I sported a 283 cubic inch V-8 engine that produced a sizzling 270 horsepower, thanks to dual four-barrel carburetors, a high-lift camshaft and dual exhausts. The fifties were a time when literally dozens upon dozens of extra-cost options were offered on new cars. I came equipped with most of them -- right down to an under-the-hood light ($2.10), a trunk light ($2.10) and a glove compartment light (a bargain at only $1.15). My base price was $2359.32 (don't forget the 32 cents!). With all the goodies the final price I commanded was well over $3000 -- more than a bare bones Buick Special or Olds 88 sedan. But it was an era when flashy good looks counted for everything.

   Loaded on a semi-trailer transport truck bound for Chicago, I felt like a star on the way to a premiere. On the transport with me were two four-door sedans and a station wagon. One carried the designation of Chevy's middle-line "210" series and the other two that of the bottom-line "150" series. They were solid and reliable cars but if I dare say so, they were definitely "pizzazz-challenged". As we pulled into the dealer's lot my heart pounded with excitement. "I love the two-tone teal with white roof and all the chrome," an admiring voice said. I smiled to myself as I took center stage in the dealer's showroom display.  


Chapter 2
$1.98 Dreams

     My first owner was a pleasant young man named Huey who worked for the Chicago Cubs baseball team. Weekdays I transported him to Wrigley Field and on the weekends we would go for long Sunday afternoon drives. Huey was good to me and life was comfortable, although a little boring. Then one day in early 1958 I overheard him tell someone he was quitting his job and "going for it!" The very next day I felt the smooth stroke of a brush and realized he was painting lettering on my door. "You're going to be working a little harder from now on, pal," Huey said. It seemed like an eternity before we finally drove past a plate glass window so I could read the lettering in the window's reflection. I was puzzled. What in the world is this all about? Hula-what?

   Hula-hoops took off like a rocket! At first I carried only a few boxes of hoops carefully laid on my back seat. A few days later Huey removed my back seat and shortly thereafter added a roof rack. Early every morning I was loaded to capacity and driven all across the city making deliveries. I didn't think of this as work -- the boxes were light the excitement of our success was intoxicating. More than once my owner mused aloud about the beautiful country estate these $1.98 rings of plastic were going to buy us. We would be rich and both of us would just take life easy!

   However one morning as I was lazily dreaming about how nice our life of leisure was going to be, I realized Huey was replacing my back seat and removing my roof rack. "Sorry, pal," he said without emotion, "but this hula-hoop thing is growing like gangbusters. I have to sell you and get a flatbed truck." My world was shattered. I had been loyal and served him faithfully. But he had only been using me and now without even a trace of gratitude I was being dumped -- for a truck no less. The lettering was hastily removed from my doors and the following day I found myself on a used car lot. As I faced an unknown future, I knew only that my dreams of a lazy existence on a country estate had vanished forever. Some pal!  




Chapter 3
Ticket to Freedom

     I was purchased by a man who lacked both the emotion and the enthusiasm you would normally associate with someone buying a car. Immediately we headed south, arriving in Memphis late the same evening. As we turned into a long driveway, we encountered a foreboding iron gate. "Hi, Billy," the guard said. "The boss has been waiting for you to get here with the car." Soon a shadowy figure emerged from the home -- actually a twenty-three-room mansion. He walked slowly toward me, and I knew him instantly.

   As Elvis slid behind my steering wheel he spoke. "Thanks, Billy. This is just the car I need to be able to slip away in. Everyone is watching for a Cadillac and no one is going to look twice at a Chevy." And so for the first time Elvis and I drove out of Graceland Mansion and into the night together. As we did so Elvis patted my dash and whispered, "You're my ticket to a little bit of freedom, my friend. I'm going to enjoy our time together." Me too

   Life was fabulous -- better than anything I had ever imagined in my wildest hula-hoop fantasies. Parked among a fleet of Cadillacs, I was the envy of all. Everyone knew I was the boss' favorite because I provided him the anonymity he craved. I was kept spotless and was always on-call. Slipping out of Graceland into the night was exhilarating for both of us. More than once someone in a passing car would recognize Elvis, and more than once he stomped my accelerator pedal to the floor. As my dual four-barrels kicked in, we would leave yet another gawking fan in the dust. After one such "escape" he mused, "Man, you've got more pick-up and maneuverability than any of my Cadillacs. And my friend, you're a heck of a lot more fun to drive!"

   The years passed blissfully by. However in 1969 Elvis began performing regularly in Las Vegas and was rarely at Graceland. There were no good-byes. One day I was unceremoniously driven to a Memphis used car lot to be sold back into the real world. I had given Elvis the gift of anonymity. Now however, I was suddenly just another very anonymous old Chevy.  


Chapter 4
August 16, 1977

     I was prepared for the worst after my pampered existence at Graceland, but a pleasant surprise lay ahead. My new owner was an Air Force Colonel named Chris, who served as a Military Aide at the White House. His family car was a 1969 Chrysler Town and Country station wagon -- a gas-guzzling behemoth that weighed almost two and a quarter tons! Even at age twelve, however, I was still showroom sharp and continued to draw my share of admiring glances. Chris really enjoyed my quick response and loved to floor the gas at intersections. Life was great -- and interesting too.

   Late one evening in July of 1971 Chris and I headed for the White House -- something we had never done before at night. As we pulled into the back service entrance a man emerged from the shadows and quickly slid into my front passenger seat. "Thank you for the ride, Colonel", the man said. His deep voice and German accent were unmistakable. It was Dr. Henry Kissinger. And our assignment was to transport him to Andrews Air Force Base "incognito". Both Chris and I sensed something monumental was happening. "You have a very sharp car here, Colonel. I always liked the clean styling of this model of Chevrolet. Well, anyway, wish me luck." Dr. Kissinger then hurried to board his waiting plane. As we and the world would later learn, he was off on his groundbreaking trip to China for a secret meeting with Premier Zhou Enlai. Our "lift" was actually the first leg of his historic mission to open Chinese relations.

   The years passed pleasantly and life was good. Then one day Chris got orders to an overseas military assignment. The mood was solemn as he drove me for the last time. The only upbeat thing was that my radio was playing one Elvis song after another without any commercial interruption -- unusual, but I was enjoying the music. Then a very somber deejay interrupted to announce that Elvis Presley was dead. It was August 16, 1977, and I had lost two beloved owners in one day. I was now twenty years old, and this was unquestionably the saddest day of my life.  


Chapter 5
Proverbs, Frankfurters and Tools

     After two great decades my worst fears were becoming reality. Chris had sold me to a Bible salesman whose route traversed the state of Rhode Island. He was a nice enough fellow, although I think he had me confused with a truck. My rear end always felt as if it was going to scrape the pavement due to the fact my trunk and back seat were continually weighed down with untold boxes of The Good Book. I shouldn't complain, however. My next owner, a man from Kentucky, ran a chain of fast food outlets with a menu featuring primarily hot dogs. I was constantly hauling carton upon carton of wieners. They weren't quite as heavy as the Bibles, but they could be messy. Alas, it wasn't until I was sold to a heavy equipment mechanic in Mississippi that I really learned the meaning of messy. Tools. Lots and lots of greasy, grimy, dirty tools. What was left of my once fine upholstery was stained and torn beyond redemption without even an "I'm sorry". It was proverbs in Providence, frankfurters in Frankfort, and tools in Tupelo!

   Life was no longer a joy -- it was now a constant struggle to simply endure. My body was badly scarred with scratches, dings and rust. I knew I was now only a barely recognizable shell of the beauty I had once been. I often thought of the good times at Graceland and the intriguing years with Chris at the White House. And then there was my first owner, Huey, the two-faced hula-hooper (or was it hula-pooper?) who had so unceremoniously dumped me. A brief moment of pleasure in my otherwise dull existence came when one of my confused owners (one of the many who confused me with a truck) loaded me full of -- you guessed it -- hula-hoops! This particular fellow happened to be an avid flea market seller. "I only paid a dime apiece but I can't give these &#!%* things away," he cursed as we headed for the dump. Carrying that load of hula-hoops to their eternal rest was one time I didn't mind at all being used for a truck. My momentary pleasure was enhanced even more as I conjured up a vision of Huey now penniless and perhaps living homeless (maybe living in an old truck!) near a dump just like this one. It would be such sweet justice for "my old pal"! 


Chapter 6
The Scalpel

     As the decade of the nineties dawned it appeared as though my life had come to an end. My transmission had given out and I was abandoned on the spot -- in a dense patch of forest in northern California. Occasionally scavengers would stop and take some part off of me that they needed. One even went so far as to unbolt and steal my front fender! Soon however I was covered with vines and foliage, protected and barely visible to passersby's. Life seemed without hope and I found myself drifting through the seasons in a near-comatose state.   

   "I can make at least three pieces out of this," a somewhat gruff voice said. Awakening from my slumber I found myself being pulled from the snarled growth that fought relentlessly to keep me ensnared. I didn't understand the "three pieces" comment, but I was clearly on my way back to civilization. At that moment the chance to resume my life again was all that mattered.

   A butcher -- the guy was a butcher! I soon learned he planned to dissect me and make three pieces of trendy furniture out of me! His first project would be to turn my trunk area into a couch that would feature my tail-fin fenders as the two armrest ends. How gross! I had heard that with the fifties nostalgia craze making couches and other "hip" furniture out of old cars was in vogue, and that '57 Chevies were the most desirable of all. Please. Take me to the junkyard -- run me through a car crusher even -- but leave me in one piece! Oh to be back in the forest and to feel the grip of those protective clinging vines "lovingly" holding me safe once again.

   Luckily fate intervened. As the day of my "surgery" grew near a young man who had seen me parked along side the butcher's shop asked to buy me. "Well", the butcher said, "since I've got two other fifty-sevens in better shape than this one, I guess I can let you have it. Besides, it's missing a fender I need to make a small cocktail bar with.” I didn't know where the young man was taking me, but I could have cared less. I had escaped my date with the scalpel. 


Chapter 7
A Second Chance

     "My name is David," the kindly but firm young voice said. "I haven't got any money to spend improving your looks, but I know where I can get a transmission and I'll make you run again. I spend every spare moment at the beach surfing, so it would be pointless to fix up your body. It'd just rust out in the salt air anyway." However David did make me whole again with a used replacement fender. "One of these days I'll paint it to match the rest of you," he said.

   Back in 1957 I had been "it" -- the total embodiment of chrome and glitter in the Age of Pizzazz. My sharp good looks had been all-important to me. How vain I had been! Now none of that mattered anymore. Beneath my wrinkled and rusted skin I was alive and healthy -- and more importantly, I was wanted and appreciated once again. Not since my hula-hoop days had I worn a roof rack -- however this time it was being used to strap on surfboards. David asked only that I carry him from beach to beach and wait patiently. Alas, I had been blessed with a second chance at life. I wonder -- could those thousands of Bibles I "faithfully" carried all across Rhode Island have had anything to do with my good fortune?

   My new home was the prestigious oceanside community of La Jolla, California. I'm sure some saw me as an eyesore but I could have cared less. David and I spent every possible moment at the beach. From Oceanside to Carlsbad to Encinitas to Cardiff to Solana to Del Mar and on down to Pacific, Mission and Ocean Beach -- David and I were an inseparable pair. Surfboards strapped on, I faithfully carried him up and down the San Diego coastline. Wherever the waves were breaking, that's where we were. Often we traveled I-5, and I still had what it took. David loved to stomp my gas pedal and leave yet another modern four-cylinder wonder as if it were standing still. Life was good and I wanted for nothing. The golden California sun warmed my rough and weathered skin and I felt a sense of calm and inner well-being. My four-barrels inhaled the salty Pacific air deeply and the exhilaration was profound. Could life get any better? 


Chapter 8
Eight Hundred Dollars


     "Eight hundred dollars is a lot of money, pal, but you are definitely worth it." What was David talking about? Eight hundred dollars? David's next sentence answered the question. "It's going to cost $800 to ship you to Maui, but how could I surf Paradise without you?" For the first time in forty years a tear fell from my eye. Every cruiser's dream is Maui -- blue skies, gentle trade winds, golden sand beaches, palm trees -- and always an easy laid-back life style. Boy, those Bibles were definitely working overtime!

   David and I have settled in among the hundreds of other young people who comprise Maui's North Shore surfing community. Living in the lush tropical area known as Haiku we are only minutes from the best beaches on the planet. When David isn't working at his job in a surfboard shop, it is guaranteed we can be found at the beach. In addition to longboard surfing we can often be found windsurfing at Hookipa Beach or perhaps kitesurfing at Kanaha Beach. As I wait patiently along the shore I still draw my share of admiring glances. There are a few who find my badly weathered looks pathetic. But most recognize my appearance embodies the character that is the essence of a true cruiser.

   Every moment is precious, but the most wonderful time of all is around sunset when David slips on my favorite CD. "Dreams come true in Blue Hawaii" -- and as my beloved Elvis croons I close my eyes and taste the Heaven those Bibles spoke of. There are a lot of immaculately restored '57 Chevies still around. Their chrome glistens and their open, airy, and vivid colorful interiors are spotless. These polished classics have become symbols of a romanticized era, the Fifties. Well, the Fifties was a great decade. Spawning a revolution in car styling and performance, it also gave birth to rock and roll. But the truth is I would far rather be who I am and where I am today. For me happiness is being alive and a vital part of an exciting new century. Surrounded by young people and the invigorating surfing scene, Maui is my Shangri-La. Dreams really do come true in Blue Hawaii.

-- The End --

© Cruiser Art 1999-2015


(Note:  This Auto Biography is included with each Chevy Bel Air print)