Thursday, November 19, 2015

Texas Classic Chevy Experience-The Beginning

Texas Classic Chevy Experience
The Beginning
It's a Texas Thang
by Alan Arnell
The Texas Classic Chevy Experience Bolg will be related to 1955, 1956 and 1957 Chevrolets, the so called Tri-Fives. I own one and love to drive the open road with my Tri-Five.  My passion for Tri-Fives is vast.  I enjoy reading about them, working on them, writing about and attending Tri-Five events in the North Texas region.

I have many ideas for future Blogs for the Texas Classic Chevy Experience. I have been writing and posting photos and articles for years in different media outlets. I have decided to share my thoughts, research, and events I attend in the Tri-Five hobby in this form as well. I sincerely hope you will enjoy my Blog, where I wish to share my passion for all things Classic Chevy. Please stop back for new Blogs and please tell your friends to check out my Blog.
Now I will give the reader a short explanation as to why I am car crazy and a little about  my current ride, which is a 1957 Chevrolet-Model 150-two door sedan.

Like many other classic car enthusiasts, I have always remembered which cars made me excited during my childhood and adulthood.  As you may already have guessed, the start of my obsession with cars began with a 1957 Chevy.  I grew up in the Lanes which is a part of Mossville, Illinois which is a northern suburb of Peoria, Illinois.    My parents owned and drove from 1958 to 1972 an Adobe Beige (which is a coral pink) and India Ivory (off white) 4 door Hardtop 1957 Chevrolet Belair.

Therefore, I will write several Blogs in the future about our hobby and what I have learned about Tri-Five Chevys including my car. I plan to make listings of North Texas Car Shows in the beginning at least. Although, I am far from an expert mechanic or auto body repair man, I am a good researcher and was in public education for 30 years, prompting me to write tech articles. Mostly, my Blog’s plan is to write what is on my mind related to all things Texas Classic Chevys.

Standing up on the back seat leaning over the front seat, not ever knowing what a seat belt or booster seat was, I can distinctly remember saying to this day fifty some odd years later, “Mama! Put it into passing gear.” My mother, I guess than for no other reason than to shut me up, would floor the accelerator of the family ‘57 kicking in all 4 barrels of the 283 cubic inch Chevy small block engine’s carburetor.  What made the experience even better was that the ‘57 had so called “glass-pack mufflers.” Those cheap mufflers to my delight produced a most pleasant roar. The throaty full deep prolong cry flowed by a back peddle popping sound out of the dual exhaust pipes was a very pleasing tune to my young tender ears.

You see, we lived in Illinois where rust is a real problem, especially with the exhaust system.  My Dad, a product of growing up during the Depression-era, would buy the least expensive mufflers, which were called, in those days, by him at least, “Glasspacks”, which made the 283’s exhaust louder than a regular muffler. My Mother's car sounded like a real speedster and the neighbors all jokingly called my Mother “Hot Rod” due to the rumblings the '57 produced cruising up and down our cookie cutter house lane. Sadly, even though there was no body rust and the car looked brand new, my father sold our '57 when I was 14 for $150 to buy a truck camper.  Back then, in his view, it was just an old car.

When I became interested in cars in 1963, there were several kids in the neighborhood that were 10 or more years older than myself that were hot rodding '57 Chevys. I used to watch them tearing around the neighborhood in their '57’s with reverse chrome wheels and no front bumper up until my early teens.  I was so enamored, I even made a plastic model of what my '57 would look like if I had one.  Of course it had no front bumper, was painted yellow, with an off centered racing stripe and multiple “STP” and Moon stickers. How else would you want you Tri-Five to look? To this day many, many years later, I still have that model car, that I constructed during my single digit years as a boy.

I feel I had the bad luck of being born at the end of the Baby Boomers generation.  By the time I turned 16 in 1974, most of the Tri-Fives in Illinois were pretty much rusted hulks in some salvage yard or already sent to the crusher. Whereas in Texas, I was later to learn after I moved there in 1983, that TRI5's abounded in the 70’ and could be easily and routinely purchased for a couple hundred dollars. These facts make me sad about what I missed.

Meanwhile in the Rust Belt, Tri-Fives were hard find period not alone within a 17 year old's budget. So, that being said, I purchased a 1969 Chevelle.  I drove, hot rodded and maintained the Chevelle throughout high school and college. The poor old girl had a hard life. I replaced the engine, 3 transmissions and repaired rust holes followed by two paint jobs. When I moved to Texas, I sold the Chevelle for $300. Later in 1992 when I went back to Illinois to visit friends and family, I was told my Chevelle was in a ditch in the back pasture on a farm in Dunlap, Illinois to help stop soil erosion. Even a grown man has feeling upon hearing that terrible miserable fact of the fate of his first car he slaved on an loved as a young man. To best describe the feeling, think of how you would feel if you learned that your mother had been discarded and thrown into a wet-muddy-cold ditch! A kick in the pants to say the least to say the most.

Fast forward to 2000 and once again that strong desire to have a hot rod came over me.  I didn’t want to travel the same path again with a muscle cars or sports cars, which I had dabbled with in the interim.  I set my sights on my first car love and lust, a 1957 Chevy.  With stars in my eyes, I started looking for a '57. Of course I wanted a Belair hard-top coupe. After looking in magazines and the newspapers I had no real success with my search. Computers had not gain favor at the time to aid with my search.

As luck would have it, in The Colony, Texas, where I lived, there is a classic auto dealer lot called Pat’s Auto Sales.  I had been going there for years just to look at the cars, as if it were my own little car show. One night I found a dark blue 2 door Belair hardtop.  I thought strongly about that '57 for a couple of weeks. After fighting through much hesitation, I decided to buy the car only to find a sold sign posted on the windshield.
Well, I moped around for a day or so before breaking down to call the car lot to say, “If for some reason the sale on the blue '57 doesn’t go through, give me a call because I’m interested.” The owner Pat replied, “I’m getting a candy apple red '57 with yellow and orange flames in today as trade-in. Why don’t you come on down and have a look, I think you will like this car even better than the blue '57.” Candy apple red,” I thought, “I’ve always wanted a candy apple red car.”

The next morning, I drove down to the classic car lot to have a look at the candy apple '57. When I arrived at the car lot I immediately liked the flames and the red paint of the '57, but it was a post sedan. I had my heart set on a hard top.  Then, as I walked closer to get a better look at the '57 in question, I blurted out loud, “What is wrong with the side of that thing?”  Pat calmly told me, “This car is of course a '57 Chevy. In that model year they had three trim levels.  This car doesn’t have the stainless diamonds on the side like the Belair or the painted diamonds like the 210 model. This wonderful car is an 150 model. As you can see the trim on the side looks somewhat like a '55 Chevy 210.” Pat added, “What makes this car special is that real hot rodders and NASCAR drivers preferred the 150 model, because it has the lowest factory weight of any '57 and the post between the driver and passenger side windows gives the frame more rigidity.” Well, he could have saved his breath because he had me at candy apple red!

Yet, I have always been told to, “Look before you leap,” but on the other hand they also say, “He who hesitates is lost.” Still, I had never seen a One-Fifty before and it was was not what I wanted.  Even though I went for a test drive and even liked the look of the car’s paint along with its performance, I passed on buying that day.  So, you could say it was not love at first sight.

I went home that night with the intention of continuing my search. Still nagging me in the back of my head as I half watched “Queer as Folk” with my wife (I guess there is no limit to what a man will do for love) was the thought of buying that candy apple red '57. As the TV droned on about a new haircut, my mind wandered, imagine that. My thoughts went to what was really important to me, having my own fire breathing '57 Chevy. I started thinking. I love the flames. I love the candy apple red paint. I love the price. And, do I really need a Belair? I set there mulling over my musings, when my wife always a tuned to my moods asked, “A penny for your thoughts?”

I said, “Well even though I am enjoying watching TV with you controlling the remote, I'm thinking about that red '57 I looked at today.” With an extraordinary show of support the wife said, “You have been looking for a year for your little car. This car you saw today is what you want, just go get it and stop trying to chase that dream of what you want and get what you can find. You'll never find a better car in our price range. Besides, I like candy apple red better than the blue of that other car and it $5,000 cheaper.” With that much needed spark of my wife’s two cents, the car started growing on me more and more to the point that the next day I went back to Pat’s to plopped down my money and drove her to her new home, mine!

I didn’t do any restoration work on her for a year or more. I just wanted to enjoy driving her every chance I could find during my 50 hour work week.

After that first year I started working on upgrading the old girl by first putting in the poor man’s power steering. That upgrade didn’t help to make getting out of my garage much easier.  To make steering the car easier, I put in a 605 steering box. Next, I broke the original rear end - showing off - and had to replace it with a 10 bolt rear end. The trunk was junk, so I cut it out and replaced the sheet metal.  The motor and transmission mounts were cracked and worn out and had to be replaced.  The gas tank fell out after coming back from a GoodGuys Show after running over some railroad tracks. I had to replace the holding metal bands.

I drag raced  my '57 for a couple years in the Texas Muscle Car Club Challenge to win several top eliminator competitions.

Mostly during that time of my early years of ownership, I did a great deal of scraping, sanding and sandblasting of old paint and rusted metal of the under carriage.

Texas is flat out hot in the summer prompting me to install a Classic Air-AC unit. And, new gaskets, brakes, wiring harness and other assorted items for safety or comfort.

I like working on and upgrading the old girl, but my first love is driving her.  I have made a deal with myself that I will only work on her for 4 months out of the year and drive her 8 months.  When people ask me when I’ll be done with her, I say “never. There is always something with these old cars”. I like working on the the car. Upgrading and fixing the things is their own reward, however driving a classic car is where the real fun is for me.

Over the years, I have taken my '57 to many car shows.  Even though I consider her to be a heap, I have won a first place and several second and third place trophies at local car shows.  Mostly, I went to the car shows and events to talk about cars with people that are as car crazy as I am.  That desire to talk cars took me to join the Dallas Area Classic Chevy Club in the spring of 2005.

Numerous folks often ask: “Is it stock?”  I reply, “No, only the body is stock.”  My ‘57 is a continual work in progress.  I seem to always have a repair or parts waiting for another upgrade of the old girl.  The car is a good learning experience and pleasure.  Along with all the mechanical work and driving,  I also enjoy researching many things related to my car, Tri-Fives in general, car shows and mechanical repair and restoration.

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