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This 1957 Bel Air two-door hardtop came off the assembly line Tuesday, April 09, 1957, from the Los Angeles, California plant. It was then delivered some time thereafter to Courtesy Chevrolet in Los Angeles, California. My father, Anthony Bonno, 24-years-old and working as a mechanic there, bought it new. He had it a few years before meeting and marrying my mother, Janet. I was brought home as a baby in this car as well. My memories of this car are strong, from weekly visits to my grandmother’s house for dinner, going to church and sleeping in the back seat on the way home every Sunday.
The car was turned into a second driver after my father bought a 1969 Impala around 1971. Then around 1975 the Bel Air was parked on the side of the house for a few years before it was moved into the garage. I remember that day around 1978 when my father started it so he could move it into the garage. Once he got it started, he took a lap around the block before parking it in the garage. I remember him coming down the street and up into the driveway and almost going through the back of our garage! He got out of the Bel Air laughing, and I asked why. He said he lost his brakes coming up into the driveway and barely got it stopped with the hand brake.
So, there it sat in the garage for 20 years. During that time, many different things were stacked on top and around it. As the years went by, there was a host of family and friends asking my father if he wanted to sell his Bel Air. Of course, the answer was “no.” I remember one of those times back in the early ’80s, when my family was struggling a bit and an uncle brought over a “car guy” to make my father an offer of over $10,000. The answer was “no” again, and my uncle was a bit upset that my dad did not take the offer, especially when it would have helped us out. So, back to the “struggle” my family went, but my dad still had his Bel Air sitting in the garage.
In late 1998 the Bel Air saw some daylight and was put on a trailer for a move to my parents’ new house. Along that journey my father had some great offers yelled at him from people out their windows as the Bel Air made its way down the highway. The Bel Air made it to its new home still under my dad’s possession and then it sat garaged again until May 14, 2002.
In the summer of 2002, after attending a car show and seeing a nice 1957 Bel Air, and a host of other cars, I started thinking of the potential of my father’s, so we sat down and discussed the cars I’d seen that weekend. We talked about what it would take in time, energy, parts, and money. Then we decided it was time to start restoring his Bel Air.
We aired the tires up and took it out of the garage, washed it, stuck the hub caps on, and took “before” pictures. Over the next 8 or so months we stripped the car down. The underbody, chassis and engine compartments got stripped and painted. The front and rear suspension were refurbished with new bushings, springs and steering components. The original 283 was tired, my dad said he had put new rings in one too many times, so it ended up gettign bored out. While the motor was in the machine shop, my father rebuilt the 2-speed cast iron Powerglide. It was an awesome thing to watch him disassemble it on the tailgate of his 1969 C10 pickup. At one point, he couldn’t find some tools to help, so he used some scrap metal and created his own. I was amazed to see him dump the buckets of parts out and sort everything to re-assemble the Powerglide without even a book to help.
As the restoration came up on about two years, I got involved with other hobbies and set aside the project.
My father let the project stall too, being that my interests were elsewhere. During this time, the Bel Air sat with no progress, and unfortunately during that time my father passed away. One of my biggest regrets in life was wasting the opportunity to finish his car alongside him and see him drive it. With little motivation after my father died, I let the Bel Air sit for a few more years collecting dust and with no restoration progress.
In 2011, while looking at my father’s car sitting in pieces, I realized that it was a shame to not have a piece of my father’s legacy and my childhood completed. I pooled all my resources and made the commitment that my father’s Bel Air restoration/preservation project would be priority #1. There would be no stopping, stalling or quitting until it was finished. I decided to do a complete body-off, nut-and-bolt restoration and preservation using the CCI Judging and Guidelines Handbook as a guide to restoring it back to original.
All chassis, suspension, brackets, rims, seat frames, etc. have been powder coated to the proper color scheme. The glass has been replaced with new date-coded EZ Eye glass. Specific hardware, linkage and hood hinges were CAD plated. Others were left natural, cleaned and clear coated. The exterior is painted Onyx Black over the Matador Red interior to match the paint code 793A and trim code 676. For the underbody, Red Oxide primer was color matched into single stage paint for an easier cleanup from road grime. A complete new wiring harness was installed to replace the brittle 54-year-old original. It is equipped with the original Turbo-Fire V8 283/185 engine featuring a Rochester two-barrel carburetor, and the engine is mated to two-speed cast-iron Powerglide transmission into 3:55 ratio stock differential. The exhaust package is two into one. Braking is supplied by Treadle-Vac power brakes and factory power steering to help stop and steer the 3,000-pound-plus Bel Air. It has its original clock and radio along with all original dash instrument gauges that have been refurbished back to perfect working order.
Accomplishing this task took 30-months. As soon as it was roadworthy, my first road trip was to bring the Bel Air to my mother and father’s final resting place for them to see. It was emotional, to say the least, standing there in the presence of my parents and my father’s Bel Air.
My father’s Bel Air has been judged by the Antique Automobile Club of America (AACA) scoring 400/400 at the Palm Springs, California event on its first showing, and it won First Junior in the class. It has also been judged by the Vintage Chevrolet Club of America (VCCA) at the Tustin and Burbank, California meets and scored 994/1000 and 996/1000 respectively. It took First Junior & First Senior in the class, and was awarded Best In Show at both events.
– James B., California
bless you james. what a touching story.
Heartwarming. Be grateful for your upbringing and heritage.
James, I know you regret not finishing the car with your dad, but maybe in some way that was his last life lesson for you about growing up, priorities, etc. God has a way of giving our parents the wisdom to teach us lessons we need, sometimes without our parents knowledge or understanding. Regardless, your story is beautiful and what an awesome tribute you have as a reminder of your father! Cherish those memories!!!
Great respect to these 3 comments and the deep story of James family.
So deeply true.
And to James: Your father can see all and feel you.
I write the first time on that platform.
My 89 year old father has told me he wants to ride in my 1970 Olds before he goes.
It’s been a back burner project for me since 2000. Owned it since 1989.
Time to get it back on the road.
Thanks for the inspirational story.
I have a 57 2 Dr Ht I bought when I was 16, 1964. Paid $750 for it. It’s was originally black, currently red, been British racing green. It’s been parked since 1992 moved once during that time. It came with a 3 sp. O.D. has a 4sp. The bench set was replaced with 63 Corvair bucket seats. Things you did when you were a teenager. Has less than 100,000 original miles. When I moved it in 2017 a guy offered me $30,000.