As long as I can remember I’ve been interested in cars even before I could drive—from rides at Chucky Cheese to building a soap box derby car with my dad. When I was a teenager, I won a poster of a ’57 Chevy Bel Air at a fair. There was something about that turquoise car that I just had to have so I set out to find my dream car, but a few things happened first.
For me, one car sort of leads to another. I turned 16 and I set out to find my first car. A friend of my dad’s had a ’55 Chevy Stepside for sale so he took me to look at it. I liked the Volkswagen blue and cream show truck enough to get a loan (which I paid off in 6 months) and with cash in hand made an offer. My mom was out of town at the time and she opened the garage when she got home, looked at my dad and said “Kevin what did you do?” thinking he bought the truck for himself.
He said, “I didn’t do anything look at your daughter.”
I had fun taking it to the drive-in with friends, the drag strip on weekends and winning the high school class at just about every car show in and around Omaha. It wasn’t a practical first car so I didn’t drive it to school and when I drove it to work, my mom would stop on her way home, leave her car for me and take it back to the garage. That’s what led me to my next car, a ’71 Chevelle.
I purchased my second car before I graduated high school. After going to a handful of auctions, I saw an ad in Autotrader for a Chevelle in Valparaiso, Nebraska, and went to look at it. It was the one.
The one owner, numbers matching Chevelle became my daily driver for the next five to six years as I finished high school and went on to college. I would fix things as they went wrong with the help of my dad and friends. We pulled the engine and restored it when the timing chain broke on the way home from a car show, patched and painted the entire car when rust started to appear over the quarter panels and so on.
I drove it every day even in the winter and we all know what a Nebraska winter can do to a car. So now I’m in the process, 20 years later, restoring it back to the way it looked when I bought it, but that’s another story.
I still didn’t have my dream car, so I kept looking. At one point I found a dusty pearl ’57 Bel Air that was completely restored. I made a deposit only to find out the guy was getting a divorce and didn’t want to share the profits with his ex so he backed out of the deal.
My parents also fueled the fire. One Christmas they had me do a scavenger hunt, which ended in the garage and I was sure it had to be a Bel Air. It was, just not a car. It was a ’57 Bel Air radio/tape player.
I kept scouring the classic car ads in the paper every weekend until one day there was a ’57 Bel Air Sport Coupe listed for sale in Omaha. My dad and I went to look at it. The numbers matching engine had already been rebuilt but it was a project car. A project I was willing to tackle to get my dream car, so I bought it on June 29, 2001.
The car also came with boxes and boxes of past issues of Classic Chevy International dating back to the time I was born to the early 2000s when I purchased the vehicle. Each issue included tech articles detailing how to restore the car. The work began to do a complete off-frame restoration and those tech articles came in handy—proof that content marketing works.
My dad and I disassembled the car bagging and tagged everything as we went. As we were disassembling, we ran into a few surprises—the floor was rusted through and there was pitting under the aluminum side panel insert—the car needed a lot of bodywork. By July 2001, the car was off the frame and down to complete metal.
I didn’t want a lot of filler in the car, so as part of the restoration it got new quarter panels, door skins, front fenders, and a floor. You’ve heard of barn finds but have you heard of barn restorations? After a lot of realignment, I pulled it from the body shop (which is no longer around) and the body guy finished the work in my dad’s barn.
After the bodywork was complete and a lot of sanding and prep work, the car received a fresh coat of paint. By November 2005, the car had been its original colors of tropical turquoise and Indian ivory for the first time since it was built in 1957.
Then it was time to put everything back together. In total it took about 10 years to complete, but every nut and bolt was restored to original. My goal was to have it complete in time to enter it in the Young Guys category (before I was too old) at the Goodguys show at Kansas Speedway. After a lot of blood, sweat and tears, it was finished in time to make a lap around the track.
I’ll keep the Bel Air forever. As for the truck, it’s the only vehicle I’ve ever sold. There were some things I didn’t like about it. I’m building a ’57 Chevy Stepside with my dad to replace it and the Chevelle is currently being restored.
The story doesn’t end there. I got a 2004 Avalanche after I graduated college which will need restoration soon and my daily driver is a supercharged Rocky Ridge Callaway Tahoe.
What’s next? Now that I have a family, I would love to get a ’56 Nomad and my husband, who is the real mechanic in the family, is on the hunt for a ’71 Nova, which is what he drove in high school and college. I think we’ll have a few more projects in the future.
This story was originally published by Kelsey Bugjo with Speedway Motors.