One man’s trash, is another’s treasure
Get the inside story on the 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air two-door hard top entered in RACQ’s MotorFest competition.
To celebrate MotorFest 2020, each week, RACQ Living will be conducting a Q&A with an entrant to find out a little bit more about them and their prized vehicle.
For the fourth instalment, Charles Harley, a Chevrolet enthusiast, shares the story of how he purchased a 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air two-door hard top which had sat dormant in a shed for 12 years and transformed it into an award-winning pro tourer.
Can you tell me a bit about the history of your 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air two-door hard top?
I bought the car about six years as a shell. It was a project another person had started for his wife. He had stripped the car down, blasted it and purchased a whole heap of parts and put it all in the shed where it sat for 12 years. I came along and bought the car. It was essentially just the cab, chassis, doors and front guards. I ended up selling most of the parts he bought for the car as it wasn’t suitable for my vision.
What modifications have you done to the Bel Air?
That’s a never-ending list (laughs). From the front, the major modifications have been a handmade grille and bumper and a custom one-piece no-bolt hood. We re-fashioned the front of the car and bonnet, included fully customised headlights, shaved the door handles and mirrors, and cut and shut around the front windscreen and rear windscreen, so they’re flush-mounted. We also raised the rear of the roof around 15mm to get a gentle curve along the back down onto the rear windscreen. We installed new rear quarter panels as the original rear panels were pretty shoddy and handmade a new rear bumper. We removed the park light nose which came as standard on the ’57 and fashioned in our own LED lights. We also shaved the boot, so there were no emblems or strips or anything like that on the car. If you look around the side mouldings, they’ve all been sanded back and painted satin black. They also sit about 50mm lower than the original position, and the front one is also shortened to the vicinity of the wheelbase. I could talk about the car modifications for a lifetime.
Why was the Bel Air your dream car?
I was initially looking for a ’55 two-door hard top as that was my pet car. But I couldn’t find one at a reasonable price. When this one came up, I was able to get it fairly cheap. Once I got it at the right price, it was about getting my vision down on a piece of paper so I could share it with those working on the Bel Air. My main goal was to create a pro tourer that looked nice, had a good amount of horsepower, handled and performed well and drove nicely. I think we achieved all of that and at 600hp, the Bel Air has a fair bit of get up and go.
What is your favourite thing about the Bel Air?
The colour and the stance. We weren’t sure about the colour at first. A lot of people encouraged me to go black, but I didn’t want a black car. I liked the deeper, rich colours and did some testing of the blue which looked great before we settled on it. Once it was painted and buffed, it came out really well. We also took a gamble by taking all the bling (stainless steel and chrome accents) off and panting them satin black. A few doubted my wisdom on that, but once we put the first pieces on the car, it changed the look entirely. The combination of dark rich blue and black accents took the looks to another dimension.
Do you have a favourite memory with the car?
Most of my memories are being in the workshop on stinking hot days and sweating as you try to grind, weld, polish and clean (laughs). There are lots of those days. But I think the day we married the body to the chassis was a special one. It started to look like a car again in the painted form. It was a highlight.
What kind of reactions does the Bel Air get?
Mostly amazement. I had a whole lot of people telling me not to modify a classic vehicle, but they completely change their tune once they see the car. They all comment on how nice it is and it turns heads everywhere it goes. We went down to Summernats 33 recently and ended up winning the elite division. It was a fantastic experience as a first-timer to come away with the award and compete against the best cars in Australia.
What would it mean to win the RACQ MotorFest Judges Choice Award?
My thing is to put the car out to as many places as I can so people can appreciate it as much as I do. Any victory means a lot to me and I take the awards around to everybody who helped me whether it was the guys who bent the metal, painted it or the auto electrician to show them that their work is appreciated.
- Read part one – Tall stories, small car - 1968 Morris Mini Cooper S
- Read part two - A family heirloom in the making - 1981 BMW R100RS
- Read part three - A WWII tribute - 1952 Chevrolet Coupe Utility
For more details and to enter your vehicle, visit racq.com/motorfest. Get in quick as nominations for the competition close at midnight on 31 July 2020.