From a handy boy
It has been more than 35 years since Corné Beekers went out with a big bag of money, determined to buy a beautiful, classic American car. A Cadillac, to be exact. It all turned out differently, but those ten backs burned in his pocket and were eventually spent on a black Chevrolet Bel Air. It turned out to be a bull’s eye.
Corné’s Bel Air hasn’t been black for a long time and when we look at the dazzlingly beautiful Chevrolet, we understand very well why. “I didn’t like that color from the first moment and to be honest, my eye hadn’t fallen on this car either,” he says now. After years of hard work and a lot of savings, in the mid-1980s he had the money together for the car of his dreams, a Cadillac. “I found one at a car dealership. I looked at that car extensively, but did not immediately buy it. A week later I came back to that company and it turned out that the Cadillac had been on a show somewhere and had been sold there. A big downer.”
First Cadillac, then Chrysler, but it became a Chevrolet
But then Cornés eye fell on a Chrysler from 1959. “The salesman asked what my goal was with the car. Drive, was my answer. He advised me to buy another one in that case, the Chevrolet. Technically less complex and it was in much better condition. That was true, all chrome parts were present and still beautiful and the inside and outside looked original. Only that color, I had to see through it, even though there were no plans for restoration at that time. The license plate was not added until 1988.” During the first year and a half, Corné mainly drove the Bel Air a lot, even on holiday to Germany and to the car show in Essen. However, he got the fright of his life. “When we got back to the parking lot, the Chevy was gone! I could cry. What turned out? The valet had towed it away because I wasn’t allowed to park there. After paying the fine I got it back with the remark ‘Das Auto war schwer ab zu schleppen’. We ended up having a good laugh about it and I was very relieved. Over the years we have experienced a lot with the Bel Air.”
Corné himself is very handy
The fact that Corné himself has two right hands certainly plays into his hands. He once worked as a mechanic in a Harley-Davidson workshop and was active in the drag racing world with his own motorcycles for many years. There are still a few nice motorcycles in his garage: a Kawasaki Z1000, a Honda 750 Bol d’Or and a Yamaha XT600 is being worked on. “That hobby will never let go of me. We went through a lot in the 80s and 90s, those were golden times. At the Salzburgring in Austria, my Bel Air acted as a recovery vehicle for Alex Joosten’s drag racer.”
And that’s not the only thing towed with the Bel Air. “I remember very well that we went on holiday with a caravan in 1999, after I had welded a towbar under it myself. On the highway we were terrified, because it started to swing enormously and we couldn’t go faster than 75 km / h. Do you think it’s crazy, with bias tires? Of course I should have known that. Then I had the rims widened and now there are 225/70 radial tires on it. A world of difference. Now I can drive 150 km/h with two fingers on the steering wheel.”
In addition, the owner has made some other modifications. “I mounted shock absorbers with air chambers on the rear axle. You can pump it up when the car is heavily loaded. It amazes me that they have lasted this long. Another important improvement is the gearbox. That is another advantage of a Chevrolet: there is a lot of information to be found, including a complete manual to replace the old two-speed automatic transmission with a more modern four-speed automatic transmission from a van. Really a world of difference and you only have to shorten the cardan shaft slightly. With that new gearbox, the engine only runs at 1,800 rpm at 120 km/h, it has plenty of torque. But getting a hamburger is not an option with this width. It may be an American car, but it won’t fit here through the McDrive.”
Another funny anecdote is that of the gas installation, which has been there for years without ever being seen in the MOT. “Indeed, it has been inspected twelve times with LPG in it, but that was not on the license plate. The tank was hidden in the trunk behind a bulkhead, nothing to see. All pipes ran invisibly through the interior under the carpet and I had even completely concealed the evaporator. All I did was remove a few hoses from under the hood for the inspection, nothing else.”
Bel Air has been sprayed three times
We haven’t talked about the color yet. Or better: the color combination. How did that choice come about? “This version was in an original brochure that I found. I immediately fell in love with it and it was immediately certain that he would look exactly like this. I did a lot of work on the bodywork myself and had a lot of help from a friend with the sanding. The trunk floor has been renewed, there were hundreds of tiny rust holes in it. Restoring the ears above the headlights took a lot of time and only afterwards did I find out that they can simply be purchased new.”
Corné sprayed all the insides himself, leaving the rest to a professional. “He did his job well. The Chevy has been painted three times. The first time in a kind of brown color. Then sand again, then in the test coat for a second inspection and then smooth again and only then the new, final color.”
The engine has also been overhauled in the meantime. Twice in fact, because the first time it was not done well. “And he is immediately a bit pepped up,” says Corné. “I gave my son Gino the spare keys on his 27th birthday. This makes him the official heir to the Bel Air. I am sure he is in good hands with him.”
This Bel Air has only been in production for a year
When you think of a Chevrolet Bel Air, you may first see such a beautiful, huge and typical 1950s convertible. Corné’s Bel Air is one of the third generation and if you were interested in it at the time, you had to be quick: this model was only in production for one year. Just like generation four, by the way. The first Bel Air appeared in 1953 and that continued until the seventh generation, which rolled off the line for the last time in 1975.
We focus on the third batch, which was available as a four-door sedan, two-door sedan (the car on these pages), two-door coupe and convertible, and as a station wagon. Sister models include the Chevrolet Delray, Biscayne, Yeoman, Brookwood, Nomad and Impala. Available with a 3.9-litre six-cylinder in-line engine, with a 4.6-litre V8 (Small Block) or with the 5.7-litre V8 (Big Block). About the 4.6 V8 we read: ‘super square Turbo-Fire’ with overhead valves and even hydraulic tappets as a special feature. The 4.6 was also available with one or two four-port carburettors in combination with a higher compression ratio. A dual exhaust system was also available, as was fuel injection.
The large engine was not in the price list for the Netherlands. In the US, Chevrolet had a peak year in 1958. The brand became number one. Special features for the 1958 Bel Air are the extra safe chassis and the rear suspension. The chassis is built in the shape of an X (instead of the traditional ladder chassis), which should provide extra torsional rigidity and more crash safety. And on the rigid rear axle we do not see leaf springs, but coil springs and hinged wishbones at the bottom. Furthermore, the brochure speaks of self-energizing hydraulic brakes and about the steering we read that it is a ‘light and accurate functioning’ mechanism, with a steering linkage that is mounted in front of the centerline of the front wheels for ‘ultra-fast response’.
– Thanks for information from Autoweek.nl