Tri-Five Tales: ’57 Chevy is one 11-year-old Puerto Rican’s dream come true

Syd Cummings

As companions to Tuesday’s lovely historical feature on the history and legacy of the Tri-Five Chevy, written by the illustrious Aaron Robinson, we are publishing three Hagerty member stories about their own Tri-Fives. Enjoy! —EW

Raphael Gonzalez has been chasing his first love since he was a small boy. His obsession began one day in 1960, when he first caught sight of her cruising topless down a main thoroughfare of his native Puerto Rico. Her sharp lines, spellbinding chrome, and sexy fins caught his heart. From then on, he knew he’d own a 1957 Chevy Bel Air convertible someday.

But first, the 11-year-old Gonzalez, impatient to discover the inner workings of automobiles, walked into a local Volkswagen shop and asked for a job. Told he was far too young, the determined youth persisted and was rewarded with the assignment of sweeping loose nuts and bolts from the shop floor. From there, his innate curiosity and work ethic eventually won over the owner and shop staff, and they began to instruct him on basic automotive repair.

At 17, Gonzalez arrived in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston and immediately sought employment in automotive repair. During positions at various garages around the city, he began to fine-tune his automotive education. His under-the-hood edification began an automotive journey of repair, renovation, and flipping that ultimately led him to Lucy.

1957 Bel Air Convertible owner Gonzalez
Gonzalez is a true Tri-Five man, with both ’55 and ’57 examples in his Boston garage. Syd Cummings

He found her in 2002 through the pages of a well-read Bargain Hunter magazine, way out in Rochester, Minnesota. A simple black-and-white photo, one tiny block of text, and a price within his budget were all it took for him to pick up his phone and buy this 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air convertible sight unseen.

Named after his beloved mother, “Lucy” is the pride of his 10-car collection, which includes a 1955 Bel Air two-door hardtop, 1967 and ’68 Camaros, a 1970 Rolls-Royce, and an ’87 Buick Regal Grand National GNX.

Gonzalez’s first project for Lucy was to paint her his favorite color, red. A white rag top completed the exterior restoration. The original 265 V-8 was in rough shape and was swapped for a later 350 small-block mated to a new transmission. Other than the engine, Gonzalez has kept Lucy as close to her original state as possible. The factory hood rockets, bowtie grille emblem, red seats with silver accents, and small circular signal lights still adorn her body.

One big concession to contemporary times is a six-speaker Pioneer stereo system with two sets in the trunk, two for the interior doors, and two pumped through the air intakes above the front headlights, creating a stadium sound that could power your local drive-in movie theater. Oh, and a horn that blasts “La Cucaracha” to garner attention on a hot summer evening.

Most of Lucy’s 186,000-plus miles have been racked up as a parade ambassador, wedding chauffeur, and celebrity-toting limo. “I am asked all the time to drive a bride to her wedding or a mayor through a parade. Sometimes I have to say no because I just can’t do them all,” Gonzalez admits. Now that he is retired, Lucy will have more time to shine in the spotlight down at nearby Revere Beach next summer.

Above all, his love for the Bel Air connects Gonzalez to his community with every drive. “Everyone knows this car, and everywhere I go, they yell, ‘I love your car!’ Young or old, everyone stops to say they love my car or they ask to sit in her or go for a ride. It brings me much joy.”

This article first appeared in Hagerty Drivers Club magazine. Click here to subscribe and join the club.

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