Tri-Five Tales: Tattoo artist’s ’56 Bel Air Sport Sedan is a rolling marquee

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

When people ask Teresa Andrews why she would ever move from luminous California to frigid Maine, she says she just needed a change. Thirteen years ago, she arrived in the tiny town of Alfred, Maine, population 3073, where she has since established herself as a professional tattoo artist in the land of moose and maritime. With her rockabilly vibe, ornamented skin, and sassy attitude, it’s no wonder that this West Coast transplant’s first vintage car would be a 1956 Chevy Bel Air Sport Sedan.

Andrews was in the process of saving up for her first classic car five years ago when a colleague came into her shop and said that her dream car was for sale right down the road. With a “Shut the front door!” and 20 minutes to spare before her next client, she headed out to investigate.

1956 Bel Air Sedan side profile
Syd Cummings

Parked out in front of a seasonal campground, the Bel Air possessed all the tell-tale signs of a ’56 that Andrews had always revered: the teardrop wheel arches, the sexy headlamp brows, the gleaming jet eagle hood ornament, and the restyled two-tone body-side treatments that marked its production year.

“I wanted a turquoise-and-white Bel Air, because this style and color had always called out to me. I just didn’t think I’d find it right away. And I couldn’t believe she was right down the street!” She scheduled a test drive.

1956 Bel Air Sedan interior driving action
Syd Cummings

Although a V-8–powered Bel Air set new endurance and speed records at Pikes Peak in 1956, by today’s performance standards, these beauties are for pageantry only—the straight-six models even more so. On the advice of a friend, during the test drive, Andrews put her foot down hard on the gas to feel the power of its 235.5-cubic-inch Blue Flame inline-six. “It felt like a boat on the high seas,” she says, as all 3280 pounds lurched forward. Nevertheless, she was elated. “There are no bells and whistles under the hood, but so much character throughout that it feels like driving in a Hollywood movie.”

After the drive, Andrews made an offer on the Bel Air, complete with promises of a lifetime of adoration, and scored her dream car.

1956 Bel Air Sedan interior owner Andrews
Syd Cummings

So far, the eccentricities of an old car haven’t disappointed. From learning to handle the floating jellyfish feel of the steering to pumping the gas a bit before turning the ignition, it has been a hands-on education in vintage car ownership. “Every time I drive her,” Andrews says, “I learn something new. I drive, and I ask those who know about certain issues, so I’m learning as I go.”

The best experiences come from behind the wheel on sunny summer days. Andrews says the bounce of the big bench seats, the way the shallow windows and low roofline feel like a cozy hug, and even the smell from the engine coming through the dash vents like a noxious warm breeze simply feel like a quintessential Bel Air experience.

1956 Bel Air Sedan driving action front
Syd Cummings

With the tattoo shop only 15 minutes from her home, Andrews drives her two-toned baby—which she’s named Betsy—to work on clear days, because, she says, “the wipers are pretty much a joke.” She leaves Betsy parked out front like an advertising marquee. “People stop by all summer long. Some take photos, others share a memory,” she explains. Betsy’s fan base is a diverse one—young, old, and everything in between. For Andrews, her Bel Air is far more than a car. It’s a conversation starter, a photo-booth opportunity for passersby, and the only way to go out for ice cream.

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

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    I have a croces yellow Belair 4 door named Betsy that was bought new by my grandfather.I have had her since 1974.She has a high performance heart now and her makeup has been changed several times.My kids argue about who will take care of when I am gone. I’m sure she will outlive me.

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