Let's go back to 1956 when I was just a little boy. The first car I can remember my father owning was a 1956 Chevrolet Bellaire. I remember that he really loved that car and he would wash it almost daily. The sound of him telling me “Now these are dual exhaust tips. This is a 265 with Power-Pak heads. They use these on the Corvette”. So began my love affair with cars…….yep that Calypso Cream over Classic Copper 56 Bellaire got the ball rolling.
I remember that in 1957, I rode to a Syracuse hospital with my dad to pick up my mother and my little brother Tom. I recall sitting in the back seat of the 56 with my mom as she held my brother in a blanket lined shoe box.
So another year passed and I watched my father taking out the spark plugs, cleaning them, gapping them and putting them back into the engine, I learned about points, a distributor cap and plug wires……..Naturally, I helped out.
I remember my mother learning how to drive in our 56. I vividly recall riding in the back seat while my father taught her how to drive. I remember mom hitting the brakes propelling me into the rear of the front seat……….man her driving wasn’t pretty.
From my dad, I learned how to mix and use fiberglass and watched as he filled holes in the rockers and painted them with a spray gun. He kept that car until 1962 when he traded it for a brand new 1962 Impala. He bought a new Impala every two years hence…
Fast forward to the mid 1990’s. At that time, I was a Detective Sergeant with a Syracuse New York area police agency. My partner and I were working a case that sent us to Broome County, two counties south of Syracuse New York. I remember I was driving our unmarked unit on Nanticoke Rd. near Endwell New York when I saw an orange 1969 El Camino in a driveway sporting a for sale sign. As I passed by, I saw another car parked in the garage of this residence.
My partner and I did our police thing and drove back to Syracuse with a nasty culprit chained up to an eye hook mounted on the back floor of my assigned Plymouth Fury… As such, I didn’t even think about stopping to look at the El Camino…..……..In case you ask, I started my career in law enforcement during the early 70’s when we drove Plymouth and Dodge police cars with the 440 police interceptor in them…….man, that was power and we got to run the horses legally.
I was off that weekend so I decided to drive back to Nanticoke Rd. When I arrived, I saw a 1956 Chevy 210 in the garage, It was Calypso Cream over Aztec Gold and there wasn’t a rust spot on it. Knocking at the door, I met an elderly lady and I explained that the El Camino had caught my eye. I apologized for being nosey and asked If I could take a look at the 56 in her garage. With tears in her eyes, she walked into the garage with me.
While in the garage, I learned that both the 56 and the El Camino had just arrived at her home from Denver Colorado. She sobbed as she told me how her son loved these cars as he fought a life threatening battle with cancer…………The cancer won. She went on to say she was selling these cars due to the fact that she was being sued for outstanding medical bills. To get to the point, I bought her son’s 56 for $4500.00 cash and came back with a trailer to pick it up.
I got the car home, took it all apart and began my very first frame off restoration. Man this car was rock solid. I told my mom and dad that I had bought a 56 Chevy and was in the process of restoring it. Mom thought it was great in in my father’s typical demeanor he stated “Yeah, just what you need…..more junk…….” He had a grin on his face at the time…..just a case hardened career city firefighter expressing his true feelings (LOL).
About five years later I finished restoring my 56. Out came the 265 and the three on the tree. In went a snotty 406 Chevy that Skip Bloss built at his shop in Kirkville New York. In went a tricked out turbo 350 and a B&M hammer shifter. I found a 1962 posi-traction center section and swapped out the rear end……Say good bye to the original colors and hello to a flawless Viper Blue paint job…………Say good bye to the bench seat and hello to 1972 Monte-Carlo buckets. Everything was pleated in Viper blue vinyl with white trim. Add a Dakota Digital dash, drag stars and a ton of performance parts and low and behold “one freaken fast street car”.
So, I decide to drive the car over to mom and dads and let the pipes sing in the driveway. Out they come and I could see my dad nearly running as he used his cane. I said “Hey dad, here’s the junk I bought. Remember your 56, that’s why I built this car”. They both got in I made them buckle up and away we went. I was still a police officer so I really wasn’t too concerned about being nabbed (Okay, I know, I know). We were out in the country and boy those estimated 425 horses came out of the barn running.
Mom said “hey it looks like your father’s car but his 56 didn’t run like this one………. but I remember learning how to drive one”. Into a parking lot I go and mom gets behind the wheel…………away they go and I stood in that lot for about 30 minutes with my heart pounding……..down the road comes my car and it stops…..the tires fry and smoke filled the air. Into the parking lot comes my car with dad behind the wheel. He got out with a tear in his eye and “great job kid……..they don’t mike em like that anymore”.
That was their last ride in my 56. Dad passed a couple of years later and mom is resting in a nursing home. When I see her this weekend, I am going to help her re-live the memory of that day as well as the day she learned how to drive dad’s 56 Chevy…………
The 56 is still in Syracuse. I sold it to a friend of a friend……..When I see it, I wonder why I sold it…….I insured this car with Hagerty and hopefully, they might have photos on file……………My new ride is a true 1970 Chevelle SS with the original M-22 and a 600 horse power 496 built by skip Bloss…..Yep that baby is insured with Hagerty……………….
A note about my brother Tom, he also owns a mint 1970 Chevelle SS...........
This story is dedicated to to my dad,,,,,,,,Lieut. Lou Tripoli - Syracuse Fire Dept.