Will J 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air 4dr Sedan

The James Family Car - a lifetime story

My Uncle Hugh James bought home a brand new family car for his wife and two girls, a 1955 Chevy BelAir. He had purchased it from Johnson Chevrolet in Temple Texas, and paid a little extra for the "dealership two-tone". As happened some, the dealer had painted the very top a lighter color, probably to help anyone sitting inside with the sometimes blistering Texas heat. It was the new family car, and soon got the nickname Blue Belle from the girls. It was not the very top of the line BelAir, but it had a strong V8, carpet, a radio, and lots of chrome. Fast forward 10 years to 1965 and Hugh is selling the '55 to his little brother Willard to use as transportation for Willard's girls as they turn driving age and head off to college. Somewhere around this time, an under-dash air-conditioning unit is added to help cool the car. The car spent just a a year or two in Fort Worth with Willard, and then made to trip to Abilene, Texas, where it's new home was Hardin Simmons University. Of course, by this time it is beginning to wear out a little, and the girls aren't quite as handy as their Dad. Still, Casey and Kathy appreciate having transportation. It moves to Austin Texas, as Casey marries and transfers to UT. On one trip to El Paso the 265 c.i. motor loses all it water and the engine seizes up. Willard tows it back himself to Fort Worth, and eventually replaces the 265 with and little peppier 283, and power pack heads with a 4 barrel carb. The '55 spends the next few years in Fort Worth A few years pass and it's 1971 with Janie turning 16. She drives the car, but is not really that comfortable with the 3 speed and manual clutch. Several times she lets little brother Will drive her through busy or hilly intersections, so a ride with Janie has the look of a "Chinese fire drill" at times. In 1972 Will turns 16 and it becomes "his car". it runs pretty well (Okay I now admit 110 mph is too fast), though the car as it approaches 20 years old is in repair a large percentage of the time. Will gets pretty handy at repairing little things and minor engine work, and after a wreck (which was NOT MY FAULT) he and Dad pay to have it repainted, as the passenger door from the wrecking yard is a whole different color. Will knows where all the 55 Chevys are in the local yards, and is constantly buying little replacement parts, and lots of wheel covers. I'm telling you those little wheel clips were just NOT built very well. It's a great 4-door car to drive when toilet-papering friend's houses, and a great car for a double date. In 1974 it heads to Denton, as Will attends NTSU/UNT. In summers it is a work car, and gets a lot more mileage. The art of popping the clutch to start the car becomes a necessity and parking on slight inclines seems to help a lot. Still, Will loves it, and it becomes more reliable as Will learns the valuable nuance of maintenance versus repair. And as Will graduates from college in 1978 he marries Janet and they move to Irving. After a year of driving it to Fort Worth every day, Will finally concedes that expensive gas (too many long gas station lines in '78) and constant repairs are costing him more than a new car, so Dad gets the car back. At age 24 Blue Belle moves to Lake Kiowa and gets a prime parking spot in the garage for Willard. He begins the process of a soft restoration. Even though the original engine is gone, Willard still likes the original look, so he replaces the seat covers, head liner, carpet, door trim. He thinks the 8 track is cool, and adds a rear speaker. A newer 327 engine, new tires and paint round out his portion of the restoration. Both he and Will decide they should repaint the car in the factory two-tone style, and after finding some trim from a farmer's field wreck, have the car painted to it's current look. Dad buys a few other classics, a '55 Dodge, and a '29 Ford 2-door sedan, to fill his garage. He enjoyed driving the '55 Chevy to July 4th parades and car shows with the Gainesville, Texas Antique and Classic Auto Club. In 2007 his granddaughter Amber uses the car at her wedding for the short trip to the reception and then the hotel. In the next months, photos of the car are featured by a local Bride magazine. In 2009 Will gets the car back, and begins another round of repairs and restoration, replacing tons of worn out things, most of the shiny parts, the 8 track, and adding an alternator, front disc brakes, a '69 Camaro Z28 intake manifold, an Edelbrock 4-barrel, tires and FINALLY NEW WHEEL COVERS!

After 5 years in my garage, I have been able to slowly spend a little more cash on it. Almost everything works like it is supposed to, at least today. Sometimes I drive it to work, and around DFW when it is cool enough. It is a driver! I know it's not a car worth that much, but it's really very special to me, as my family has enjoyed it through 59 years of living. It is not a car I ever plan to sell, but I do someday plan to give this James Family Car car to my son.

1 Reader Comment

  • 1
    JAMESON United States July 22, 2014 at 22:43
    AWESOME! Love all the details--I didn't realize it was Hugh's first.

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