1955 Chevy Bel Air - Star Struck Bel Air

This Classic Tri-Five Made The Big Time As Cheech Marin's On-Screen Companion

D. Brian Smith Feb 1, 2003 0 Comment(s)

These improvements breathed new life into the old classic. The five-five still appeared timeworn and raggedy from the outside, aside from new wide white spats, but it ran swift, strong, and effortless. Women continued to follow me around and attempted to race me, but with my rebuilt motor I could run away from them-and then let them catch me, of course.

Unfortunately, two-and-a-half-years of full-time college had drained my savings. Though I worked part-time on the weekends, I reasoned that I didn't have enough money to pay for my education and complete the restoration. In reality, other automobiles were beckoning me, most notably '68 Ford Mustang convertibles. One sunny weekend I found a red Mustang ragtop. My multi-colored, rusty-floored '55 was seemingly no match for this flashy Mars Red with new white vinyl interior 302-inch V-8 Mustang convertible. I was just a college kid, without a mature-enough perspective to realize that the Chevy was a keeper, a proven winner. Besides, I was comparing a fully restored car to my work in progress. It wasn't a fair comparison.

I sold the '55 to Bob Wingate. At the time, he owned one of the largest vintage Chevrolet restoration businesses in the country. Bob completed my ragtop the way that I could have and should have. When he was done, Bob showed me pictures of how my '55 turned out. Mr. Wingate mentioned that Cheech Marin of the comedy duo, Cheech and Chong, bought my completely renovated '55 ragtop. I'd made a tragic mistake.

The summer after graduating from college, some buddies, my girlfriend, and I went to the just-released Cheech and Chong movie Nice Dreams. The movie was playing in a broken-down movie house in Newport Beach, California. The air conditioning in the theatre was busted, probably a result of that summer's incredible heat wave. This gave most of the males in the audience the excuse to pull off their shirts to keep cool and to show off. Proper decorum didn't register with such a rowdy throng of spectators; we were watching a Cheech and Chong movie. The start of the flick showed Cheech and Chong driving around Santa Monica in an old '50s Chevy ice cream truck. A couple of women drove next to the duo's truck in a very familiar looking salmon-and-ivory '55 Bel Air convertible. Even though the license plate read, "WHIP US," I knew it was really my old ride.

In my '68 Mustang ragtop, I drove home depressed. Suddenly, Mustangs didn't seem so cool anymore-but at least my new/old Bel Air ragtop was looking better than ever, and it was a movie star, to boot.

Several years later, I read in the Los Angeles Times that Cheech had donated his '55. There was going to be a raffle and the proceeds would go to a local hospital. Hoping that sweet providence would shine on me once again, I bought a bunch of those raffle tickets. The happy ending would have had me driving into the sunset in my '55 Bel Air convertible, with my wife riding shotgun. Alas, such good fortune-in the face of repeated bad decisions-only happens in the movies. When I sold the Tri-Five it was gone forever. Perhaps someday, I will buy another cool vintage auto. Isn't that, after all, the birthright and enduring dream of all car nuts?

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