First off, this is not going to be another feature on another perfectly restored or restified Tri-Five Chevy. No it's a lot more than that. It's an interesting story about a couple of baby boomers who not only enjoy their '57 Chevy Bel Air two-door hardtop but have built around it a truly wonderful lifestyle that includes recreational passions directly related to the enjoyment they derive from their seeming obsession to the year 1957.
Loretta and Steve Conway live in Canoga Park, California, northwest of Los Angeles. Steve is about as traditional a car guy as there is, having worked his way up the collector-car food chain starting with a '57 Chevy 210 in high school followed by a fuel injected '57 Corvette. Then he met Loretta, got married and followed this up with a custom '40 Ford pickup and a '39 Ford sedan. But after that, all of a sudden, there were no more hot rods for a while. Kids probably had something to do with it.
But as the '80s drew to a close, he got back into the car scene again, starting off with three '62 Corvettes followed by two '57 Chevys. But again, he lost his enthusiasm as the shows no longer were fun; it all got a bit too serious. "In the mid-'90s I was tired of car shows," says Steve. "The cars were basically art and really not useable. Finally I decided to build another '57, but this time not go crazy and have a car that when I was done, would be able to take other people with us on runs and attend events.
I came across our '57. It was decent without needing a lot of work. Again, I started having fun, just driving and not worrying about dust, dirt, and the occasional rock chip. Of course I couldn't completely leave it alone. Because I wanted it driveable I installed air conditioning and after that came mags, headers, a manifold and carburetor, MSD, disc brakes. . .well, you know the story."
It took a trip up to Famoso Raceway, in Bakersfield, California, to really turn things around for the Conways. "When we went up for the drags, I noticed many people camping for the three-day event," say Steve. "I thought this would be fun and even better in an old classic trailer. After discussing it with my wife, I thought about maybe a teardrop trailer. After I showed Loretta what a teardrop was she said no way. If we were going to do a trailer, she wanted to be able to stand up inside. What followed was that we started looking for a trailer with a look that matched up well with our '57 Chevy."
"We found our Shasta in the local paper," says Loretta. "And we just bought it. We paid more than we wanted because the owner told us that this trailer is a classic, thus the price goes up. But I think he knew we had to have it because it was a '57, the same year as the Chevy."
"To say that the trailer was very rough, that's an understatement," says Steve. "But it was fun fixing it up because my wife got involved. It's like a little house, a home away from home. Fixing it up was like part auto repair and part home remodeling. She picked out material for the curtains, floor and upholstery. We had fun shopping for everything we would ever need at Camping World." To make trailing the Shasta safer, Steve upgraded the Chevy with power disc brakes and the trailer is equipped with electronic brakes as well.
Following behind Steve as we traveled up Interstate 5 through Los Angeles it was fun watching other drivers moving around Steve to get a closer look. In car culture crazy Southern California, that's saying a lot when even a slammed H2 riding on 24-inch wheels hardly garners a passing look. "The Chevy has no problem towing the trailer," says Steve. "But at much over 55 miles per hour, you start to know that you're pulling it. It starts to wander a bit. Yet you have to feel great when people driving by give you the thumbs-up, as if you're driving some exotic hot rod."
The Conways use their trailer for many car events. It makes a great alternative to staying in motels. They have even put it in some car shows, as a combo. While their '57 Chevy is by no means a concours restoration, when parked next to their Shasta, it's easy to overlook its flaws. In reality, the white on red combination typically garners more attention and bigger crowds than most of the megabuck restorations parked next to it. It's not a show car, as Steve likes to say, it's basically a daily driver. But that has not stopped it from winning awards as at the latest car show they attended, in Burbank at Johnny Carson Park, they were awarded the Best of Show.
The Conway's fixation with 1957 does stop with the Chevy and matching Shasta, it extends to their third toy, a '57 Glastron boat. "We go camping quite often," says Loretta. "On one camping trip to a local lake, I thought it would be neat to have a boat and discussed this with Steve. This '1957 thing' is starting to get out of hand but we found a '57 Glastron boat in Texas, bought it and towed it back to California. It required major glass work and the interior was shot but I think that overall, it turned out well. One time while we were camping someone showed us a magazine called Lost Highways. It was all about vintage travel trailers and showed many of the original ads for not only our Shasta but the dozens of other trailers available. Lost Highways also mentioned a get together in Southern California. Through this we started going to vintage trailer gatherings. At first there were very few trailers that were being pulled by classic cars. Now many of the travel trailer people are doing exactly what we did. It has all been worth it, as we have met a lot of wonderful people at trailer and boat gatherings. Why not? It all worked in 1957!"
The Conways prove that it's not just about how perfect your car is, it's how much fun you have with your hobby. And meeting them at the 2003 Cruise for a Cure event in Costa Mesa, California, over the long Labor Day weekend, it's apparent to us that they are really having fun and that the Shasta and Glastron add an entirely unique dimension to the hobby, one that we see growing in the future.
When most people think travel trailer, the name Airstream immediately comes to mind. The shiny aluminum torpedos are still a common site on the Interstates to this day. Of the hundreds of manufacturers producing travel trailers back in their heyday of the '30s, only a handful have survived.
Today, Shasta is a name attached to a line of large travel trailers built by another company. But in its day, the compact Shasta packed a lot of innovation and living into a 14-foot long package with less square footage than a '50s tract-house child's bedroom. The Conway's '57 Shasta can sleep four in a pinch and is equipped with all of the amenities, albeit smaller, found in a studio apartment.
Having met Loretta and Steve at the 2003 Cruising for a Cruise, Loretta showed me some of her collection of vintage travel trailer magazines. There I saw a Shasta advertisement dating back to 1957, showing 14635 Keswick Street in Van Nuys, about 60 miles away, as Shasta's HQ. I suggested to Steve, since I planned to shoot his three toys together back in Canoga Park not far from his home, that we drive by and see what was there now. He agreed and on Labor Day 2003 we drove past a grey industrial building that was apparently the Shasta manufacturing plant-today it's a used car lot but it's easy to imagine what it looked like in 1957.
Driving to Canoga Park, we passed by the site of the GM Van Nuys plant, less than a mile away. Over the walkie-talkie Steve commented that his '57 Bel Air was built in the Van Nuys plant. I thought how ironic, that 47 years later both his Chevy and Shasta had returned together to their respective birthplaces.
The Glastron story dates back to the '50s as well and was the first large-scale manufacturer of fiberglass runabouts, and since 1956 has sold more than 360,000 units. It probably has more in common with Bowling Green's favorite son than any of its aquatic contemporaries. In 1973, when a then record 24,863 boats were sold, 26 were used in the filming of the first Roger Moore James Bond film, Live and Let Die. Seventeen of the 26 were destroyed in the 100-plus practice jumps needed to find the optimum speed and ramp design to achieve what became the then world record jump of 110 feet.
If it looks like what the Conways have done looks like fun to you, there are many great Web sites to explore and to get your feet wet. Probably the best is the mecca for travel trailer aficiandos, www.vintage-vacations.com. If you want to know more about Glastron boats, visit www.classicglastron.com. For those of you more comfortable looking at paper and ink, we can suggest Travel Trailer: A Visual History of Mobile America as the definitive single source for an overview of the travel trailer subculture.
Once you're comfortable with your knowledge of this subculture, the best place to look for a vintage travel trailer or boat is the local classifieds or if you're willing to extend your search nationally, check out the listings at www.ebay.com using travel trailer, Airstream, or Shasta as your keywords. Happy hunting!
57 CHEVROLET BEL AIR 2-DOOR HARDTOP
Engine 350 ci
Headers Doug Thorley
Mufflers Flow Master
Air Conditioning AirTique
Wheels American Mags
- Upgraded power steering and power front disc brakes
57 SHASTA TRAILER
Length 15 feet
Weight 1,600 pounds
- Electric Brakes Upgrades Refrigerator, microwave, TV-VCR and PortaPotty
57 GLASTRON FIREFLIGHT
Length 15 feet
Interior Red tuck and roll, black carpet
Accessories Horn, bell, spotlight, AM/FM Stereo
Motor Evinrude 40hp outboard