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1957 Chevy Bel Air - Back To The Fifties In Triplicate

1957 Was A Red Letter Year For Loretta And Steve Conway, Their Matched Set Of Toys Is Proof That There's More To Enjoying A Vintage Car Than A 100-Point Restoration

By Richard Truesdell

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!

TECH SPECS

57 CHEVROLET BEL AIR 2-DOOR HARDTOP

Engine 350 ci
Ignition MSD
Manifold Edelbrock
Radiator Griffin
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

By Richard Truesdell
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