Retired and bored, man buys 1955 Bel Air

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What better way for a young man to spend his separation money from the U.S. Air Force in 1958 than to buy a three-year-old 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air? That’s what David Hughes did with his final pay check of $700 from a grateful nation for his military service.

Hughes drove the four-door Bel Air for five trouble-free years before trading it in for another vehicle in 1963.

The 1955 Bel Air may have been long gone, but it was not forgotten so after more than a half century Hughes began a half-hearted search for a replacement Chevrolet.

“I retired in 2011,” he says, “and was bored out of my mind.”

While searching on the Internet Hughes saw a 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air sedan, much like the one he had owned decades before. After a couple of weeks the car had still not sold, so Hughes decided to take the plunge and purchase the Chevrolet sight-unseen in February 2013. He was fortunate because when the car rolled off the truck near his Great Falls, Va., home the odometer had recorded only 21,483 miles, which Hughes believes is an accurate figure since he is the third owner.

Papers that came with the 1955 car show that Wellington C. Strause bought the car for a total of $2,635.85 in July 1955 in Fleetwood, Pa. The second owner, Albright J. Strause died in 2010, which led to the acquisition by Hughes.

Hughes notes that the latest service sticker on the door jamb indicates the oil was last changed in July 1983. Nevertheless, the old Chevrolet started without hesitation and Hughes drove it home with some difficulty because, he explains, “there was no lubrication in the steering box.”

When new, the 1955 Chevrolet was delivered with a 265-cubic-inch, overhead valve V-8 engine that developed 162 horsepower. That was more than sufficient muscle to move the 3,170-pound car on its 114-inch wheelbase supported by 6.70×15-inch white sidewall tires. Between the bumpers the car stretches 16.3 feet in length. On the inboard side of the rear bumper guards are the flush-mounted lights to illuminate the license plate.

Just like his first 1955 Chevrolet this one is equipped with an automatic Power Glide transmission. The gear shift lever on the steering column has an unusual shift pattern that is different from modern cars. From the left the gears are: Park-Neutral-Drive-Low-Reverse.

“You have to be careful,” Hughes warns.

Typical of the lack of optional extras in 1955 this Chevrolet has power-assisted nothing. It did come with an AM radio, a dashboard clock, a pair of backup lights and full wheel covers.

When he first got the car Hughes says, “When I stepped on the throttle, the engine died.” Rebuilding the carburetor and installing a new fuel pump solved the problem.

For his peace-of-mind Hughes has replaced the entire brake system and the ride was also improved after he installed new shock absorbers.

Hughes delights in motoring about in his second 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air. Fond memories are rekindled whenever he settles in the comfortable bench seat behind the three-spoke steering wheel with its 360-degree horn ring.

The Chevrolet has only one exterior mirror. The lack of a mirror on the right side of the car does not concern Hughes. He reports that visibility in the car is superb at any angle.

The 110-mph speedometer, he says, is a bit optimistic, but as a younger man Hughes does admit once getting up to 90 mph in his first Chevrolet on the wide open highways in Montana.

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