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Basic Chevy fulfills his collector car dreams

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Friday, Jan. 10, 2014, at 3:25 p.m.
  • Updated Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014, at 6:42 a.m.

— Ron Herbel’s plain-jane 1958 Chevy Delray two-door sedan was supposed to be a fast, stylish 1961 Pontiac Ventura two-door hardtop.

“I had bought a brand new ’61 Pontiac Ventura. When I was young, I was a Pontiac man. It’s what I had when I got married,” Herbel said. The car was a V-8 with absolutely no power accessories to drain off any horsepower and it would get up and go, he recalled.

Eventually, though, the Pontiac was traded off, and more family friendly cars became the order of the day. But the thought of someday finding another ’61 Ventura was firmly lodged in Herbel’s head.

“When I started looking, I found one in New York state. It only had 49,000 miles on it and they were asking $15,000 for it,” he said. “That seemed awful high back then and I really didn’t want to go all the way to New York just to look at it.”

Every time he spotted another vintage Ventura for sale, it seemed the price had gone up by another $5,000.

“I thought there’ll be another one, but there wasn’t another one,” said Herbel, who finally shelved the notion of owning a copy of his favorite Pontiac.

Then in 2002, he spotted the two-tone green ’58 Delray for sale in Great Bend.

“Green was never my favorite color, but the more I looked at it, the more I liked it,” he said. He had checked out the car, a mostly original, bottom-of-the-line model equipped with the standard 235 cubic inch 6-cylinder engine and 3-speed manual transmission, twice before finally deciding to buy it.

“This is a poor man’s car, and that’s what I am,” Herbel joked.

Naturally, on the way to complete the purchase, he spotted an ad for a 1961 Pontiac Ventura for sale in Hutchinson. He asked his wife, Ruth, to call and get the particulars. When she told him the asking price was $35,000, it was a no-brainer. They stayed on the road to Great Bend.

Herbel’s parents and two of his brothers had owned ’58 Chevys back in the day, so he was no stranger to the rounded-off styling of the car. When he bought it, it looked pretty much like it does today, with a fresh paint job and new factory-correct upholstery. It did have one option that was critical to Herbel: a dealer-installed, working air conditioner that would make driving it to and from area car shows and in local parades tolerable on 100-degree summer days.

Herbel said he doesn’t have a detailed history of the car, but knows that it was originally sold at the Davis-Child Chevrolet dealership in Hutchinson. He likes the fact the car remains original, that no one has decided to pitch the old Stovebolt 6 and “three on the tree” in favor of a modern V-8 and automatic.

“When I go to a car show, I love to sit back and watch people,” Herbel said. “Young people walk up and see under the hood and they keep right on walking. Older people will say they know someone who had one like this.

“With the bias ply wide whitewall tires (Goodyear 8.00 x14s), it actually doesn’t drive that bad. I only drive it about 55 mph, because it sounds like it’s revved way up, not like a modern car, so I take it easy.”

The car shows 95,500 miles on the odometer and has immaculate paint on the unpadded dash and the window moldings. With no power steering, the big steering wheel is fitted with a well-used steering knob.

Herbel leans in the door and jabs the horn ring, producing a couple of loud, harmonized blasts.

“Now that’s a horn, man,” he grins.

Thoughts of his prized ’61 Pontiac Ventura hardtop still linger. But Herbel says his basic ’58 Delray has really grown on him over the last dozen years.

“For being the cheapest car you could get back then, it’s more beautiful than any new car you could see in the last 20 years,” he says proudly.

Reach Mike Berry at mberry@wichitaeagle.com.

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