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The one that never got away

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Friday, May 16, 2014, at 5:39 p.m.
  • Updated Saturday, May 17, 2014, at 6:44 a.m.

Photos

— It’s a story that every car guy knows by heart: The cool car that got away because it was time to settle down, buy a sensible car and raise a family.

Only in the case of Norman and Annie Yoder, they never let go of their cool car, a beautiful 1955 Chevy Bel Air two-door hardtop.

“We raised three daughters up in it. It was our family car for 12 years,” Norman Yoder explains. He had courted Annie in his slick ’50 Chevy Deluxe convertible with moon hubcaps and dual spotlights.

“I was the talk of the town in that car,” Yoder grinned. “We were looking for a family car. My brother had bought a ’55 Chevy about three months before and I had always thought that was a good looking car. It was a fantastic changeover from the ’54 Chevy, with that (new) body and, of course, the V-8 engine.”

He figured a ’55 Bel Air hardtop would do just fine as a family car. (There had been a ’53 Cadillac Coupe DeVille and a ’49 Chevy Fleetline sedan following the ’50 Chevy convertible.)

“We bought this thing in March of ’59 … from Troy Hays and his wife in Hutchinson. It had 52,000 miles on it when I bought it. We’ve owned it for 55 years, and it’s a ’55 Chevy,” he said, noting the happy coincidence of the years.

Today, the Yoders’ Bel Air has more than 200,000 miles on it, although it wears its age extremely well, looking like a pure stock, unrestored car at first glance.

“It’s got its second engine in it,” Yoder said, noting that the power plant is a 265 cubic inch V-8 of the proper vintage, mated to the 2-speed Powerglide automatic transmission that came in the car. It is a 2-barrel carbureted engine equipped with the optional cannister-style oil cleaner.

“We did put dual exhausts on it, glasspacks, so it’s a sound-maker,” Yoder said, firing the engine up so it could rumble contentedly. He also added a set of Foxcraft fender skirts to accent the body lines, painting them in the correct Cashmere Blue to match the body, which is accented in India Ivory.

The Chevy was treated to a repaint years ago, which has stood up well to the passage of time.

“All of the chrome on it, except one strip, is original. I have a brand new set of bumpers and bumper guards that I am going to put on it. I just haven’t got around to it yet … the winter was so harsh, we only get it out once in a while,” Yoder said.

The inside of the nearly 60-year-old car is as impressive as the outside. The door panels and headliner are original, untouched pieces, while the seat covers have been replaced by Danchuk factory-specification upholstery in the right pattern and colors.

“I never detailed the inside, so the steering wheel shows some wear,” Yoder said. The color is worn away in spots, as is the paint atop the iconic twin arches of the instrument panel. The only obvious alteration there is a modern aftermarket radio adorned with a Chevy bowtie emblem, and an old-school set of oil pressure/ammeter gauges bolted to the bottom edge of the dash.

Yoder nearly made the mistake of trading the ’55 Bel Air off when he spotted a nice ’62 Chevy many years ago. Today, he’s glad he didn’t.

“I almost made the deal … but I finally decided to keep it,” he said. He later acquired a ’62 Impala Sport Coupe, but getting rid of the ’55 wasn’t part of that deal, or any other deal that came his way.

A longtime member of the Vintage Chevrolet Club of America, Yoder logged many of the miles on his ’55 attending regional and national events in it, where it proved quite popular. In 2011, he was determined to make it to the 100th anniversary celebration of Chevrolet in Flint, Mich. But events conspired to prevent him from making the trip in the blue and white Bel Air, disappointing a lot of people who were looking forward to seeing his car again.

“You don’t want to go to a car show in a train,” Yoder recalls. “Those guys were dang-near ready to hang a fella for that.”

Annie Yoder refers to the car parked proudly on their driveway as “the ’55 Baby.” And it’s clear, this car was truly destined to be a part of the family from the day Norman Yoder found it 55 years ago.

Reach Mike Berry at mberry@wichitaeagle.com.

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