A ’60 Chevy surprise for a 70th birthday

12/21/2013 12:00 AM

12/21/2013 6:55 AM

Sometimes a traffic ticket can be a good thing. If not for one, Charles Belew would have never gotten his beloved 1960 Chevy Impala back as the best surprise birthday present of his life.

The story begins back in the spring of 1962 when Belew, a young single fellow, bought a white Chevy 2-door hardtop equipped with a 348 V-8 and a 4-speed transmission from Quality Chevrolet.

“Back then, I thought everybody had a 4-speed,” recalls Belew, who admits he was rough on the car, often racing it and often tearing it up in the process. “I mistreated this car.

“I went through three or four rear ends. I put a 327 in it when the 348 blew up,” he recalled. Not surprisingly, speeding tickets became a fairly regular occurrence.

The car also made regular road trips to Kansas State to visit his future wife, Jeanne, while she was in school there. They were married in May 1966, and the Impala, covered with scribbled graffiti and trailing a couple hundred yards of toilet paper, was there to whisk Belew and his bride away on their honeymoon, with several carloads of friends in pursuit.

By the next summer, the Impala was in need of still more work and Belew decided it was time to settle down a bit. So he traded the Impala hardtop for a new VW Squareback Sedan.

“The Chevy was making 4-6 miles to the gallon,” he said. “The difference between fuel bills made the payments on the VW.” He figured that was the last he would see of the Impala, and for 35 years, he was right.

“In the spring of 2002, we got a phone call from a gentleman in McCook, Nebraska. He said, did you used to own a ’60 Chevy … I think I have it,” said Jeanne Belew. “He said he found a speeding ticket in a slot of the glove box with my husband’s name on it.”

“It was only one of many,” her husband confessed. But sure enough, the ticket, issued in Peck had been written to Charles Belew in 1964. How much over the limit was the citation? “A bunch, probably,” he laughed.

The new owner of the car, Mike Towery, had found the car in remarkably good shape, with only 89,000 miles on it, in a Missouri salvage yard. He paid $3,250 for the car, which Belew said was only $45 less than the original sticker price.

But the 4-speed transmission was gone by then, with an automatic replacing it. “But the clutch pedal was still there, under the carpet,” Belew said.

“He did a lot of work to it,” he said, including installing an all new red and white houndstooth-checked interior in the car.

The Belews struck up a long-distance friendship with Towery and visited him twice, in 2002 and again in 2011. They were thrilled to be able to drive their old car again on both occasions. But Towery was not interested in selling the car, so that seemed the end of that.

But that didn’t discourage the Belews’ children, Matt and Kara, from trying. They thought it would make a perfect 70th birthday gift for their dad and, after several months of dickering, were finally able to buy the car back.

They borrowed a trailer and towed the car back to Kansas, hiding it in a friend’s garage, planning to spring the surprise at a big backyard birthday gathering.

“On August 17, we had 150 people in our back yard, and our son drove it in,” said Jeanne.

“I knew it was a Chevrolet as soon as I heard it,” Charles Belew said. “I recognized it right away. I thought maybe he had driven it down for me to see on my birthday.”

When he was handed the keys, Belew was speechless.

“I couldn’t talk … I had tears in my eyes.”

“Finally, he said, `How’d you do that?’ ” his wife said. “It took a lot of planning and organizing to keep secret. We’ve been married way too long to keep that big a secret.”

But they managed to pull it off. “Everyone knew about it but me,” Charles Belew said.

Now powered by a 350 Chevy V-8, with a correct 4-speed behind it, the Impala has finally come home to stay. The car now has 145,000 miles on it and Belew plans to drive it whenever he can -- but no more smoky burnouts or street racing, he says.

He plans to have some body work done and disc brakes installed at all four corners, maybe an air conditioner added for hot summer days at area car shows.

“It will never be in the big shows. It’s not quite that polished. But I plan to enjoy it,” Belew said. All thanks to that speeding ticket he got in Peck almost 50 years ago.

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