1956 Bel Air: And Baby Makes Three

By Beth Smalley, Mount Albert, Ontario, Canada

Photography by Jim Knight

My fascination with '56 Chevys began in 1962 when I met Phil, my husband-to-be and his car. He drove a Harbor Blue 1956 Chevy 2-door One-Fifty sedan that he purchased from his brother for the grand sum of $200.00. The car was powered by a 265ci motor that was bored .060” over and was mated to a three-speed transmission in order to compete with the local hotrods of our era. It was then that I fell in love with Phil and his Chevy.

Life went on, but through the years we have reminisced from time to time about our old, long-gone 1956 Chevy and it has remained a soft spot in our hearts. My passion for cars never dwindled, but in 1968 my infatuation with cars had to be put on hold; in August of that year Phil and I were married and children soon followed. In 1971 our first love arrived, a son and in 1973 a daughter, a second love, made her debut.

In 1988, a third love arrived. This new baby was a 1956 Chevy Bel Air 2-door post in Nassau Blue and Harbor Blue. My car fascination was back again! Phil immediately named the car Beth, in my honor. We were first introduced to this car in an Old Autos advertisement and since it was a rare car with a 265/225hp TurboFire V8 engine with dual 4-barrel carburetors, which was produced for passenger cars in the last half of the production year of 1956, we decided to buy it.

Now that we were proud owners of a ’56, we attended a car show at the Malvern Town Centre, Toronto, Ontario in 1989. We met Jim James, the President of the Canadian Classic Chevy Car Club, at that show. He introduced us to the club and told us about Classic Chevy International and was able to provide us with information about where the car was manufactured from the cowl tag (Norwood, Ohio). Since our first local show, we've met and been traveling many miles with our Chevy friends.

We first got seriously interested in car shows after attending the Classic Chevy International Show in Syracuse, New York in July 1990. As we crested the hill approaching the site, we saw a mirage of classic cars that were spread out for miles upon miles of gleaming chrome and glass. We had our car judged by the club and we received 685 points out of a possible 1000…not exactly high points, but it was a place to start. After receiving our judging sheets, we realized what we had to do. The big change would be the undercarriage, which needed lots of our attention. A bushel of dirt later, a little tender loving care, spray paint and our next show was Woborn, Mass. Low and behold we received a bronze certificate and 868 points. Seeing what a little TLC, paint and a lot of elbow grease could do, this put us in high gear to restore the car.

With the car in tow in the fall of October 1992, we left our home in Mount Albert, Ontario, Canada to drive to Ottawa for a complete frame-off restoration. Through many trials and tribulations, many disappointments and a grand total of eighteen months in the body shop, our car was finally painted in April of 1994, but the work was far from over. Trying to get proper NOS parts and trim (thanks to Classic Chevy) we were able to find the correct parts to complete the restoration process. Many thanks to our dear friends in Ottawa: Dennis Chiounard and Fern Lalonde who spent over 3000 hours on this restoration.

On June 10th, 1995 we received a phone call informing us that “Beth 56'' was ready to rock n' roll. When we first arrived the '56 was sitting in front of the body shop and the feeling upon seeing the end result was indescribable. A little test drive to make sure all four wheels would turn and we loaded it onto the trailer for the homeward journey.

Our first show with the CCI Club was the North Eastern Nationals in Atlantic City, New Jersey, where we received a platinum certificate and scored 985 points from a possible 1000. We placed first in our class and received the Best Engine and the Best Paint awards of all the trailered cars in the show. Receiving this award meant so much to the both of us- what a thrill!

Perhaps one of the most unique shows that we've attended was in March of 1996, at Performance World, Toronto. This is an all-Canadian show that offers the largest plaque and cash awards of all Canadian shows. My car was awarded the Best Street Stock, Best of 1955-1957 Class and the Best Car Display. Although exhausting, the experience and competition was both overwhelming and invigorating.

Since 1996, we have traveled to many Chevy Classics and BowTie shows across North America, receiving platinum awards. After seven years of showing and intense preservation, in 2001 at Buffalo, New York, we received a platinum certificate with a score of 995 points. This was a true pay-off for the endless hours of cleaning and polishing. The end result has made us very proud to be 1956 owners.

Reflecting over the years, we feel that our '56 has been well received by judges and show participants. From a beauty standpoint, a list of options include: tinted E-Z-Eye date-coded glass, accessory bumpers, front fender shields, body sill moldings, door-edge guards, wire wheel covers, whitewall tires, door handle shields, exhaust extensions, fender birds, backup lamps, license plate frames, locking gas cap, under-hood lamp, two outside rear view mirrors, day-night rear view mirror, Wonderbar radio, traffic viewer, rear seat speaker, tissue dispenser, visor, vanity mirror, electric clock, compass and floor mats. Many of these items, which we now take for granted in our modern cars, are of true value and interest to the 1956 Chevy Bel Air enthusiast.

My husband and I are avid classic Chevy enthusiasts. It has been a great way for us to spend time together reminiscing about the old days and getting away from life's daily stresses. I take great pride in cleaning and showing my '56. In this great sport, I have also taken interest in judging at Chevy Classics Conventions.

We’re looking forward to all future shows where we’ll see old friends and meet new Chevy enthusiasts.