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Home/News and Feature Articles/*Featured Cars and Trucks/Chevrolet Featured Cars/ 1950s Cars/

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James Bonno's 1957 Bel Air was purchased new by his father in April of that year and has been in the family every since. The car's restoration, completed on-and-off over a period of about nine years, was finished in 2011.

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The restored '57, sitting proudly in front of the National Hot Rod Association Motorsports Museum.

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1957 Chevrolet Bel Air - James Bonno's Legacy to his Father
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By Automotive History Preservation Society Staff and James Bonno -
Reprint with permission only.

James Bonno knows the history of his beautiful 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air 2-door hardtop to the nearest minute as it has been part of his family his entire life.  It came off the assembly line at the Los Angeles plant on Tuesday, April 9, 1957.  It was then delivered to Courtesy Chevrolet in Los Angeles.  His father, Anthony Bonno, who was 24 years old at the time and working as a mechanic there, purchased it new.  He owned it a few years before meeting and marrying James’s mother Janet, and James was brought home as a baby in this car.  He has memories of weekly visits to his grandmother’s house, riding in it to church, and sleeping in the back seat on the way home.  

In 1971, his father bought a 1969 Impala, relegating the Bel Air to second-car status.  Then, about 1975, the Bel Air was parked on the side of the house for a few years before it was moved into the garage.  He remembers that day in about 1978 when his father got it started, drove it once around the block, and barely got it stopped in the garage as the brakes had given out and only the hand brake stopped the car.  

There it sat for 20 years over which time many different things were stacked on top of and around it.  James’s father received several inquiries over the years from family and friends about selling the car, and his answer was always a resounding no.  He even turned down a $10,000+ offer in the early 1980s when his family could have used the money.  

In late 1998 the Bel Air finally saw some brief daylight when it was put on a trailer for a move to his parent’s new house, where it again sat in a garage, this time for another four years.  Finally, in the summer of 2002, while attending a car show and seeing another, nice 1957 Bel Air, his father caught the bug for restoration.  

The tires were aired up, and the car was driven out of the garage, washed, hubcaps put on, and then some “before” photos were snapped.  Over the next eight or so months, the car was stripped down, and the underbody, chassis, and engine compartment were stripped and painted.  The front and rear suspensions were refurbished with new bushings, springs, and steering components.  The original 283 was tired, with his father saying that he had put new rings in one too many times, so it ended up getting bored out.  While the motor was in the machine shop, his father rebuilt the 2-speed cast iron Powerglide and installed both it and the engine back in the car.

As the restoration came up on about two years, James got involved with other interests, and the Bel Air was set aside.  Now the story takes a bit of a sad turn as, before restoration was resumed, James’s father passed away, and his biggest regret about the whole thing is that his father did not live to see the car finished.  Finally, in 2011, James realized, while looking at his father’s car sitting in pieces, that it was time to honor his father’s legacy and finish the job.

He decided to do a complete body-off, nut-and-bolt restoration/preservation using the CCI (Chevy Club International) Judging and Guidelines Handbook as a guide to restore it back to original.  All chassis, suspension, brackets, rims, seat frames, etc. were powder-coated to their respective color schemes.  All glass has been replaced with new, date-coded EZ eye glass.  Specific hardware, linkage, and hood hinges were cadmium plated.  The exterior is painted Onyx Black and interior Matador Red to match the paint code 793A and trim code 676.

For the underbody, Red Oxide primer was matched in color into single stage paint for an easier clean up from road grime.  A complete, new wire harness was installed to replace the brittle 54-year-old original.  The car is equipped with the original Turbo-Fire V-8 283 cubic-inch, 185 hp engine with Rochester 2-barrel carburetor and 2-speed cast iron Powerglide transmission into the 3:55 ratio stock differential.  The exhaust package is two into one.  Braking is supplied by Treadle-Vac power brakes and factory power steering to help stop and steer the 3000 pound plus Bel Air.  It has its original clock and radio along with all original dash instrument and gauges that have been refurbished back to perfect working order.

Accomplishing this task took 30 months to complete. As soon as it was roadworthy, James’s first  trip was to bring the Bel Air to his mother and father’s final resting place for them to “see” it.  It was emotional to say the least for James to be standing there in the presence of his parents and his father’s Bel Air.

Where best to drive your '57 Chevy? Why, to the local hamburger stand, of course!

The interior received as complete a restoration as the exterior, engine, and underbody.

Comfort and style in 1957 and 2015.

The original 283 had received one too many sets of rings, in James's Dad's opinion, so it was completely rebuilt. It has a 2-bbl Rochester carburetor.

James's father rebuilt the 2-speed Powerglide himself.

All underbody components were powder-coated to original colors.

 

By some estimations, the '57 Chevy is the most popular collector car in the history of car-collecting.

James and his father Anthony, standing in front of the not-yet-restored Bel Air in a photo from an earlier time.