THE PRINCE OF BEL AIR – 1957 CHEVROLET BEL AIR

Edition
Words by Gavin Wienand
Pictures: Joe van Zyl

We write about them, we read about them, we marvel at their lines, poise and grace, but ultimately in every childhood dream, you will find a big, shiny, red 1950s Chevy. 

The 1955, 1956 and 1957 Chevys are known by enthusiasts as the three golden Chevys – they are considered to be representative of the golden era of the 50s. Allen Boonzaaier is on a quest to own all three and he is off to a good start with this fine specimen. Of the six 1957 Chevy Bel Air Coupés in South Africa, only two can be found with this level of restoration. 

Approximately twelve months ago, Boonzaaier approached a vehicle broker with his request for this ultra-rare piece of American history. It was not long before a dark twist of fate offered up the car he had been searching for. This 1957 Chevy Bel Air Coupé had been owned by businessman Gerald Fox, and after Fox’s untimely passing, it went on the market. Boonzaaier knew at first sight that this was to be the crowning piece of his quest for the three golden Chevys.

This Bel Air in particular was imported from America 10 years ago by Fox as a fully restored vehicle; the details and history are now a mystery. What is evident is the degree of professionalism with which the restoration was undertaken. This car was not restored for the purposes of becoming a fire-breathing Hot Rod, but to recapture its former beauty and class. 

What takes one’s breath away when admiring this vehicle is its overall sense of nostalgia and originality. The engine bay reveals a small-block Chevy V8 with Holley Carburettor, which produces around 360 to 400HP. The fact that the exact figures are not known is testament to the ethic behind this vehicle: that horsepower is not its reason for being. 

Having purchased a fully restored Bel Air, Boonzaaier had very little to undertake in terms of modifications or upgrades. Due to the vehicle being in storage, the plug leads were changed in case of any brittle wiring and a full service was carried out. As is generally the case with a storage vehicle, the exhaust had slight rust spots and was replaced with a stainless steel system.

With the exception of a few cat pawprints, the Bel Air had near flawless paintwork. After three days of polishing, Boonzaaier had restored its shine and lustre. You can run a gentle finger down the side of the car and not feel a single imperfection in the finish. All of the chrome trim and beading is as straight as the day it left the factory, with every last piece in its primary location. 

The 1957 seats have been expertly reupholstered and would have the original craftsman envy its finish. There is no stitching out of line or off-centre, not a single crease or ripple in the material, and the colour choice is tasteful and suitably retro. The gauges are original pieces and the dash has not been cut, modified or tampered with in any way. But, original does come with limitations in the modern world, so all can be forgiven for replacing the column shift with a Hursch Auto Shifter. Electric windows round off the modern touches to the interior and manage to avoid being in any way intrusive to the feel of the cabin.

Allen Boonzaaier was unable to live with the original Marie-biscuit wheels and whitewalls that were fitting with the original restoration, but now let down the car’s understated aggression. He acquired a set of 20-inch LS split rims, and the arches house the massive wheels as if the designers wished they had 20-inch wheels on which the car could roll. ‘The addition of Bilstein shocks help with the handling but were not a necessity,’ says Boonzaaier, ‘only personal choice.’

As we take in the splendour of this undisputed prince of Bel Air, we wish Allen Boonzaaier all the luck in his quest for the three golden Chevys.