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The crown jewel of my "fleet"... The '57 BelAir.

Before telling you about my particular car... I'll start by sharing the story that started my whole obsession with fins and chrome...

My father (Dexter Manning) used to tell stories about a '57 Chevrolet that his brother Marvin once had. In the mid to late 60's, Dad and his brothers spent one whole summer transplanting a new engine into a red '57 BelAir 2-Door Hardtop.

After the engine swap, my uncle Marvin talked to some crooked body shop guy about repainting the car. Shortly thereafter, Marvin was drafted for military service. A few months went by before the paint guy shows up at my grandparents' house. Dishonestly, the man claimed my uncle had told him to paint the car while he was away... and he'd pay him once he got back.

Well, to make a long story short, my uncle returned to find the car had been painted... and he now had a large shop bill to pay. Unable to come up with the cash, he let the paint guy have the car instead... (Which was probably a the best idea at the time, especially considering the fact that the paint guy was later jailed for killing someone.)

Marvin's ill-fated '57 was a factory red BelAir 2-Door Hardtop... THE car which has since become an icon of the fifties - and perhaps American culture in general. Since childhood, I always hoped for a car like this of my own. Somehow I guess I wanted to correct the injustice suffered by my uncle and his brothers so many years ago.

In January of 2007, I was granted the bittersweet chance to realize that dream. That's when I learned that J.R. Brewer, one of my closest friends from the car club, had been diagnosed with terminal cancer.

Before he died, J.R. offered to sell me his black '57 BelAir. After about a week of soul-searching and careful consideration, I decided to buy the car. Most of my decision came from the fact that I'd never again be able to buy or build the same car for the money. Plus, the chance to own my "dream car" before I reached the age of 30 was a big factor in the decision.

Furthermore, It seemed as though J.R. actually wanted me to have the car just about as much as I wanted it for myself. J.R.'s sudden illness and quickly declining health provided me with a valuable lesson... Make the most of every opportunity to enjoy life to it's fullest. After all, you never know when your number is up.

A few weeks after I bought the car, J.R. died at the age of 58... I drove this car in his funeral procession.

Sometimes I can almost see J.R. sitting there in the passenger seat of the '57. It's comforthing to know that J.R. and his wife pretty much hand-picked me to carry on the hot rod tradition of this particular vehicle.


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