James Bonno’s 1957 Bel Air

Customer: James Bonno

Vehicle: 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air

This 1957 Bel Air 2 Door Hard Top came off the assembly line Tuesday April 09, 1957 from the Los Angeles, California Plant. It was then delivered some time thereafter to Courtesy Chevrolet in Los Angeles, California. My father Anthony Bonno, 24 years old and working as a mechanic there purchased it new. He had it a few years before meeting and marrying my mother Janet. I was brought home as a baby in this car as well. I also remember weekly visits to my grandmother’s house for dinner, church and sleeping in the back seat on the way home every Sunday.

The car was turned into a second driver after my father bought a 1969 Impala around 1971. Then around 1975 the Bel Air was parked on the side of the house for a few years before it was moved into the garage. I remember that day around 1978 my father started it so he could move it into the garage. Once he got it started he took a lap around the block before parking it in the garage. I remember him coming down the street and up into the driveway and almost going through the back of our garage!! He got out of the Bel Air laughing and I asked why he was laughing. He said he lost his brakes coming up into the driveway and barely got it stopped with the hand brake. So there it sat in the garage for 20 years. During that time many different things were stacked on top and around her.

As the years went by there were a host of family and friends asking my father if he wanted to sell his Bel Air. Of course the answer was no!! I remember one of those times back in the early 80’s where my family was struggling a bit and an uncle brought over a “car guy” to make my father an offer of over $10,000. The answer was no again and my uncle was a bit upset my dad did not help his own cause by taking the offer. So, back to the “struggle” my family went but my dad still had his Bel Air sitting in the garage!! In late 1998 the Belair saw some daylight and was put on a trailer for a move to my parent’s new house. Along that journey my father had some great offers yelled at him from people out their windows as the Bel Air made its way down the highway. The Bel Air made it to its new home still under my dad possession and then it sat garaged again until May 14, 2002.

In the summer of 2002, after attending a car show and seeing a nice 1957 Bel Air and a host of other cars. It got the excitement and interest flowing about my Father’s Bel Air. I sat down with my father and told him about the cars I had seen the past weekend. We talked about what it would take in time, energy, parts,money etc.. We decided it was time to start restoring his Bel Air.

We aired the tires up and took it out of the garage, washed it, stuck the hub caps on and took “before” pictures. Over the next 8 or so months we stripped the car down. The underbody, chassis and engine compartment got stripped and painted. The front and rear suspension was refurbished with new bushings, springs and steering components. The original 283 was tired, my dad said 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 my father rebuilt the 2-speed cast iron Powerglide. It was amazing to see and will never forget watching my father disassemble the Powerglide on the tail gate of his 69 C10 pick up, and throw everything in buckets. It came to one point where he couldn’t find some tooling to further the disassembly. He found some metal laying around, fired up the acetylene torch and heated and bent the piece into what he needed. Later on after the cases were cleaned and parts bought, to see him dump those same buckets out and sort everything and re-assemble the Powerglide without even a book in front of him.

My dad was a hell of a mechanic and I will never forget watching him rebuild that Powerglide. The car shifts smooth and silky every time I drive it. When the machine work was completed on the 283 my father completed the assembly of the motor as well with ease.

As the restoration came up on about two years I got involved with other hobbies and set aside the restoration. My father as well let the project stall being that my interest were else where. During this time the Bel Air sat with no progress and unfortunately during that time my father passed away. One of my biggest regrets in life was wasting the opportunity to finish his car alongside him and see him drive it. With little motivation after my father died the Bel Air sat for a few more years collecting dust and no progress.

In 2011, while looking at my father’s car sitting in pieces I realized that it was a shame to not have a piece of my father’s legacy and my childhood completed. I pooled all my resources and made to commitment that my father’s Belair restoration/preservation project would be priority 1. There would be no stopping, stalling or quitting until it was finished. I decided to do a complete body off, nut and bolt restoration/preservation using the CCI Judging and Guidelines Handbook as a guide to restore it back to original. All chassis, suspension, brackets, rims, seat frames etc. have been powder coated to the respected color scheme. All glass has been replaced with new date coded EZ eye glass. Specific hardware, linkage and hood hinges were cad plated. Others left natural, cleaned and clear coated. 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 original. It is equipped with the Original Turbo-Fire V-8 283 Cubic Inch, 185 Horsepower, Rochester 2-barrel carburetor, 2-speed cast iron Powerglide transmission into 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 gauges that have been refurbished back to perfect working order.

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

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