Stuck in the ’50s |
Ron Cherry
Special to The Union

Stuck in the ’50s

This 1956 Chevy has clean, straight lines that are classic. The factory rally wheels like on it were first were made in 1967, but are now a favorite for tri-five (1955-1957) Chevy owners..

Although Jim Paul has owned many cool cars over the years, his favorite ones are from the 1950s.

He previously has owned a '56 Vette (with rare factory dual quads), a '55 Olds, two '55 Chevys and three '56 Chevys, counting the '56 Bel Air two-door post he now owns

He bought his current Chevy because his '55 was stolen from a parking lot when he lived in Burbank, down in sunny SoCal. Although his insurance paid him for it, he wanted to replace it with a similar one, a mid-'50s Chevy.

About three years ago, his son called him from Las Vegas. He was attending an aftermarket car parts show and had seen a '56 Chevy for sale.

"This is the one to buy," he told Jim. The previous owner had finished building it not long before passing away, and his widow had it for sale. Based on his son's vouching for the car, Jim made a hefty deposit on it and headed to Vegas.

When Jim saw the '56 Bel Air he had purchased, he was not disappointed. The body was in great shape with good paint. The interior had been all redone in brown with a tilt wheel.

Its drivetrain was a 350 CID engine with a 700R4 four-speed auto trans with overdrive that hooked up to a 3.70:1 positraction rear end. With power steering and power front disc brakes, it was a sweet machine — so sweet that Jim hopped in and drove it back to California.

There were a couple of problems. One was that the car was painted white, and Jim was not in love with the color. The second was that the basically stock 350 engine just wasn't up to his standards. His '55 that had been stolen had been running a big-block 502 CID fire-breather, and he missed that power. Fortunately, his son is a great mechanic and rebuilt the 350 as a 383 CID stroker.

He used a roller cam with 280 degree duration and .525 lift for a nice, lopey idle and plenty of top end. A 750 cfm Holley carb provides plenty of air-fuel mixture to the big engine, even if not great mileage. But that's a matter of priorities: power versus economy.

The problem of color was handled when another driver ran into the side of Jim's Chevy, maybe not noticing his car because of the neutral white paint. He had it repainted bright yellow, a much more noticeable hue that would make sure his Chevy would never blend into the scenery.

When Jim retired about a year ago, he decided to move to the Grass Valley area. He had first scoped it out about 40 years ago and liked it. He'd talked about it so positively that his mother and sister had moved here before he did.

He liked the beauty of the region and that it had "an airport and hospital close by." Peter Franchino, his friend from the ninth grade, had also moved up here before and bought the Elam Biggs Bed and Breakfast Inn.

His 63½ Ford Galaxie was featured in this column previously. So the two of them dropped by IHOP one Friday morning for breakfast with the Roamin Angels a couple of months ago and joined the club. Jim says he was very impressed with what the club does for the community.

So now you just might see Jim cruising around town in his bright yellow '56 Bel Air. And if he looks likes he's reliving those thrilling days of yesteryear, maybe he is. His mother once said to him, "When are you going to grow up?" He replied, "Never." So maybe he is, as he said, "stuck in the '50s."

For more about Ron Cherry and his writing, see For information about the Roamin Angels Car Club, go to, call 530-432-8449, write to Roamin Angels, P.O. Box 1616, Grass Valley, CA 95945, or just stop by IHOP on Taylorville Road Fridays at 6:30 a.m. for breakfast.