Kimberly V. Althage – January 5, 2022
Gateway Classic Cars has brought many babies “back home” to the owner who had sold their prize so many years ago. Those who seek the one that they regrettably let slip away know to watch our site and visit online often. They know we are the largest Classic and Exotic Car Company in the world and the most likely place they might recover what they lost.
When Warren was sixteen years of age, he worked at his uncle’s Shell station in Baden neighborhood of St. Louis. The original owner of a 1953 Bel Air would regularly bring it there for service. Warren’s first night closing shift he cleaned the head of that vehicle to prepare for a valve job they were doing the next day.
Warren bought that Bel Air in 1985 from the original owner who regularly used his uncle’s shop. He was only twenty years old at the time. Appreciating its true original structure, and being more of a purist or a traditionalist, he never modified the vehicle. “I never wanted to convert it or do any hotrod work to it or defame it at all, because it was so original,” he said.
Warren owned the vehicle for twelve years. Although that original nature meant it had no seatbelts, and when Warren’s son was born, he decided to sell it. Warren sold it in 1997. A mere week later he regretted it immensely. “What was I thinking?!,” he recalled.
Warren has been searching for the vehicle close to twenty-five years. He lost the contact information of the buyer who lived in Wood River, IL. He would go to car shows and he had friends be his lookout at other shows, but no one ever saw it. He regularly visited Gateway Classic Car’s website and other sites across the country looking for Bel Airs at minimal to see how they were priced. Although, he was really wanting to see if his would appear in his search. He never saw it; he saw a few brown ones but not his car. It was like it disappeared. Naturally he thought it either got sold out of state or wrecked.
Warren shared having a faint memory seeing a video of it over the summer immediately when the car was brought to Gateway Classic Cars. Checking every few months, he saw the video. “The car looked so different though, I did not see any of the pictures I only watched the video and dismissed it thinking it was not my car,” he said.
The Monday before Christmas Warren was watching the very first episode of ‘Fast N’ Loud’ and the characters from Gas Monkey Garage. Roughly five minutes into the program they discuss the 210 a “cheaper version” of the higher Bel Air line. It brought his Bel Air back to front of mind and with his phone in hand he searched for it. The one in our St. Louis Showroom was the first listed on the results given. Warren went to our site, he looked at the car and thought, “holy smoke it looks a LOT like my car.”
That night Warren continued to look at the photos of it online. He had the pink slip a few years ago, but misplaced it, and being unable to check against a VIN number, he could only go by the photos. Looking at one picture, he thought it was not his car, but when looked at another he again thought it was. That back and forth went on for a bit. “There were enough changes to the vehicle that at a glance I could not be sure it was my car. I was losing my mind thinking I might have found it after all these years and stared intensely at those photos,” he said.
Then he saw a Stewart Warner Vacuum Gauge on the left corner of the dash. That was telling since the original owners had one installed. Still not entirely sure, Warren continued to examine the photos. The clincher was Warren had given the guy he sold it to in 1997 the original key from Barford Chevrolet in Clayton, MO. When Warren saw that very key chain hanging from the ignition in one of the pictures, he knew he had found his car. He could not read the name on it from the pictures, but knowing it is such a unique keychain from the ‘50s he felt it had to be his old car.
Wasting no time, Warren arrived at the showroom the next morning to look at the vehicle in person. He also brought his photo album of the vehicle thinking it would help him figure out how close the vehicle was to the one he owned all those years ago. Again, the previous owner did enough changes it was hard to tell for sure. They added a passenger side mirror which Warren did not have, they shaved the emblem off the trunk, and made some changes under the hood. Just a few things that made it unclear. Yet another telltale sign was when Warren was sixteen his shop did a valve job and painted the head Chevy Orange. The guy had painted the motor blue, which is the correct color. Yet when Warren examined more closely, he could see the orange under some of the blue paint that had flaked off.
Yet, there were elements that screamed “this is your car.” First, the gauge already mentioned. The Prestone® Flush ‘N Fill tee he installed for the original owner was still there and matched the picture in his album. When our St. Louis Showroom Lead Sales Consultant, Masen Motsinger opened the trunk, Warren thought it had to be his car because it looked just exactly like he remembered.
It was settled when Masen handed him the keychain and Warren saw ‘Barford Chevrolet’ on it. He knew it was his car. In fact, even the glovebox was like a time capsule. When Warren originally purchased the car, it still had the paperwork from the factory on the sun visor that he folded and placed in the glovebox. All of which was still in that glovebox.
When Warren sold the car, it had 56K miles on it. It has 70K miles on it now. In 25 years, it was driven less than 14K miles in all. Masen explained we could not verify the mileage, to which Warren replied he in fact could.
What is most interesting, is Warren sold it to a guy who lived in Woodriver, IL when he lived in Florissant, MO. The owner in Woodriver had the vehicle for roughly 20 years then sold the car to a couple who live in Bellville, IL. Warren moved to Belleville roughly 15 years ago. So, these people bought it five years ago and practically lived in his backyard, but he never saw it.
Warren jokes it was a Christmas miracle.
Gateway Classic Cars sells and consigns hundreds of vehicles each month. Do you have a classic car for sale with a story to tell? We’d love to hear about it, please email us at email@example.com to share it.