It shone like a diamond. Patti Abrams remembers being a child and accompanying her father, an auto mechanic, to the local junkyard. It was one of their regular adventures digging for used parts.
Amongst the rusting vehicles she spotted a Chevrolet Bel Air – painted bright red with a white roof. Abrams fell in love with it.
Decades later, Abram’s husband, Steve, who knew about her passion for the Bel Air, would give her key chains or diecast models of the car. It became an inside joke between the two of them. So, on their 13th wedding anniversary, it didn’t seem odd when he handed her a card with a photograph of a banged up 1954 Bel Air inside it. “Cute, whose car is this?” she asked. “It’s yours,” her husband replied.
Abrams tells us why she loves her 1954 Chevrolet Bel Air.
“I think I was in shock,” said Abrams about receiving her anniversary gift from her husband. “He had bought the car from a friend in New Jersey. It took a few months to get here, and it looked very, very different. You couldn’t drive it and the tires were not just flat but shredded and it had no brakes.
“The first thing we did was take it to our friend Stony Smith at Oddball Kustoms, and together we started the process of putting the car together. It took about three years to get it to where it is now, and it’s been a wild adventure along the way.
“The parts have truly come from everywhere. For example, we realized quickly it had been in an accident at some point, so Stony straightened the frame as best he could but couldn’t get the trunk to fit properly. After a ton of searching, we finally found one in Manitoba.
“We only ever drive it around the city and people film us all the time. I’ve had people step out of the curb right in front of the car to ogle at it— which can be a bit unsettling. Kids wave and when you wave back, they’re so excited.
“The thing I’ve noticed most as a woman driving this car is the comments I get along the way. I take it into the shop and explain that I need to get a certain part replaced and they interrupt me and say, ‘Let us figure this out.’ I was at the gas station recently and a guy came up and said, ‘Awesome car, is this your husband’s or your dad’s?’ I get that a lot.
“My dad instilled a passion for cars in me from a young age, and for him, gender had nothing to do with that. In fact, he taught automotive repair and started the first female-only class at his school because he hated the way women were treated in his classes.
“My dad unfortunately never got to see this car before he passed away, but he knew it was coming. Steve, my husband, called him and told him he was going to buy it. He would have loved her,” Abrams said. “When I’m asked how much I’ve spent on the car, I just say ‘a lot.’ You put more money into things like this than you will ever be able to sell them for and that’s the passion behind it.”
1954 Chevrolet Bel Air
“The body of this car is original but almost everything else is new,” said Abrams. “It’s got automatic windows, it’s got a rear-view camera, it’s got a sound system I can hook up to my phone. Admittedly, this is a very modern take on the Chevy Bel Air, but I did want to maintain some traditional elements, especially when it came to the upholstery and the chrome. All that said, it doesn’t drive like a new car. It’s got a lot of play in the steering, and it hasn’t got power-assisted steering so parallel parking can be difficult.”
“The shape of this car is so sexy. I just love old curvy cars and wasn’t a fan when vehicle design shifted to boxy and sharp lines. The 1954 model was the last year that the Bel Air was this shape,” said Abrams. “I named her Talulah Blue. My daughter gives me a hard time both for naming it and for assigning it a gender, but all cars are girls — that’s just the way it is.”
“Stony got the car’s seats from an old pickup truck. The backseat is closer to what the Chevy Bel Air’s would have originally looked like, but the front seat would have also been a bench seat. Interestingly, neither of these seats move. They are welded into place and custom-fit to me. When we put them in, Stony asked me, ‘What position do you want to be in” How close to you want to be to the steering wheel?’ So, it’s a little uncomfortable for my husband to drive, but it’s perfect for me.”