By Brian Earnest
Fred Lossman has one of those stories that is just so hard to believe and “out there,” you know that it has to be true. Nobody would believe him if he just made the whole thing up.
It isn’t just that Lossman wound up with a splendid, extremely collectible, low-mileage, almost-all-original 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air two-door sedan. That would be amazing enough, regardless of how he got it. But it’s how he got it that’s so mind-boggling.
His tale is a classic example of the trust “car folks” often have in other car folks, even if they’ve never even met; and the enduring truth that you never know for sure what you’ll find when you take a chance and go look at an old car.
Lossman’s part of the story started back in 1998, when the resident of Nevada City, Calif., was checking out some online classified ads and came across a simple two-sentence ad for a 1955 Bel Air. “The ad said something like, ‘1955 Chevy, 12,000 original miles, stick shift,’ and it had a phone number,” Lossman recalled. “And that’s about all it said.”
We’ll let Lossman narrate what happened from there.
“In 1955, the car was bought by a woman in Salina Kansas. She did laundry for a living, and was described as a feisty, Irish woman, and she saved her money to buy this car. And after she purchased it, she wouldn’t let anybody ride in it, even her husband! In fact, there had never been anybody ever ride in the back seat. She kept the car until 1987, and then she went into a rest home. The couple that I bought the car from [also from Salina] purchased it in 1987. The woman bought it for her husband’s 60th birthday, as a surprise for him.
“At that point — this is in 1987 — it had 11,100 miles. So it went from 1955 to 1987 with this woman driving with nobody else in the car, until it had 11,100 miles. Then this couple in Kansas had it, and the guy drove it once a year in a parade. That was it. That was about all they drove it.”
And that’s about the time Lossman saw the ad saying the car was for sale.
“I’m one of these guys that is just constantly screening car ads,” he said. “I’ve known Chevys all my life, and ‘55 is kind of known as a premier year. It was just a flyer I called on to see what the deal was … I called the phone number and it was a guy in San Diego, and he said he was just placing the ad for his uncle. So I called the folks in Kansas and talked to the husband that owned the car. He was somewhat grouchy, because I kept asking about he condition of the car, and he kept saying ‘It’s only got 12,000 miles!’
“So I used some airline miles and flew to Kansas and they had arranged to meet me at the airport … We drove to their city and checked into a motel, and the woman picked me up the next morning, and she said. ‘I have to go to work, and we’ll drive by the bank where I work, I’m going to leave the car with you for the day.’ And she gave me the keys to the [Bel Air], her house and her Cadillac! She said, ‘Make yourself comfortable!’ So, I drove to the house, and looked in the garage and saw the Chevy. It was covered up, but I could see it. I didn’t have the nerve to start it without the owners being home, but I was sure tempted. When the man came home from work we took it for a ride. We took it out on the freeway. Obviously, the front end was shot. It was wandering all over the place. But it sounded good, was reasonably clean … I had no conception as to what I was going to find. I thought it would be rusty and original, but would need a lot of work. I was amazed at the condition of the car. I played it very cool, because I thought this guy was going to be grouchy, and he was…
“Later, we drove back to the airport and I made an offer. He didn’t accept, and he was kind of grouchy, and I thought I screwed up …. When I got home I called the woman back the next day, and told her I wanted to buy the car … The man didn’t like people from California because he was sure I was going to turn it into a hot rod …and [he thought] I was a surfer. Well, I’m 75 and he was probably 5 years older than I was, but I guess I was just a kid then, 10 years ago! So I sent him pictures of my ‘61 Chevy pickup, which was a national award winner … and gave him a sob story about how I wouldn’t turn his car into a hot rod.”
Well, the Kansas couple did finally agree to sell their Chevy, and Lossman has turned the Bel Air into a bit of a time capsule. Today, the car has just 19,000 miles, and almost everything that isn’t disposable remains original: it’s two-tone paint (Neptune Green with Seafoam Green), chrome, engine, running gear and interior.
“I did the ball joints. I had the gas tank boiled. I replaced the gas gauge, because it didn’t work. I replaced the hoses and anything rubber on it that needed replacing. I tuned it, and I spent hours polishing the paint,” Lossman said. “The interior didn’t need anything, but I did put seat belts in it. And it had the original bias tires on it, so I replaced them with radials, so I could drive it. It had blackwalls, but I put whitewalls on it.”
Any of the “Tri-Five’ Chevrolets are a hit with enthusiasts today, but two-door sedans like Lossman’s were not exactly the glamour cars of the period, nor were they the most popular. Plenty of the two-door post sedans were sold for 1955 (168,313), but both the four-door sedan (345,372 units) and two-door hardtop (185,562) were more popular in Chevy’s top-of-the-line Bel Air series. Today, the two-door sedans take a backseat in the collecting world to the hardtops and convertibles of the era, but cars as well preserved as Lossman’s ’55 are hot tickets.
“I belong to a Chevy club, and some of the guys have cars of that vintage, but most of them are hopped up,” Lossman said. “Mine is the rarity of the bunch. Most people would pull that [six-cylinder] engine out and drop a V-8 into it, but I would never do that.
“One of the dilemmas I have is that I like to brag about the low mileage it has, which means I shouldn’t drive it,” he added with a chuckle. “Pretty soon it is going to turn over 20,000 … It’s pretty silly trying to explain that to my wife.”
Lossman’s car is powered by Chevy’s 123-horsepower, 235.5-cid six-cylinder, and has a three-speed with overdrive and single-barrel carburetor. A three-speed manual gearbox with column-mounted gearshift was standard on all models for 1955. Overdrive was available on the manual transmission at $108 extra. A Powerglide two-speed automatic transmission was available at $178 extra.
The 265-cid V-8 engine was available in 1955 with an optional “power-pack” that included single four-barrel carburetor and dual exhaust.
Standard equipment on the Bel Airs included most features found on the lower-priced lines, plus: carpets on closed body styles; chrome ribbed headliners on the Sport Coupe; richer upholstery fabrics; horizontal chrome strip on the sides of the front fender and doors; narrow white painted inserts on the rear fender horizontal side moldings; gold Bel Air script and a Chevrolet crest behind the slanting vertical sash molding; ribbed vertical trim plate on the sides above the rear bumper ends; wide chrome window and door post reveals and full wheel discs.
“Mine doesn’t even have an oil filter because it I think cost an extra 2 dollars and 50 cents when it was new,” Lossman joked.
Lossman says his car is not quite perfect, but he has no plans to fix its few small flaws. “There is a scratch on the front bumper and a small dent about the size of the dime on the top of one fender — just a tiny little dimple, like somebody maybe dropped something on it,” he said. “Other than that, it looks new … I put a lot of hours into (the paint). I was surprised how well it turned out. I thought I’d take too much off it, because I’m not a professional paint and body guy. But the paint really turned out great. The hood is showing some signs of age. There is some swirl marks, but the rest of it pretty much looks like new.”
Amazingly, Lossman has even kept up a bit of a friendship with the former owners, even the “grouch” who was so reluctant to sell him the car in the first place. “I’ve kept in contact with them and send them pictures of the car periodically from car shows,” he said. “It’s kind of a dream deal, really.”
A dream deal for sure. And a dream car. And a sweet pick for OldCarReport.com’s Car of the Week.
SIX-CYLINDER: Overhead valve. Cast iron block. Displacement: 235.5 cid. Bore and stroke: 3-9/16 x 3-15/16 inches. Compression ratio: 7.5:1. Brake horsepower: 123 at 3800 rpm (standard shift); 136 at 4200 rpm (Powerglide). Four main bearings. Solid valve lifters (standard shift); Hydraulic valve lifters (Powerglide). Carburetor: Rochester one-barrel Model 7007181.
V-8: Overhead valve. Cast iron block. Displacement: 265 cid. Bore and stroke: 3-3/4 x 3 inches. Compression ratio: 8.0:1. Brake horsepower: 162 at 4400 rpm (all V-8s). Five main bearings. Powerglide engine has hydraulic valve lifters. Carburetor: Rochester two-barrel Model 7008006.
Wheelbase: 115 inches. Overall length: (passenger cars) 195.6i nches; (station wagons) 197.1 inches. Front tread: 58 inches. Rear tread: 58.8 inches. Tires: 6.70 x 15 tubeless.
Power steering ($92). Power brakes ($38). Directional signals. Electric windshield wipers. Power windows. Power seat. Heater and defroster. Air conditioning. White sidewall tires. Fender antenna. Locking gas cap. Continental tire kit. Outside sun visor. Self de-icing wiper blades. Wiring junction block. Electric clock. Compass. Seat covers. Accelerator pedal cover. Wire wheel covers. Tissue dispenser. Exhaust extension. Filter and element. License plate frame. Glare-shields. Grille guard. Fender guard. Door edge guard. Gasoline filler guard. Tool kit. Back-up lamps. Courtesy lamps. Cigarette lighter. Floor mats. Outside rearview mirrors. Inside non-glare rearview mirrors. Vanity visor. Manual radio. Push-button radio. Signal-seeking radio. Automatic top riser armrests. Wheel trim rings. Safety light with mirror. Sport lamp. Electric shaver. Parking brake signal. Door handle shields. Front fender shields. Rear speaker. Vent shades. Inside sun visor. Traffic light viewer. Foot-operated windshield washer. Vacuum-operated windshield washer.
MORE RESOURCES FOR CAR COLLECTORS FROM OLDCARSWEEKLY.COM