This is the story of two people who met in a rural North Carolina town when the world was rebuilding from World War II, and how their 1953 Chevy Bel Air made its mark on them. In 1951, Irma Vickers was sixteen years old and still in high school. One evening, her best friend invited her out on a double-date. The best friend’s boyfriend was in the Air Force and was home on leave with his fellow pilot, Charles. That night, Irma met Charles and sparks flew. From that point forward, while he was deployed, they wrote each other frequently until the day he returned home for good. That same year, he bought a 1953 Chevy Bel Air for Irma to drive. As they continued to date, the Bel Air would carry them to places all around the state on dates and vacations, and be the backdrop for many long conversations and countless moments of happiness and laughter with friends.
After courting Irma for close to six years, Charles finally popped the question and asked for her hand in marriage. Three children were born to the couple over the years and the Bel Air remained Irma’s favorite car. She continued to drive it until it was sold to make room for a newer vehicle in the late '60s. As the years passed, the children grew up and left home to start their own lives and families.
In 2002, Irma went to visit one of Charles’ aunts in Albemarle, NC. On her drive back home, she spotted a familiar green color out of the corner of her eye. Sitting in a used car lot on the side of the road, was her beloved ’53 Bel Air! She almost wrecked her car as she was driving past the car lot. She turned her car around and drove right back to the car lot. She got out and walked around it, and then opened the driver’s side door and slid in. It was that old familiar feeling…this was her car. She immediately called Charles and told him what she had found. Before she left the car lot, she put a deposit on the car, and she and Charles went back the next day to claim it. It was still in good shape and ran just fine, so they drove it home.
Charles promptly began to restore the vehicle, but this time his little grandson Trey was along for the ride. For the next several years, Charles and Trey restored the vehicle together. Charles taught Trey everything about the engine, how to repair it, and especially how to keep it running. He also taught Trey how to keep it clean and shiny and to take pride in doing things the right way. Trey was very young when that adventure began, and he learned everything there was to know about the Bel Air from his grandfather. Trey even started to mimic how Charles walked out to the workshop where it was kept, and earned the nickname ‘Little Charles’. Irma and Charles were married 52 years when he passed away, but Trey carries on the ways of his grandfather and cares for Irma’s beloved ’53 Bel Air, making sure that it is running right and looking just the way Charles taught him as a child.
I am Brad Landis and I’ve worked at Hagerty for 5 years. I thoroughly enjoy hearing all of the great stories that people share, and the passion people have with their collector vehicles. I have many fond memories as a child with my Uncle Joe who owned a 1912 Model T roadster.