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I’m sure many of you have found that when you respond to a “car for sale” ad, the actual product is often not quite as expected. Normally I find I go into a deal hoping for the best, but finding things aren’t as professed. When Jeff Knowlton decided to follow-up with a “for sale” caller on the KSOO radio “Buy or Sell” call-in show, he went into things with less than high expectations.
The seller announced that he had a ‘55 Chevy for sale with an asking price of $250.00. This was back in 1995, but even then, $250.00 for a ‘55 Chevy didn’t seem like a bad buy to Jeff. He figured it might be something he could refurbish a bit and re-sell to make a few bucks, or if it was really rough, he could part it out and still do OK. When Jeff told his wife, Jean, that he was going to “look” at a car for sale, she knew that was much like going to look at a puppy: Jeff would be coming home with another car!
After calling the seller, Jeff went to check out the Chevy and was soon liking what he was seeing. The car had the typical “eyebrow” rust and minimal rust in a couple other spots, as well as some trunk damage; but it was really a pretty solid car. The odometer showed 90,000+ miles. This was a gold colored Bel Air 4-door sedan with a 6 cylinder engine and three speed overdrive transmission. All the while Jeff was looking the car over, the seller’s phone rang constantly, so Jeff promptly committed to buy the Chevy.
When he bought the car, Jeff knew there was body work to be done. While researching paint codes to determine what gold paint he would need for the car, he discovered that the paint code listed on the trim tag (689) was not in any of the supplier’s books. Chevrolet did offer a “harvest gold” in 1955, but it was very different from the gold on this car. As Jeff was digging through the Ditzler book at ABS, a “Jobber Notice” insert in the book dated 1-12-55 mentioned that approximately 5000 ’55 Chevys and 100 Oldsmobiles were painted “Anniversary Gold Poly”. (Jeff, of course, has a copy of that sheet in possession.) He kicked his research into high gear at this point, and soon learned that what he had bought was one of a limited number of 1955 Chevrolet Anniversary Gold Bel Airs.
Through extensive research, Jeff learned that in 1954 General Motors built their 50 millionth vehicle; and that happened to be a 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air 2-door hard top. In order to commemorate this milestone event, GM used extensive gold plating on interior and exterior trim on that particular car, along with the distinctive “Anniversary Gold” paint. A reported 716 different parts on the 2-door Anniversary car were gold plated! In addition to the actual 50 millionth vehicle, GM planned to build up to 5000 additional Anniversary Gold 55 Chevys; the exact number built is unknown, but is believed to be substantially less than 5000.
There was, of course, only the one actual 2-door Bel Air “50 millionth” vehicle built. The additional commemorative units were all built on the 4-door Bel Air model, and the plan was that every interested dealer would be able to order one of these units. The expectation was that, after a year of display, dealers would repaint the car to the color of their choice, and then sell the car. (But, Jeff’s car was never repainted!) Virtually any engine, transmission and other accessory option was available on the Anniversary Gold models. Factory installed equipment on Jeff’s car includes full hub caps, electric wipers, and tinted glass.
Having learned all of this, there was no way that Jean and Jeff were going to give this car up! The decision was made to begin restoration of this unusual classic. In 1995, Jeff had Mike’s Flame Service do some initial repairs to the damaged trunk as well as the rusty headlight eyebrows. Then, in 1998, Jeff sent the car to Mike and Pat Fokken at Impact Auto Works for a complete body restoration in the proper Anniversary Gold color. Over the course of the next couple years, the bumpers were re-chromed, a complete correct replacement interior was installed, and many other lesser details were restored.
The Knowlton’s Chevy was purchased new at Steichen Service in Woonsocket, SD, and Jeff and Jean are only the third owners. Jeff has been in contact with the original owner’s family and he has substantial documentation on the rare ’55. This was essentially a “farm car” and was driven mainly on gravel roads for much of its life. That, coupled with the fact that it was a 4-door, leads Jeff to believe that the car didn’t see as much salt as many cars and also wasn’t subjected to the modifications and racing that a 2-door might have seen. Those factors likely saved the car from extreme rust and other abuses it might have endured.
This Anniversary car doesn’t endure much abuse these days; Jeff keeps the car properly stored and rarely drives it. (To the extreme that many of Jeff’s buddies refer to it as his “phantom” 55 Chevy.) It’s a cool piece of Chevrolet history that I’d heard about for a couple years. I’m pleased to have been able to lure it out of storage long enough to see and document for this story!