While on the way to Detroit last December, I stopped in the suburbs to visit my aunt, who lives not far from the former Chrysler World Headquarters. It’s a lovely area dating from the mid-1970s, complete with ponds, parks, trails, tennis courts, and pretty enclaves featuring single family homes, condos, and duplexes. It was here that I spotted our subject car the next morning before heading into Detroit for a fantastic mini-vacation downtown. Needless to say, this car stood out in the suburbs – in the best way, possible.
If I had to pick a favorite year among the Tri-Fives, it would probably be the ’57, which I remember still being featured semi-regularly in popular media even by the late 1980s, when I was an adolescent. It is that iconic. My second choice would be the first-year ’55, with its Ferrari-inspired, wide-mouth, egg-crate grille and overall freshness of its then-new design. The ’56 is my third-favorite only by process of elimination, which is still a very attractive and cool-looking design to a guy who was born about twenty years after it first sat in Chevy showrooms. There are plenty of visual details to love about the ’56, including the low, rectangular, horizontal expanse of its chrome grille flanked by turn signals. I can imagine its looks were very modern at the time, before Chrysler Corporation slayed with its ’57s.
This past May, our own Jason Shafer wrote a piece about a ’57 Chevy 210 in similar condition, that referenced the desirability, availability and pricing of the body styles of these cars that don’t have two doors (or a hardtop roofline). With a pillared, four-door sedan that doesn’t have low miles, isn’t pristine or restored, or doesn’t have sentimental value, the question is what, if anything, to do with it to make it one’s own. The answer here was flat, rattle-can black paint and custom, gloss-finish stripes in red, lined with white, in a pattern that, to me, resembles a tribal tattoo more than a little bit.
Recall, if you will, the turn of the Millennium, when tribal tattoos started to become more widely seen in the mainstream. I’d like to state right away that I am not anti-tattoo, nor is this a “bad ink” rant. When I was a kid, my mom and dad (usually Mom) used to read “The Sneetches” by Dr. Seuss at bedtime to my brother and me, among other stories. The idea of being “marked” or “unmarked” (or just different) having no correlation with one’s worth has stayed with me as one of my core values. Many of my friends sport ink, as does my other half.
Back in my late twenties, I had experimented with fake tattoos for a while to see how I might feel about getting a real one. As lame as that may sound to some of you, these larger-scale, mail-order decals actually looked pretty decent from a distance – not too black, shiny or faded. They fooled my late father who, I might add, didn’t judge me upon noticing, but calmly asked, “When did you get that?” (I miss that man and his calm, cool demeanor.)
Anyway, though I have occasionally thought about getting some permanent art on my body, nothing I’ve considered (so far) has ever seemed like something I’d want to advertise or live with forever, even for the sake of the memory of someone or something. I’m somewhat introverted, but I’m also kind of a chameleon by nature – which can come with the territory of being multi-ethnic and growing up feeling like you fit in (almost) everywhere and nowhere at the same time. I always stay as true to myself as possible, but the way I see it, my ability to periodically self-reinvent (or correct course) as I’ve seen fit over the years might be compromised by getting some permanent pigmentation in my skin’s dermal layer. Unlike with this ’56 210, getting a tattoo lasered off that was either bad or no longer relevant wouldn’t be quite as easy as getting this car a respray at the local MAACO.
Tattoos look great on many people, though, and I respect it when I see the kind of good taste, bravery, and commitment to a visual identity that’s evident in many people’s “bodies” of work, so to speak. The painted-stripe “tats” on this 210 really work for me, on the bodystyle and trim level that was the most popular Chevrolet of 1956, with close to 283,000 sold. (The sales runner-up was the Bel Air four-door, pillared sedan, with 270,000 sold). On my last trip to visit my aunt during the weekend of the annual CC meetup this past June, I didn’t see this car around, and wondered if its owner had moved along, as this car had out-of-state plates.
Going back to my question of whether I would have left this car bone-stock or personalized it, that would all depend on its condition prior to my ownership. With that said, I really like this 210, and I salute the owner of this car for their choices that make it an automotive statement that I think is big, bold and very Detroit. After all, he or she is a member of the Tri-Five Tribe – which, I can imagine, provides license for things that many others of us probably just couldn’t get away with no matter how cool we may think we are, ink or no ink.
(Detroit suburb) Troy, Michigan.
Thursday, December 1, 2016.