Car Show Classic: 1960 Chevrolet Bel Air – There’s a Drive-In Movie Theater In Its Trunk!

(submitted by Don West) After restoring my 1960 Chevy Bel Air I wanted to bring 1960 nostalgia to life. Many car show patrons kidded me about how many friends could fit in the trunk to sneak into the Drive-In. I got to thinking that since most Drive-Ins have been demolished or shut down, why not build a scale model Drive-In diorama in the trunk, complete with a working screen (iPad), snack bar, cars, playground and surrounding buildings. So after several weekends, it was done, including the external speaker, tray full of food, and background photos. It has been an instant hit with such comments as “I have never seen anything like this at a carshow!”, “I loved going to the Drive-In”, and other memories. Fans of all ages love interacting and do double takes when walking by and turn around and come back.

Now I have not only the original restored classic car, but a complete nostalgia trip for fans of all ages.

In 2014 I had the opportunity to purchase a one owner family owned 1960 Chevy Bel Air 4-door sedan in original condition, a real survivor and offered at a reasonable price. My wife supported me and contributed to this purchase. It was a running driving and licensed car but not used very much recently. The Grandson (now a Senior) had used it since his Grandpa gave it to him in 1974, drove it for 3½ years, then parked it for the next 18 years in the family garage, servicing it twice a year during that time. He drove it daily from 1999-2009 year-round driving to work.

It had rust from winter salt. The rear quarter panels and trunk panels, rockers and front fenders had rusted. You could see the road in the trunk because the inside fender panels were completely gone. The windshield was cracked and there were a few dents and dings also. The tires were fairly new with raised white letters. No power equipment, stick shift (3-on-the-tree) with overdrive, no factory radio.

I decided to try to keep the car as original as possible for several reasons:

• I didn’t have the tools, shop, money or expertise to make it into a ground up restoration.

• Most of the exterior and interior (minus the rust) and the chrome were in good condition.

• Survivor cars were pretty rare and I felt like people would appreciate the originality.

• It was a family sedan, over 1⁄2 million made and people would identify it as being more like the car that either they or their parents had.

• Body panels and other parts were obtainable at a reasonable price

My son Dave and I spent many hours buffing the original paint to see what was underneath all that oxidation. It looked pretty good, minus the rusty panels, dents and dings. My mechanic looked at the tires and said he could buff them out to expose the wide whitewalls that were part of the lettering. We got the windshield replaced, painted the rims red, mounted the tires that were now wide whitewalls, put the dog dish hubcaps on and it looked pretty good for a survivor. Even though it had rust issues and some interior issues, I was asked to bring it to a small car show in Orem, rusty panels included. We got our first car show experience as classic car owners. No awards for sure!

My Brother-in-law had started fixing the body panels that I had purchased, but his health was declining and working on the car was not good for him. My neighbor owned a Maaco body shop and gave me a reasonable estimate for fixing the rusty panels that my brother-in-law had cut out. I went to Metal Mart and bought a large sheet of 16 gauge steel so the inside of the rear fender panels could be fabricated. So I had Maaco fix one rusty panel on the left side front fender to test their quality of work. They did a good job so I let them fix the rest of the panels, including fabrication of inside panels, dents and dings and repaint it with its original Roman Red color. Because it was winter in 2014-2015, I rented a storage space for 3 months while the new paint cured. They did a fantastic job and I then felt like it would be well received at car shows!

In the Spring of 2015 I entered the car in the UVU Auto Expo, the same event my Son and I were filming. While filming the show the Chairman tracked me down and told me that I had been awarded a Sponsors Choice award. It was exciting to see that the hard work was appreciated by one of the show sponsors.

We decided to add a little nostalgia to the car exhibit. I purchased a Drive-In Movie Speaker and we fabricated a stand for it, hooked it to a laptop and played Drive-In commercials from inside the back seat. This brought comments about the Drive-In and many older adults were explaining to their grand kids about what a Drive-In Theater was. We also got comments about how big our trunk was and how many friends you could sneak into the Drive-In. We also got an award for “Best Original” at the Annual Courtyard at Jamestown Care Center in Provo.

The comments at 2016 car shows on the size of our trunk and positive reception of the Drive-In speaker got us to thinking about the large trunk area. After some measuring, it was determined a diorama of HO (1/87) scale would fit in the trunk. We had no experience with this but decided that the best way to create a nostalgic theme from the 1960’s would be to create a diorama of the Timp Drive-In in Orem. This was our family’s favorite Drive-In Theater we went to in the 70’s and 80’s. So after some research, I purchased online an HO model of a Drive-In as a kit, with the basic screen, ticket booth and snack bar/projection room. My daughter Vicki agreed to construct and paint it. It had a place for an iPad mini to play movies. I also bought 50 HO scale generic cars, along with a few classic cars and set the Drive-In up on a card table. The realism was awesome. One thing led to another….purchasing a Dairy Queen my son Dave assembled and painted, a gas station Vicki assembled, street lighting, grass, gravel like paint, trees, bushes, grass etc. My wife, Pat photographed the surrounding valley mountains and lake and they were enlarged and glued to background boards. My daughter Lindy sent a classic car and trailer. This was all assembled on a 4 foot x 3 foot foam board attached to plywood for portability. After we got the main board inserted, Dave noticed the trunk had a rear deck with nothing on it. So I sent away for a farm, bought some cattle and farm equipment and the rear deck diorama was inserted into the trunk.

The first showing was at the UVU Cruise Night, then the UVU main show. The spectators were blown away by the diorama with comments such as “I have never seen anything like this at any car show”, “This brings back so many great memories”, etc. The kids really loved it as it was viewable at their level and on such a small scale like toys. Parents and Grand Parents could now explain to the grand kids all about the Drive-In.

The fact that it was actually playing movies on the screen was a show-stopper. People would casually walk past the car and then do a double-take and their entire entourage would turn around and check out the trunk and the car. Added to that was the car-hop tray with the realistic fake food, the Drive-In Speaker and of course the originality and restoration of the car. We had achieved the 1960’s nostalgia that we wanted. Since the Drive-In was added we have received 14 awards and made many adults and kids smile and remember the days of the Drive-In movie. We continue to make enhancements to both the car and the drive-in.