We used a gorgeous ’56 Chevy two-door hardtop Belair for the Behind the Drive cover. We did this because it fit a lot of Hwy 55‘s branding in some nice and subtle ways. Plus it’s just a beautiful machine that we knew would look fantastic on the cover of a book.
A lot of people think that the car belongs to Hwy 55 president and founder Kenney Moore, but it’s actually owned by my wife’s parents’ cousin Louis Dail, one of the most exquisite beings in all of creation. This is a guy who found an old typewriter he knew I would like, then drove half an hour to meet my wife so she could bring it to me. Just a wonderful man.
And he was ridiculously generous about letting us use his car for the photo shoot. He’s loved Hwy 55 for years, and he was just happy to meet Kenney and be a part of the project.
The car is fully operational, with all of its original parts. You open the gas tank by popping open one of the tail lights.
Louis drove the car about 45 minutes to Mount Olive from his home near Snow Hill, N.C.
Only real problem the car has is that the horn gets a little glitchy. At one point on the way to Mount Olive, Louis had to pull over and disable it – the horn got stuck and everyone thought he was honking at them and middle fingers were flying everywhere.
I was curious how such a beautiful machine stayed in such great working order over so many years, and I figured anyone who could make that possible has to be pretty passionate about their cars — plus, I just really, really appreciate Louis letting us use the car, and thus, the man is my first original interview for The Notable.
The interview has been edited for clarity and length. I’m in italics; Louis is in regular type.
In his interview, you’ll read about:
- His many various cars — he has seven more, four of which are in full working condition.
- How he keeps his antique cars in full working condition, which is stunning.
- Some unexpectedly tragic stories behind the cars he’s bought.
- Many perilous stories of how he nearly had his cars ruined.
- Why he calls one of his cars Frankenstein.
- About the great nonprofit work he does providing food to people in need.
- And really just tons more — including how he still has his first car ever, a 1969 Chevy Camaro.
Take it away, Louis!
Where’d you get the car? When was that? And how’d you go about finding it and making it yours?
I got it about 18 months ago from a guy in Kinston. He had owned several Tri-Fives over the years. (Tri-Fives are the the 1955, ’56 and ’57 Chevys.) He had recently developed heart trouble and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). He had no health insurance and was forced to close his painting business and sell his paint vans and the ’56 to pay medical bills. He had lost a son to drowning a few years back, so he has had a sad life for the past few years.
I have always wanted a 1956 Chevy, because that was the year I was born. I found the car on Craigslist for $30,000, which was a fair price but was more than I could afford at the time. After some negotiations we came to a mutual agreement.
I traced the history of the car with the DMV. It has spent time in California, Indiana, Texas, and North Carolina.
It has all original parts, right? How have you managed that?
It does have all the original parts, including interior. The car has been repainted with the original colors Desert Plum and India Ivory. Everything else are original or reproduction parts.
There are many companies who manufacture original appearing parts for the Tri-Fives. Some are good quality parts and some are poor quality, foreign-made parts. I also trade parts with friends to keep it as original as possible.
I had bought a couple of cars for parts that are not suitable for restoration and have keep some of the parts for future use by myself or friends. I have a couple of friends — that helps me keep it going. They have owned many many Tri-Fives over the years, so they know everything there is to know about Tri-Fives.
I also am a member of a couple of Facebook groups with about 20,000 members who are great resources for parts and advice.
I have spent about $1,000 repairing a few things over the past 18 months.
What’s been the best part of keeping this car in such great condition?
I think a car that has survived for almost 60 years deserved to be preserved for others to enjoy. It has survived intact to serve several generations. It is the same age I am, and it has seen the same things I have experienced, so we have a connection.
What’s been the most challenging part?
Brakes. It has front drum brakes. Disk brakes, which stop better and smoother, were not used on vehicles until the mid 60’s. When I first got the car the power brakes were not working. The power brakes booster is made to the master cylinder and is called a treadle. I had to ship the treadle to an older gentleman in Florida, who still rebuild these units. He does not deal directly with the public.
To get it to him I had to ship it to another company, who is the middleman. When I shipped it to the the first company, they lost it. They claimed they had not received it, but it had been signed for, and they cashed my check.
A rebuildable unit when you can find it sells for about $1,000. Power brakes were a rare option on the ’56 Chevy.
I kept asking for supervisors and finally raised enough hell I got to the owner of the company. When I explained the situation and that it was a rare part, he said he would have an answer in an hour.
He called me back and ask me to give him another day to get to the bottom of it. He called me the next day and said he found it under the desk of a now ex-employee. He was very upset and personally carried it across town to the older gentleman to be rebuilt. He then drove over to pick it up once it was finished with the rebuild and personally took it to shipping and made sure it went out next day air. He was embarrassed with the work of his incompetent staff.
It stops okay now, but nothing like newer cars with disk brakes. I have considered changing the brakes to a more modern disk brake setup. This would cause it not to be original anymore, but I would have more confidence in its stopping ability.
What’s your favorite thing about having this car?
Answering all the questions about the parts that are ancient to today’s standards. Also, this may sound weird, but the smell of an old car interior. Lastly, you actually have to drive this car. It is work compared to today’s almost self-driving vehicles.
The biggest question I get is about the color. It is the original color. Desert Plum and India Ivory. Cars in the ’50’s had different colors and two tone combinations. There were also a lot of pastel colors.
What’s been the most costly of having it?
Secondly, leaks. It is always leaking fluids of some type. Right now it has a small oil leak, a rear differential leak. I just repaired a transmission line leak a few weeks ago but now I have another leak in a different spot. The seals are old, dry and tired and often leak.
What kind of sacrifices or compromises have you had to make for this and your other cars?
My daily driving vehicles are a ’99 Park Avenue that we bought new in ’99 for my wife. Five years ago (in her opinion) it was not up to her standards anymore, so I received a hand-me-down. She said she refused to drive a car any longer that was not made in the same century we currently live in. She now has a Camry.
I still also drive a ’99 Chevy truck. My sacrifice has been continuing to drive older vehicles and spending what I would normally use for a new car, to buy older vehicles. Older cars usually appreciate in value, while new ones depreciate.
What other sorts of classic cars do you have?
I have 8 classic cars in various states of restorations.
1. I have my first car still. It was a 1969 Camaro that my father got me when I was 15 years old. I am now 58. So it has been with
me for a long time. It cost $2,775 in 1969 and is worth about $40,000 today. I spent about $25,000 restoring it in 1999.
When it was being painted in ’99, it was in a friend’s shop that was in the flood after Hurricane Floyd. The water rose to about 3 feet in his shop, but fortunately it was on a frame machine which sat about 2.5 feet in the air, saving it from the high water.
It is so much a part of me it seems I have never been without it. Hopefully I will pass it on to my daughter one day. Before she gets it, I plan to make a few changes, including: changing it to an automatic with overdrive, upgrading the front suspension with rack and pinion steering, bigger brakes, and a fuel injection engine to make it easier to start and drive, and more dependable. It is a 350 with a Muncie 4-speed, vintage A/C and original wheels. The color is Lemans blue with a dark blue interior.
2. I have a 1967 Camaro convertible I purchased in 1995. It is a rs/ss car with the original 327 with an automatic transmission. 1967 was the first year the Camaro was made. It was made to compete with the Ford Mustang. It is riverside red with a white interior. It also has a tilt wheel, which was rare for early model Camaros. It is a very fun car to drive with the top down.
It is valued at about $35,000 to $40,000 in today’s market. The guy who started restoring the car disappeared about 17 years ago mysteriously with his son. They were flying a private small plane one weekend and were never heard from again.
The car was about 80% complete when I got it. I finished it up in 1995 and have enjoyed it ever since.
3. I have a 1964 Corvette coupe that I purchased in 1997 from an airline pilot in Ashland Va. He purchased it in Mississippi in the early 70s while he was in the Air Force. He had it restored in the early ’90s by a company in Ohio. He sold it because he had twin 15 year old boys and foresaw alot of problems with the Corvette and 2 new drivers in the family.
I did some minor things to try to make it back as original as possible. It is worth about $40,000 in today’s market. It is all original.
4. I purchased a 1971 Chevelle from a guy in Pinetops about 5 years ago for $2,600. I could not stand to see it rotting away. I wish many time I had let it rot away, because I have now spent more restoring it than the value of the car. I have about $35,000 in a car that may bring $35,000 if I am lucky.
It is a beautiful car that is painted Tuxedo Black with white stripe and black interior. It has a 425-horsepower engine with an overdrive transmission. It is 95% original.
Now for the ones that are not complete yet:
5. I bought a 1952 Chevy truck from the son of a man who had passed away. It was in many pieces, scattered about four locations in Tarboro, N.C.
The cab was upside down in someone’s back yard. The engine, transmission and the fenders were at the man who passed away’s house. The bed was next door under a shelter. Some of the parts were in the attic of the deceased man’s brother.
I paid $700 for it and spent two days gathering it up.
This is another sad story. This truck started out as a utility truck at the county bus garage. The man who died purchased it at auction, and he and his family drove it on the farm for several years. He and his stepson started to restore it and had been working on it on weekends. This is why it was disassembled.
The step son was in the Marines and was stationed at Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville. Unfortunately, he was killed while driving home one weekend. The step father died about a year later of cancer, and the family sold the truck to me.
I decided to not put it back original, and to customize it. I reinstalled the cab on to a modern S-10 frame. It will be named Frankenstein, because it has the following installed: An engine from a ’76 chevy, transmission from a ’76 corvette, radiator from a ’66 mustang, a fan from a Ford Taurus, a tilt steering column from an ’89 chevy van, a differential from a Blazer, seats from an Acura, and various other parts I have accumulated over the years. It will be hodgepodge of parts when I finish.
I am planning to paint it purple and have a gray interior. It is about 60% complete and hopefully I will have it finished in about 2 years.
6. I also have a rare 1955 two-door hardtop Chevy Belair. It has a transmission and engine from a 1992 Corvette. It will be fuel injected with a modem computer and wiring. It has rack and pinion steering, disk brakes. It will have a lot of engine Chrome and many modern feature not invented in the ’50’s.
I purchased it from a 73-year-old man in New Bern who has restored many Tri-Fives over the years. He has decided he is too old to finish this one.
I have a lot of metal repair to do on this car, but it is a very good rare car. I have most of the parts to finish this car, but lack time right now. It will be on the back burner until the truck is finished. It should be worth about 75k when finished. It will not be original like most of the others. Hopefully I will have it finished in about 5 years.
7. The last one is one I purchased from a friend who needed money. It was originally a four-door car that is being converted to a two-door. The two-door has a lot more value than the four-door so he was converting it over. I plan to sell this car if the right person comes along.
I name all my old cars once they are completely restored. They are named after my grandmothers, favorite aunt and some of my wife Debbie’s favorite grandmothers and aunts. I try to think about some of the good times I had with each of them while I drive them. They are named as follows:
The 1969 Camaro is named Ethel for my wife’s grandmother Ethel Daughtey. The Camaro, like the Grandma Ethel, can be a bit cantankerous at times.
The 1964 Corvette is name Nolah, for my Grandmother Murphrey. She, like the Corvette, was a very elegant lady who never said a cross word. The Corvette has been a very good dependable car.
The 1967 Camaro is named Rosa Mae for my Grandmother Dail. My Grandmother Dail was a very pretty Gentile woman much like the 67 Convertible.
The 1956 Chevy Belair is named Dell for my Aunt Delma (Beb) Finch. She was my Grandmother Murphrey’s sister and a second grandmother to me. She was timeless, much like the ’56. She always carried herself with dignity.
The 1971 Chevelle is named for my wife’s aunt Betty. She was Ethel’s sister and could be a bit cantankerous, like Ethel. She was a very strong, brash woman, much like the ’71. I sometimes call the ’71 “Old Black Betty” after the song. I am afraid that name may offend Aunt Betty if she was still alive.
The ’52 chevy truck will be named Charlie after my wife’s Grandfather Daughtey. She remembers riding with him in a truck like Frankenstein when she was a small girl. Grandaddy Daughtety truck was named old Betsy.
The ’55 Belair will be named Becky, for Debbie’s aunt Becky. Aunt Becky was a very strong willed woman, who loved mischief. When Debbie was about 3 or 4, she promised to give Debbie $5 if she would walk out into the middle of a room full of adults and say “I am a little s—bird”. The ’55 Belair will have the same mischievous attitude with all the modern accessories and a corvette engine.
What else do you do/are you working on that you’d like people to know about?
The other things in my life are my church, my wife, daughter and my 10 month old grand daughter. I also am President of Greene County Interfaith Volunteers. We provide food to about 350 families per month. We give them enough food to last about two weeks. Hopefully they use the money saved to help pay other bills. Most live on less than a $1,000 per month. We do casework on each person to help them mange the money they have. We have just built a new building in Snow Hill that will provide a permanent location for our ministry. Seventy percent of our clients are over 65 years of age.
We have a house at Straits near Harkers Island. I enjoy ECU sports, fishing, and hanging out with friends.
Thanks again to Louis. This was great.
Make sure to give Behind the Drive a look – and if you’ve already bought a copy, my kid says thanks for helping us keep feeding him.