Swift’s hot ride turns heads

By C. Todd Lopez

BOLLING AIR FORCE BASE, Washington, D.C. (May 31, 2007) -- Curtis Swift's 1956 Chevrolet Bel Air is a real head turner.

While he polished some of the chrome under its hood in the parking lot of the Edward H. White Community Center here, Airmen and civilians alike paused to take a gander at the shiny blue and white antique.

Curtis Swift, a program advisor at the Defense Intelligence Agency, bought this 1956 Chevrolet Bel Air in September 2005. He plans to eventually tear the vehicle down, refurbish it, and put it back together. Then, he says, it will be ready for antique car shows.

"I have always loved old cars," Swift said. "I was born in 1958, and some of my earliest memories from back home were from my dad's junk yard, where he had mid-1950s Fords sitting there, a 1936 Ford and a couple of Model As. I was just always fascinated by the old cars. I come by it naturally, I guess."

Swift, a program advisor at the Defense Intelligence Agency, bought the car in September 2005. Since then, he's invested about $6,000 dollars in the car, mostly on mechanical gear, including a new carburetor, distributor and steering unit. He said he has a special affinity for the 1956 model.

"The '55-'57 Chevy kind of revolutionized hotrods way back in the day," he said. "They were such a popular vehicle that they were everywhere. The kids that had one would hotrod them around and stuff like that. So as I was growing up, they were very prevalent. My favorite happened to be the '56. The body is almost the same as the '55, but the difference is the grill work, the bumper, and the bullet-style taillights. There is just a bit more style to this. She was always just the prettiest of the bunch to me."

He doesn't show his car now, he says, because he's too particular about the condition it is in. He said there's going to have to be changes before he's willing to enter it into any kind of car show.

"I don't show it because I am nit picky about cars that are shown," he said. His own car had a few rust spots he was forced to repair, and he's not convinced that it's yet show ready. But that will all change after he puts the car through a complete makeover.

"My intention with this is to probably, in another three years, find a place to take it apart, strip it down to the frame, and put it back together again after I've cleaned and fixed and painted and redone everything," he said. "At that time, I can fix all the chips of paint and dings. And anything that is old I'll either have it re-chromed, or I'll replace it. There are shops everywhere that do re-chroming."

Such a seemingly formidable task is made easier, he said, by the simplicity of the way the car was originally assembled.

"For the most part, everything is pretty much bolted on," he said. "So it all comes off pretty easily. The old cars are much, much more easy to work on. Even the grill work is bolted on, or screwed down in some places."

One thing no makeover will fix, however, is the car's appetite.

"Around town, it gets about 9 or ten miles to the gallon," he said. "On the highway, about 17 miles to the gallon."

At that rate, a roundtrip drive to the Pentagon might cost just a little over $7. But that's not going to make Swift sell his Bel Air.

"I told people when I bought it, it is mine," he said. "I have no intention of getting rid of it."

Swift is also working on rebuilding a 1979 Pontiac Trans Am, which he bought during his six years of service in the Air Force.

"The Trans Am I've owned since 1983," he said. "I've never parted with it. "

Most days, Swift drives his a 2002 Ford Crown Victoria to work. He likes the style of that car, too.

"I like it because it looks like a police cruiser," he said.