By RUSSELL HUFFMAN
ERATH COUNTY (April 18, 2016) – The 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air convertible has turned the heads of gear-heads and motor enthusiasts since the moment it rolled off the assembly line. Throw in the fact Hollywood legend Steve McQueen once owned your car and you’ve got one gem of a story.
Kent Perkins has just such a story about his revolutionary matador red and white machine with fuel injection. The car has a history of being driven or ridden in by Hollywood celebrities. In addition to McQueen, Bo Svenson, of ‘Walking Tall’ movie fame, also once owned the car and the vehicle has stayed in “a Hollywood circle” for years – now is no different.
Perkins has more than a dozen movies to his acting credits including time on screen with Clint Eastwood. He loves driving the vehicle and can’t wait to once again cruise down the road with his wife, Ruth Buzzi. Yes, that Ruth Buzzi, of Laugh In, the Dean Martin roasts and numerous other Hollywood gigs.
“Cruising” might be an overstatement because Perkins has driven the car a total of about seven miles and the vehicle’s odometer has yet to click past 70,000 miles. Cars are Perkins’ passion, and he has a small stable at home. The McQueen car was out on loan to a museum for display like many other collectables he owns.
“It was once Steve McQueen’s and I bought the car at auction,” Perkins said. “I was then asked if a museum could display the car, which I allowed.”
When the museum was scheduled for renovation, the car was apparently readied for movement and fresh gas was poured into a corroded gas tank. Rust clogged the car’s fuel filter which was bypassed and that only added misery to woe when the manual fuel injection followed suit.
The fuel injection system is a rare bird with a “new” system costing $12-$15,000 – this figure might give you an idea of the car’s current value, which was about $60,000 in 2003.
That’s why the car is now in the hands of mechanic Donald McIntare at the regionally famous Parham’s Garage in Stephenville.
“This is just an awesome piece of machinery when you consider the year was 1957,” McIntare explains as he points to a small piston like billows.“The rust got into the injectors and with this being a mechanical injection system things stopped up quick.”
The car will run for a few moments and then quickly die. The rust then settles and the car will once again start. It’s been a long slow process and a thick layer of dust has temporarily dimmed the car’s brilliant colors.
“If Jerry (Parham) would let me work on this for about six months straight I think I could get it finished,” McIntare joked.
For now the cruising machine’s wheels are about six feet off the ground and a shiny new gas tank sparkles from behind a white-walled tire. Two chromed tail pipe ends testify that bit by bit – tick by tick – sooner or later Perkins and his lady are going to make another “great escape” down a Texas highway and beyond in a car that was built for creating legends.