Many older people have only memories of their first car. But one Lexington man recently got back behind the wheel of the same 1956 Chevrolet Bel Air that carried him and his high school friends around Central Kentucky.
Scott May, a 32-year veteran of the Lexington Police Department, got his first car in 1973 when he was 16 years old and living in Danville. His sick grandmother could no longer use her old Chevrolet, so May’s dad brought it home.
During May’s high school years, the car was for socializing as much as driving. In a recent interview with the Herald-Leader, May pointed out that the trunk of the car was big enough to sneak an extra person into the drive-in theater — though he assures he never did such a thing.
“I can remember in Danville, we would cruise downtown to the Burger Queen, and we would drive from there out to Lexington Avenue to the bowling alley … and that’s where everybody would park,” May said. “You’d make the circle around the parking lot a few times and then you’d go back downtown and make the circle around the Burger Queen and come back out. You’d put a hundred miles a night on it just cruising and stopping and talking to everybody.”
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When it was time for May to go away to college in Tennessee, his father traded the Bel Air in for a 1973 Chevrolet Vega.
The Vega was more reliable for the long trips back and forth to college, but May tried to keep tabs on the Bel Air.
“I knew it was around town, somebody had bought it,” May said. “After college, I lived at home for a little bit and I would see it every once in a while.”
But when May moved to Frankfort and eventually to Lexington, he lost track of his first car.
He wouldn’t catch up with it until about 30 years later. About five or six years ago, when his father became ill, May began making regular trips to Danville.
“I happened to drive past the garage of the people I thought had bought it way back when, and I looked in and, lo and behold, it was sitting in the garage,” May said.
May asked the owners, who also owned a body shop and a gas station, if he could take a closer look.
“I recognized it immediately,” May said. “There’s a couple of dents and dings in there that I am personally aware of.”
The old car was for sale. But the price was steep. While May was helping to pay his father’s medical bills, the time wasn’t right.
As time passed and May’s father’s house was sold, he didn’t return to Danville for a while.
“I always just kind of kept it in the back of my mind, wondering if it was still there,” May said.
Then, a few weekends ago, May checked if his old car was still around.
The car was still for sale but for a better price. Other than a transmission overhaul and paint job that kept the black and white color scheme he remembered, the car was original from the engine to the upholstery, May said.
After about 43 years, the Bel Air was May’s once again.
“It takes you back to your high school days, when you were young, and things were carefree,” May said of driving the car again. “There wasn’t so much drama in the world, things were a whole lot simpler then. Sometimes simpler is good.”
May wasn’t the only one to feel nostalgic because of the car. When he posted a picture and the story of how he got the car back on his personal Facebook page, messages from old friends, and a few old girlfriends, came in with memories of good times.
On Tuesday, while he had the car parked at Parkette Drive In, a man pulled off of New Circle Road to admire the vehicle, which he quickly identified as a ‘56 Chevy. The man, Willie Williams, said that it was not just a car, “this is an automobile,” before snapping a picture to send to his brother.
May said he may take the car to a few small local shows, but more than anything, he’s just happy to have it back.
“My whole intent was to get it back in the family,” May said.