The Prince of Bel-Air

This story is about what Chevrolet urged it’s clients to do in the 1950’s: “Pick your favourite model of America’s favourite car”. Rockstar Seasick Steve wouldn’t find it hard to choose. During his guest appearance in Top Gear he confessed to having owned hundreds of cars. Asked by presenter Jeremy Clarkson which of those had been his favourite he said: “That’s a car I still own. A 1951 Chevy Station Wagon. It looks a mess, but it drives very well. Currently I own only that car and a tractor. I could drive for the rest of my life, and all the time I’ve lived before that, in my ’51 Chevy, and I wouldn’t have caused the amount of pollution needed to produce one of those new, environmentally friendly cars. I’ll be faithful to my Chevy.”

Jo Hoebeke (71) owns the same Chevy Sation Wagon that Seasick Steve poses with on pictures you can find on the internet. Okay, Hoebeke’s cart is two years younger and has a slightly different nose, but the color is the same, and his example looks a bit worse for wear too. The fact that this Chevrolet Tow Ten Handyman from 1953 was never restore gives it exactly the charm that Seasick Steve says he loves so much. The interior has lived, smells of lived-through vinyl and old wood, mixed with a whiff of petrol. From the 1950’s it just drove straight into the 21st century, determined to keep going for a long time to come. “My father bought a taxi when I was a small boy, that was a Chevrolet Two Ten”, says Hoebeke, “I have great memories from that car. I joined my dad on a lot of rides, and sometimes he’d let me drive back home. I was about ten at the time. You should remember that was a different time to know. His clients loved seeing a small boy wheeling around such a great, big American car, but nowadays you wouldn’t get away with that!”

Hoebeke himself grew up to be a dealer in Japanese cars, but his network helped him source his two ten as well as his other Chevy. That’s a 1954 Bel Air convertible. A feast of shiny, red paint, white leather and chrome. That the Bel Air did get restored doesn’t need saying. “The reliability is sublime”, says Hoebeke about the Blue Flame six-cylinder that lives under the hood of both his Chevy’s. “These engines simply keep going, they’ll get you around the world without a problem”. Hoebeke doesn’t take them that far though, he simply takes them both on an occasional cruise. The Bel Air sometimes gets to do a concours. Then, with an open roof and the sun shining down on it, Hoebeke says a Bel Air drives “royally”. That would mean Jo Hoebeke has more right than Will Smit to carry the title “Prince of Bel Air”.


The interview with Jo Hoebeke about his Chevy’s was published by Klassiek & Techniek in 2016. 

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