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The legendary '55 Chevy

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KEMPTVILLE- For many people immersed in the hobby of restoring and appreciating vintage vehicles, within the world of yesterday's wheels there are three different levels of cars. There are old cars. There are cool old cars. And there is the '55 Chevy.

The star of classic cult movies, such as American Graffiti and Two Lane Blacktop, the 1955 Chevrolet is the quintessential collector car for generations of scores of automotive enthusiasts and hot rodders. It is the car often credited with changing the industry. Equipped with the first generation of small-block eight-cylinder engines, the '55 Chev revolutionized automobiles, and launched decades of improvements in performance and pleasure on the highways, the streets...and eventually the race tracks of North America.

For those who grew up in the local race community, the '55 Chev that perhaps first comes to mind is Bill Gaw's car. Gaw, who operated Bill's Performance in Kemptville for decades, was a staple at numerous regional drag strips. Throughout the late 1960s and early 1970s, his black four-door '55 was a mainstay at Cedars and Luskville on the Quebec side as well as the St. Thomas and Deseronto speedways in Ontario.

"Bill Gaw was the backbone of racing," says Luskville Dragway owner Arnie Malcolm. "He was my very first advertiser when I took over this track 40 years ago. Bill Gaw is Canadian drag racing history."

And so was his 1955 Chevy.

As innovative as he was influential, Gaw was no stranger to experimentation under the hood. The car was equipped with a six-cylinder engine that included a modified cylinder head that Gaw had actually fabricated from two eight-cylinder engine heads, custom exhaust and an impressive homemade intake manifold that sported three two-barrel carburetors.

Growing forward in the sport, Gaw eventually replaced the Chevrolet with a Camaro. After a brief stint back on the streets as a daily driver, the '55 remained out of the public eye until a few years ago when a local enthusiast literally pulled it out of the shed.

"It was at Bill's old homestead farm, in the barn there," says Andy Laverie, who became the Chevy's next owner after convincing Gaw's son Steven to sell him the car.

"I knew the car was there for years," Laverie explains. "Steven didn't want to part with it. It had a lot of sentimental value. Finally, after I had quite a few meetings with him and Randy Urslak, who used to work for Bill, we kind of arranged to go look at it. He didn't want to put a price on it, but he finally did (sell it) because he said the car was not gaining any value sitting in the barn".

No stranger to cars, Laverie, a sales consultant at Myers Kemptville Chevrolet Buick GMC, bought the car in September of 2018. He was driving it the following year.

"So, it was in pretty tough shape and the interior was all eaten out of it. I did the mechanical inspection on the brakes, tires, wheels, all that kind of stuff and I redid the interior, but I didn't do anything with the body. I kind of made it look like a race car it used to be again."

Laverie has since sold the car after a customer who happened to spot the famed '55 sitting in the Myer's parking lot and made Andy an offer too good to refuse. For his part, Laverie finds satisfaction now simply being part of the car's unique journey.

"I thought it was worth saving...just for the racing history it had," he concludes, the passion in his voice undeniable. "So when I did it, I did it to look like the race car it was when Bill raced it."

The car is still local, and still seen driven down the streets of the Kemptville.

A fitting fate for a hometown legend.

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