Video link: One Among Us - '57 Chevy is in showroom shape
It was the summer of 1957, and Grace Braeger was in need of a new car. A mechanic she trusted told her that the differential on her 1950 Chevy was making strange noises and would probably fail soon.
"My name, of course, is Braeger, so I thought, 'I have to go to King Braeger to buy my car,' " she said of the Milwaukee car dealership that has evolved into the present day Braeger Chevrolet.
Once there, a '57 Chevrolet Bel Air caught her eye. The gleaming black four-door car was quite advanced for its time, Braeger said. It had power brakes and steering, a 283-cubic-inch V8 engine with a four-barrel carburetor and a Turboglide automatic transmission.
"I loved it and needed a big car," she recalls.
It was a salesman's demo car with 4,239 miles. She traded in her old car and paid $2,250 in cash for the almost-new Bel Air. She drove it off the lot and hasn't stopped driving it since.
The car was perfect for the travel Braeger's work required, she said. It lasted through her career as a Lutheran deaconess, and later as a fund-raiser in the secular world.
Owning the car has had its moments.
Once, in 1967, Braeger suspects parking valets abused it, and the transmission promptly failed on the way out of the parking lot. In the late '70s on Christmas Eve, she scared off a thief who was seconds away from stealing the car.
She joined the Fabulous '50s car club in St. Louis in 1975 to help her find spare parts should she need them, though it's never been a problem finding them, she said.
"I chose to keep the car all these years because I had no reason to give it up. I had no major problems with it, and everybody liked it. It was so popular."
Today, the car has about 116,000 miles on it. It gets 10 miles a gallon, a figure Braeger seemed a bit sheepish about. She noted the car was built in an era when gas was cheap. She now drives very little - to the grocery store, church, around town.
After years of use, Braeger had the car restored in the late 1980s. Now it stays parked in the garage during the winter. She has the oil changed every thousand miles, and in the fall she spends a couple days in the park detailing her car. In the spring, she gives it a good wash. She said she tries not to drive it in the rain.
"I was raised during the Depression, and we learned to take care of things. I think that's had a major bearing on my still having the car today," Braeger said, "People don't know how to take care of cars. Many, many people have told me, 'I had a '57 Chevy, and I wish I had kept it.'"