Don and Gretchen Peterson purchased their 1957 Chevy Bel Air five years ago.

Don and Gretchen Peterson purchased their 1957 Chevy Bel Air five years ago.

Photo by Maria Allard


Chevy Bel Air is a dream cruiser come true

By: Maria Allard | C&G Newspapers | Published September 8, 2020

 The Petersons, members of the Woodward Tri Five Cruisers, get many compliments when out and about in their ’57 Chevy Bel Air.

The Petersons, members of the Woodward Tri Five Cruisers, get many compliments when out and about in their ’57 Chevy Bel Air.

Photo by Maria Allard

 Don Peterson installed a 385-horsepower engine into the 1957 Chevy Bel Air.

Don Peterson installed a 385-horsepower engine into the 1957 Chevy Bel Air.

Photo by Maria Allard

METRO DETROIT — In the early 1960s, Gretchen Peterson enjoyed cruising Woodward Avenue with all the other hot-rodders and car buffs.

Growing up in Berkley, two blocks away from Woodward, it was easy to get caught up in the enthusiasm for the decorative chrome that adorned the long stretch of roadway.

When the Woodward Dream Cruise began in the mid-1990s, Gretchen, living in Shelby Township at the time, got the itch to return to the pastime, but she needed the right vehicle.

“I always wanted to be able to participate in the Woodward Dream Cruise of today,” Gretchen, 76, said. So, Don, her husband of eight years, promised, “If we could find a ’57 Chevy I can afford and the price is right, I’ll buy it for you.”

The Petersons checked around, and five years ago purchased a shiny Renault blue (top half) and Toyota gray (bottom half) 1957 Chevy Bel Air from a seller in Lapeer, where the couple now resides.

“Out of all the Chevys I’ve ever seen, this is the only one I’d buy,” Don, 75, thought. “It’s got a nice shape to it.”

Don, a retired schoolteacher who once taught driver’s education, has put a lot of his own elbow grease into keeping their classic automobile in tiptop shape. One change was taking out the bench front seat and replacing it with bucket seats.

With a 385-horsepower engine leading the way, the couple have taken part in many car shows and cruises, including the Clinton Township Gratiot Cruise and the Woodward Dream Cruise, which travels through Ferndale, Royal Oak, Birmingham and other communities.

“What I like about riding in the car, it makes other people happy to see it,” Gretchen said. “It’s so much fun to see people smile because they are appreciating our car. Most people say it’s a beautiful car.”

To create a more authentic look when at shows, Don and Gretchen display a drive-in movie speaker, antique rotary phone and tray of fake fast food, reminiscent of carhops of the past. One fun event is the Berkley car parade the Friday evening before the Dream Cruise.

“A lot of people show up for that,” Gretchen said. “You just drive your car and wave to all the people who show up from Woodward to Greenfield on 12 Mile.”

Unfortunately, because of COVID-19, car shows and cruises came to a yield in 2020. Still, the Petersons’ show-stopping ’57 Chevy has won numerous awards at different events, including “Best General Motors” in 2016 at the St. Augustine Lutheran Church car show in Troy.

The Petersons are Shelby Township Senior Center members, where Gretchen sings in the choir. Prior to COVID-19, Don and Gretchen often drove their Bel Air to the Senior Center for activities. The choir also held performances at the Senior Center and nursing homes in surrounding neighborhoods, something presently on hold.

While many car events are on hold, the Petersons still dart around in their classic Chevy in Lapeer and nearby locations. Don, whose cellphone ring tone is the sound of a Model-T horn, has always been a car fan.

“When we grew up, I loved to see the new cars come out,” said Don, who prefers the look of classic cars. “The modern cars look like pregnant guppies. There’s no style. There’s no distinction.”

He and Gretchen are members of the Woodward Tri Five Cruisers, a group of about 60 members who own Chevrolet models from the years 1955-57. The family-friendly club holds various activities throughout the year.

“A lot of nice people belong to it,” Gretchen said.

For more information on the Woodward Tri Five Cruisers Inc., visit woodwardtrifivecruisers.com.

View all our Behind the Wheel stories at candgnews.com/behindthewheel, sponsored by B&B Collision of Royal Oak.