Come back with me to the late 1950’s when Chuck and Betty started dating. That first date? Well, Chuck picked up Betty in his freshly washed 1948 Chevy Fleetmaster convertible, the car that he labored countless hours, polishing and fixing up, the car that would eventually take them on another date, and another, to dinner and a movie, a sock hop, the drive in and oh yeah, lookout point.
The two were inseparable, always seen around Northern Kentucky in the 48, Chuck and Betty were an item. Over a couple of years, Betty hinted about marriage, she didn’t push it but Chuck knew she wanted to be married and he knew she would be the one that he would marry…someday.
One evening Chuck said to Betty “Hey, let’s go for a drive”, so they hopped in the convertible and off they went cruising through the hills of Northern Kentucky. After a short while, Chuck pulled off on Narrows Road just as the sun was about to set. They talked for a bit, Chuck was nervous, waiting for the right moment, he pulled a ring out of his chest pocket. He held the ring up into the moonlight, looked at Betty and said” Betty, you still want this thing”?!!!
Of course she obliged and the two began planning that special day. June 6 of 1959, the 48 Fleetmaster Convertible would carry the just married couple away from the church as Mr. and Mrs. Charles Schneider and on to their honeymoon to Gatlinburg and even further south to Daytona Florida.
Now, Chuck was in graduate school in Chicago so the couple decided to move there so Chuck could finish school and they could start their lives together. During this time the two made several trips back to Northern Kentucky to visit family and friends and even hit a few of the old local hangouts and places they used to cruise the 48 to when they were dating.
They had planned a quick weekend trip to see some friends and loaded up the 48 and headed south. Not too far into the trip, the old 48 decided it was time to retire, she blew her engine and coasted off to the shoulder of the highway.
Chuck new the engine was done, too far gone for a quick fix so he had it towed back to Chicago with the intention of getting a new engine and putting her back on the road. Chuck and Betty bought a cheap car to get them by until Chuck could get the Fleetmaster running again.
The cool 48 sat behind the couple’s trailer as they went about their daily lives, working and going to school, trying to make ends meet and have a little left over for the 48, maybe enough for a date night now and then. Weeks turned into months and months to a year as the 48 sat in the backyard, windows broken by neighbor kids, rust forming under the floor. The convertible top didn’t fare well and the elements took their piece of Chuck’s 48. As vandals continued to deface the car, the rust began to invade the body and Chuck knew the 48 would never see the road again.
One Sunday morning, Chuck and Betty sat at their kitchen table discussing their finances, their future, and their dreams of having a family. Chuck told Betty that they needed to get whatever they could out the 48 before it was worth nothing to anyone. In the fall of 1961, they had the 48 towed out from behind the house. Betty stood at the kitchen window and cried as the car went by. She too loved that old 48 and the memories made in it. She cried for Chuck as she knew what that car meant to him.
Fast forward 50 years. Chuck and Betty were sitting at the kitchen table once again, reminiscing about the old days, old friends and the days when they were young. Betty asked Chuck, “If there was something from the past that you could have back for just one day, what it be”?
Chuck took a deep breath; he leaned back in his chair and paused. Chuck looked at Betty and said “there are two things not just one”. Chuck said “first, I would like to have one more day with my mother…and second, I would like to have one more day to drive my 48”.
Betty would have given Chuck the moon if he would have asked but she knew that she couldn’t do anything about his mother who had passed away. She began to think about his second wish, and she knew that no matter what it took, she had to make that wish come true.
Betty began by contacting her and Chuck’s lifelong friends, their neighbors of many years on Easy Street in Chicago where Chuck and Betty lived in the trailer park. You see their friends, they were in to old cars and restorations, so much so that they owned and operated a hot rod shop in Milford Ohio…The shop owner’s son Tim was already best friends with Chuck and Betty’s son David and together the two families began to put a plan in place.
Locating a 48 Fleetmaster Convertible to restore was the first hurdle and a tall one, you see Chevrolet only produced 20,000 convertible Fleet masters in 1948 and finding a good one that someone didn’t want an arm and a leg for was going to be tough. But after an exhausting search that took 8 months, a car was found in Death Valley out west.
The car was not complete; it had no drive train and was missing, well…everything. The one thing this old 48 had going for it was that its roof structure for the convertible top was all there. The decision was made and the car was bought from just a few pictures that they saw and the car was on its way to Milford.
The entire shop got involved and the daunting task of locating parts and retrofitting modern touches and accessories was on. The frame was modified to accept the complete Z06 drive train of a Corvette, the suspension modified and custom built to ride like a brand new car. You see, they didn’t want to just restore an old classic; they wanted Chuck and Betty to be able to drive the car anywhere and as often as they wanted.
Now all the while this build was going on, no one other than the rod shop, a few family members and Betty knew about the car. For nearly a year and a half they were able to keep the secret and Chuck was none the wiser. The 48 that was found in Death Valley was beginning to show signs of life. Long tenuous hours were being spent putting the car together and making sure every aspect of the build was exact. After all, this wasn’t just any old 48 Fleetmaster, this was Chuck’s lost love.
The entire build from planning to paint was captured on video, a family air loom was being created and Betty wanted to be sure that Chuck knew what went into that car especially, as her health was declining, it was possible that she herself would not be around to see the unveiling.
January, 27th 2012. The Fleetmaster takes breaths of cold winter air as she rumbles out of the rod shop. From a forgotten relic in the midst of a desert to the center piece of a Midwest showroom, this was a masterpiece, a work of art; this was a 1948 Chevy Fleetmaster Convertible.
Chuck was at home when he got a call to come up to the shop to see some of the cars that were being worked on, not out of character since Chuck was a car guy himself and loved to look at old cars. Chuck’s son drove down to Union Kentucky where Chuck and Betty now lived to pick him up and on the drive to Milford, he made sure to talk about every other kind of car other than a 48 Chev just to be sure Chuck didn’t start asking questions.
While Chuck was being driven to the shop, the rest of the family and some close friends were gathering there. Hidden in hallways and back offices, they remained silent as Chuck rolled in and was escorted back into the shop.
As Chuck walked through the shop, he noticed a 1948 Fleetmaster Sedan that belonged to a customer. He immediately began to talk about his convertible and the fond memories he and Betty had with their 48 and he said to his son, “They don’t make ‘em like that anymore”.
As Chuck was reminiscing, a phone rang; a queue that the family was ready up front. They then led Chuck up to the showroom to see some finished show cars. Chuck walked slowly looking at each of the cars on display and then from across the room Chuck’s grandson called out “Hey grandpa, come look at this one over here, it’s the best one of all”.
Chuck made his way around the 69 Camaro, then the 55 nomad, turned the corner and there was Betty, sitting in the passenger seat, smiling, the driver door wide open, the 48 Fleetmaster’s top down.
Chuck stopped suddenly; he didn’t make a sound, his expression unchanged. Chuck knew what he was looking at but words and emotion escaped him. He stood motionless until Betty kneeled in the seat, held out a set of keys and said, “Hey Chuck, you still want this thing”?!!
Chuck grinned just a bit, and still without utterance, he walked around the car, once, twice…looking at every detail, every curve. He then slid into the driver seat and closed the door. He looked up as if to be looking at the moon as he did the night he asked Betty to marry him…. as single a tear ran down his face, he leaned over and kissed Betty on the cheek and whispered, let’s go for a drive.