RESTORING?HISTORY / Tongish enjoys time he has spent with 1957 Chevy Bel Air

Jim Tongish has fond memories associated with the 1957 Chevy Bel Air he?s restored.

?The guy I bought it from ? he worked for my dad, and when I was young, I remembered he let me sit beside him and steer the car,? Tongish said on a rainy March 25 afternoon.

The man said he?d never sell the car. But in 1994, Tongish?s dad told him the same man did want to sell the car, so Tongish made an offer.

?Went back there on a 10-below-zero day and picked it up,? said Tongish, who grew up in northwest Kansas.

Tongish put the car away until he had the time and money to spend restoring it, which happened in 2009.

Now, Tongish will have his car in the 11th Annual Newton Downtown Car Show, which will be from 8 a.m.-4 p.m. May 2 in the 500-700 blocks of Main Street. It will feature street vendors, food vendors, and cars, trucks and motorcycles on display. A total of 130 trophies will be awarded, as well as cash prizes, dash plaques, goodie bags and T-shirts.

The show draws thousands of attendees and also will have a cruising Main Street event the Friday night before the show. Cars can start lining up at 6 p.m. in the Newton High School parking lot; the cruise begins at 6:30 p.m.

?It?s for anyone who wants to drag Main from Sonic to Sonic,? said Mike White, one of the event organizers. ?Just like they used to do in the old days.?

More than 100 vehicles were part of the cruise last year, White said, and vehicles dragging Main don?t have to be show cars.

In addition, the TV show ?Street Rodding American Style? will film at the car show, and a coloring contest is planned for children in kindergarten through fourth grade. Starting April 6, people can pick up coloring sheets from Mike?s Rent to Own, OCHS Cleaners and the outlet mall offices, all in Newton. Ten winners will be selected, and prizes will be awarded. Colored sheets need to be turned in to Mike?s for judging by April 20. For more information, call 316-283-0391 or 316-409-3048 or email

Tongish said his 1957 Bel Air has been in this particular show for five years, although he?s taken part in the show for six to seven years.

?I always try to participate every year,? he said.

In 2014, Tongish, who owns Jim?s Motors on West U.S. Highway 50 at Newton, took first place in the 1950-1959 Year Class with the Bel Air. Jim?s Motors sells used cars. But the Bel Air is barely used, as Tongish is only the vehicle?s second owner.

The Newton businessman did a great deal of restoration to the vehicle, including putting in a rebuilt motor, an overdrive transmission, four-wheel disc brakes, rack-and-pinion steering, a tilt steering wheel, air conditioning and power windows. He also lowered the car 3 inches in front and 2.5 inches in the back, and added Intro Wheels with 20-inch wheels in the rear and 18-inch ones in the front.

?My goal was to keep the car looking as original as possible but doing the mechanical upgrades to make it more drivable,? Tongish said.

In doing that, he also restored the interior to look like the original, he said.

?I did all the restorations myself, other than paint and body (work),? Tongish said.

The restoration took nine months, and Premium Auto Restoration of Derby LLC did the body work and paint. Tongish said he brought the car to Premium, where they took off the vehicle?s frame, which he brought home. Every component, bolt and screw were removed.

The colors used for the exterior of the vehicle, sierra gold and adobe beige, are original to the classic two-door hardtop.

Before he started the project, Tongish said he had to decide if he wanted to return completely to the original or do mechanical upgrades and make it more drivable.

?I still wanted to keep the main looks as it was in 1957,? Tongish said. ?These old cars ? if you go back with original brakes and all that ? they don?t stop and start like if you do the upgrades to them.?

Tongish has been interested in cars for a long time.

?I?ve always been interested in cars since I was young,? he said. ?In high school, I always had a muscle car.?

In high school, he had a 1969 Camaro, and just out of high school, he bought a 1971 Nova SS. He still has those cars.

Tongish jokingly said what he likes about restoring cars is ?having them finished.? What he enjoys is taking a car and going through the process of restoring it, as well as having it finished, he said. Because of his job, Tongish doesn?t have as much time to devote to restorations as he?d like to.

His Bel Air is finished, and he keeps it nestled in a garage, away from inclement weather. When he does take it out, it turns heads.

?It?s fun to take out,? he said. ?I don?t get it out as much as I?d like to.?

by Wendy Nugent

The Free Press

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