Before Studebaker
I owned a beautiful 1956 Chevrolet Bel Air Convertible from late 1958 to early 1962.
Ahead Of My Time
(The Amber Parking Light Story)
By Frank Ambrogio
This is the only color picture I have of the car. The car was originally
Sierra Gold and Adobe Beige. I think it looks better all one color.
      In December of 1958, I bought a 1956 Chevrolet Bel Air convertible. It was a beautiful car. The exterior was Sierra  Gold with a matching gold/beige interior.

      As an eighteen year old growing up in the Detroit  suburbs, I was very close to the automotive scene. We usually got to see the new models, sneaking around town, before they were introduced to the public. And, as an eighteen years old with a Chevy convertible, I realized that a stock car of this type is strictly for the old men (over 30) out there. Naturally, to enhance my image, a little modification was in order.

    I know that not everyone was into that sort of thing, so I'll list what was done to the car and list in parentheses, the terms as we called them then.

       First, off came the hood and trunk ornaments and the  holes were filled (leaded in, or nosed and decked).

This is an early picture. I tried different parking light treatments, this was when I had the bronze lenses. Bubble skirts were not seen too much by the early 1960s. I'd put them on the car every now and then for a different look. Notice the bumper extensions.
      Second, lowering blocks (shackles) were put on the rear
and the front springs were torched to compress them. This
lowered the front about 1 inch lower than the rear (rake).

      The car already had a dual exhaust system so all that was
needed was some nice sounding glass pack mufflers (pipes).

       The tailpipes naturally had to look nice, so on went some chrome exhaust tips on the end (cans).

       Now the 1956 Chevy hubcaps were very well designed and good looking, but this car just begged for 1956 Oldsmobile deluxe spinner type wheel covers (spinners, or flippers). NOTE: Although stealing these type hubcaps was
very common back then, a practice known as the "five finger discount", these were obtained legally).

For a while, I ran with "Ace of Spades" parking light lenses. In this photo, the bumper extensions are removed.
          For some reason back then, you were not supposed to see the rear tire, even with the spinners on the wheels, so I invested in a pair of 80 inch shark nose shaped fender skirts which protruded out from the body of the car (bubbles).

        This car came equipped with dual spotlights (twin spots), a common accessory at the time, so nothing had to be added there.

         So what does all this have to do with the title above? I
just wanted to set the stage so you can picture the car and
understand the next item.

Here is another variation on the bronze parking light lens. For many years, I had tin foil between the bulb and the lens, so no light would shine through.
         A car of this type could not go around with ordinary clear parking lights, so I removed the parking light lenses and painted them the same color as the car, Sierra Gold. Sierra gold is a kind of bronze color and when the light shines through a lens painted this color, it looks very close to the amber color that parking lights are today (remember, this was now 1959).

          I drove this car until I sold it in 1962 (for $650.00) and during this period I was stopped several times by the local law enforcement types who thought their main mission was to give hot rodders like me a hard time. It seems that having parking lights other than clear, was reserved for emergency vehicles only. They insisted that the lights were RED. I guess this was the color that was generated while looking through GREENcolored sun glasses.

This is my dad standing next to the car. Thanks to him, I have a picture of me with the car also. I didn't want to take the next picture, but he insisted. Now, I'm glad he did.
       When you are eighteen - twenty years old, you learn that these type people are truly one dimensional. Their mouths work perfectly, but their ears seem to only pick up certain words like yes sir and no sir. They had no trouble saying RED but had extreme difficulty in hearing me explain the color AMBER (actually I called them bronze, but I'm enhancing the story a little). In all fairness, they let me off with a warning the first time so I decided I had to to a little more modification.

      I tried being very careful when turning, usually resorting to the then still recognizable hand signals. For a time, I even put tin foil between the lens and the bulb so that no light came through at all. I was able to escape detection until one evening in 1962. I was making a left turn, east onto 10 Mile Road from Jefferson in St. Clair Shores. The left turn signal was flashing, AMBER of course, right in the face of the officer facing me, turning west. I could almost see the reflection of my turn signal in his Green sunglasses as no doubt, he saw RED.

      We completed our turns but as I looked in my rear view mirror, I could see him whip around and head back after me. Since I was on a dead end street, I had no recourse but to stop and engage in friendly conversation.

That's me at the wheel. You can get a glimpse of the "cans", "spinners", and the custom "bubbles"
    I stopped the car and was sitting on the front fender when the officer arrived with RED lights flashing. This was an unmarked 1959 Chevy station wagon with the RED lights located in the front grill with the new radar equipment on board. I was familiar with that car as it had been around for 3+ years, but this time I just got caught napping. If it had been a regular police car, I would have spotted it easily. We all had a sixth sense about these things.

      We exchanged a few pleasantries and he left me with a little token of the city's appreciation for my willingness to contribute to the treasury. I sold the car a few months later after re-installing the clear parking light lenses. That ruined the car's appearance.

This picture shows the car with the front bumper extensions removed, and the modified bronze parking lights.
          Anyway, later that year the Detroit auto companies came out with their new 1963 line-up and guess what was the new item on just about every model. That's right, AMBER  parking lights, or RED if you happened to be wearing those neat GREEN sunglasses.

       I guess some young styling genius, probably working for
Ford, must have seen my 1956 Chevy and decided that I had a "better idea". He probably received a nice fat bonus for his styling suggestion. All I got was a traffic ticket to the tune of five beans ($5.00).

        So, 60 years later, the story is now out on how I came up with the idea of the AMBER parking light. You probably have never given it a second thought, but for me, it didn't pay to be ahead of my time.

 AC(After Chevrolet)  I owned a 1956 Studebaker Golden Hawk

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