Our community shares a love for cars — classic cars, lowriders, street rods, etc.
“Best 1950’s hot rod,” “Best 1957 Chevrolet,” “Best tri-five,” the list goes on and on. These awards are only a reminder of the hard work, memories, laughs, and love that went into earning these plastic figures. Sitting among the cars is a 1957 Chevrolet Belair wagon — Onyx black, 1998 350 motor, dual exhaust, and 510 lift zz4 cam. It was being used as a cage for rabbits. Fernando Franco came across it in 1974 when son, George Franco, was only 3 years old. Years later, Fernando traded the Chevy Belair in for a 1952 Chevrolet pickup but the Belair wasn’t going far from the Franco family. At age 8, George stumbled upon his dad’s Belair at Landreth Wrecking Company in Artesia, New Mexico. In 1985, that $300 1957 Chevrolet Belair wagon that had no title and was supposed to be sold for parts only (as written on the original receipt) was sold to George Franco, who was then 13. After working a whole summer raking leaves, stacking wood, painting fences, and cutting grass, George was still short $45 on his 90-day payment plan. With two days to spare, George’s mother asked what he wanted for his 13th birthday and, of course, he wanted that car so he asked her for $45. She gave him the money for his birthday, not knowing that the Belair wagon would come back to their family. George made his 9th payment of $45 on July 31, 1985, becoming the proud owner of a 1957 Chevrolet Belair Wagon. To this day, he still owns that car. With the help of his dad, George completely rebuilt this fan-favorite Belair wagon. If you saw the Chevy today, you wouldn’t believe it was in a junkyard or used as a rabbit cage.
The love for each other and cars doesn’t end there. In 1975, Fernando purchased a 1947 Chevrolet 5 window from Jimmy Johnson in Artesia, New Mexico. The ’47 Chevy did not run nor did it have wiring or exhaust. It was not long, after weekends spent in the garage, that George and his dad had the truck running. As George said, “That’s when I started to learn how to build cars.” The Chevy was also the first vehicle he learned to drive. Fernando gave George the keys and title at age 18 as an incentive to go and finish college. George left for college and that’s when he started to rebuild a gift of a lifetime by putting in a 1976 Camaro front suspension. The deep green metallic truck has been taken apart and put back together many times to get where it is now. It has a 454 big block Chevy, disc brakes on the front and back with a 700r 4 automatic transmission. This truck has won many awards including “Best 1940s Chevy pickup,” “Best color,” “Best engine,” “Club choice,” and “Best 1940s hot rod truck.”
Article written by Ali Lykins and originally published in Focus on Artesia 2021 Spring edition.