My Ride: Tigard Dennis & Sandy Gawaran

Sandy and Dennis Gawaran.
Sandy and Dennis Gawaran.

A ‘56 Chevy to celebrate beating cancer

For a classic car lover, what makes the perfect gift for a loved one? Why, another classic car, of course, in this case an immaculate blue and gray 1956 Chevrolet Bel-Air two-door coupe. 

The Bel-Air is shown here in its lowered configuration.
The Bel-Air is shown here in its lowered configuration.

What it is, is a cancer survivor gift for my wife. In 2020 she battled stage 2 breast cancer. She has a deep love for classic cars and when we came across a similar model of this car in Oregon city she fell in love with. I almost couldn’t get her to leave the car behind. We missed out on that car because we left town the next morning and by the time we returned, the car had been sold. 

Then cancer hit and she went through the struggles of chemo and radiation treatments. I wanted to do something special for her. So, I found this ‘56 Chevy online in Arizona and called to get the details. Just before my wife finished her last two radiation treatments the car was delivered, and I told her it was hers for being such a warrior, for never giving up and for always looking at the positive despite the terror and the pain that come with such diagnosis and treatment.

The Bel-Air has been fully restored. The interior is immaculate white leather with chrome accents. The engine bay is clean with matching paint and beautiful chrome, the trunk is finished in the same leather trim.  

Sandy Gawaran defeated cancer in 2020; she is shown here just after her husband Dennis purchased the Bel-Air for her as a celebration gift.
Sandy Gawaran defeated cancer in 2020; she is shown here just after her husband Dennis purchased the Bel-Air for her as a celebration gift.

It’s just a beautiful and clean rebuild. Besides all that, it brought so much joy to my wife. There were days where, with what she was going through, you just can’t help feeling saddened by all the changes from the previous year and the fears that would creep in. 

I’d see my wife feeling a little blue and I’d say ‘Hey, let’s go for a ride.’ She’d get in the car we’d put on some cruising tunes and before we knew it, we both had beaming smiles on our faces

The engine bay in Sandy’s Bel-Air is clean with matching paint and beautiful chrome, the trunk is finished in the same leather trim. It has a ZZ4 engine, 4L60 Automatic transmission, Holly 600 carburetor, Tru-Trac Serpentine Belt, Hooker headers, Budnik wheels and Air Ride suspension.

It is definitely a show car, but we have not taken It to shows yet. We do drive it around town and get many thumbs up and compliments. It always puts a smile on people’s faces. 

A modern hydraulic system lowers the classic Bel-Air with a touch of a button.
A modern hydraulic system lowers the classic Bel-Air with a touch of a button.

We also have a 1967 Mercury Cougar. That’s my wife’s first car that she bought when she was 17-years-old.  It still looks great and runs great. Her father and a friend rebuilt the original 289 engine back in 1994. We also have a 1937 Oldsmobile 2 door coupe that we want to work on.

We love how beautiful it is. We love the attention it gets. We love putting smiles on people’s faces and we love that it is a way to connect with other like-minded people. When you’re driving around town and there’s a couple of brand-new 2020 Corvettes parked outside a restaurant with outdoor dining and those same guys stand up and yell for you to join them and park in the empty space between them … that’s pretty cool!

My wife was the one to originally get me into cars. When we lived in California, we would make the drive every year to Reno, Nevada, for the HOT AUGUST NIGHTS car show that was held during the first week of August. There were such beautiful cars, not like today’s vehicles, but from the big round fenders of the thirties to pointy flares of the 50’s and the hidden headlights of the 60’s. Muscle! Pure rumbling V-8 muscle and beautiful shining chrome!

One year, she drove the Cougar up there and, I kid you not, while we were stopped at a red light, a guy from few vehicles back got out, ran over to us and offered to buy it! My wife would never sell her car, though. The guy stood there admiring it as if we were parked in a lot and not waiting for that green light. That’s when it really hit me how special these vehicles were.

Sandy Gawaran poses with her 1956 Chevrolet Bel-Air, one of several classic cars she and her husband, Dennis, own.
Sandy Gawaran poses with her 1956 Chevrolet Bel-Air, one of several classic cars she and her husband, Dennis, own.

One thing that stands out for my wife, and something that surprised me, especially from a woman’s perspective, is that you don’t have to sell your classic car because you’re starting a family. You hear about these stories a lot where the “new” father believes that having a child means getting rid of their toys (classic cars, or motorcycles) and my wife’s response was always- Why? Just keep it, leave it in the garage, take care of it and eventually your kid will grow up and be able to share in that passion with you.

MY RIDE: TIGARD is a series written by Tigard locals with interesting rides to share. If you’d like your ride, and the story behind it, to be featured in a future issue of Tigard Life, contact Mike Antonelli at mike@tigardlife.com or 503-692-9215.