One car, 50 years, 450,000 miles

The Baltimore Sun

If you ever feel like bragging about the old car in your driveway that has 200,000 miles on the odometer, still runs great, doesn't have a dent and blah, blah, blah, make sure not to do it around Bill and Miriam Hyde.

See, the Hydes have an old-car story that will blow yours out of the water. In fact, it'll blow just about any old-car story out of the water.

Because theirs is about a snazzy 1958 Chevrolet Biscayne two-door sedan with 450,000 miles that has taken them on 44 sightseeing trips all across the U.S. and Canada and still runs like a top, owing to the fact that Bill, a retired engineer, can fix anything short of a Trident submarine.

This Saturday, in fact, the Hydes - he's 85, she's 83 - will throw a 50th birthday party for their beloved Chevy at their Baltimore County home, complete with exhibits and refreshments, a "Tales From the Road" talk and Q&A; session, and a slide show called "Adventures of a Biscayne - The Ultimate Travelogue."

But that's getting ahead of the story. Here's how it begins: The year is 1958. Eisenhower is in the White House. The Cold War is hot, and Elvis is hotter, with teenage girls weeping and tearing at their hair at the prospect of the King being drafted into the Army.

And Bill and Miriam Hyde walk into Govans Motors and plunk down $2,600 cash for a brand-new Chevy Biscayne, with an Aegean-turquoise paint job that looks like something off a Grecian urn.

Some people fall in love with a car because of its sleek lines or its power or its smooth ride.

But Bill Hyde, a World War II vet with a passion for photography, settled on the Biscayne for a different reason.

"What caught my eye was just the physical design, how easy it was to get into the back seat and trunk" to retrieve cameras and photo equipment, he said.

Oh, and he liked the air-suspension system, too, "because you could load anything in the car and not worry about it sagging."

Hey, is this guy a romantic or what?

This is a guy who would visit the Louvre and rave about the storage rooms.

Anyway, you know how some people like to break in a new car gently? The Hydes broke in their new Chevy the way Genghis Khan broke in his war horses.

First, they took it on a 24-day, 9,000-mile jaunt to California and back, during which they visited rugged places like Death Valley and Yosemite National Park, where engines and transmissions go to die.

And for the next 33 years, they took it on grueling trips that included a 59-day, 13,300-mile odyssey in 1980 to Mammoth Caves National Park in Kentucky, Pikes Peak in Colorado, Las Vegas and Crater Lake and Mount Hood in Oregon, and a 68-day, 12,000-mile trip in 1988 to New Orleans, where they left their car, flew to St. Louis and boarded the Delta Queen steamboat for an "opera cruise" down the Mississippi that featured superstar Roberta Peters.

Clearly, when the Hydes, married for 60 years, plan a getaway, it ain't to Ocean City.

Starting in 1986, the couple, after seeing pretty much all there was to see in this country, began taking cruises around the world. (They've visited 86 countries in Europe, Asia, Africa and South America.

Their last major trip in the '58 Chevy was in 1991, a 28-day, 4,600-mile jaunt to Tulsa, Okla., then back east to the Berkshire Mountains in Massachusetts.

(Bill Hyde kept meticulous records. Here's a little trivia for you: In their first cross-country trip in 1958, the car got 16 miles per gallon. That was when gas costs 30 cents a gallon. It was up to $1.10 a gallon for their last trip in '91.

(Now, at $3.50-plus a gallon, you practically have to rob a bank to afford to drive across the country.)

But the '58 Chevy didn't exactly go into retirement after the Hydes started taking cruises.

Bill Hyde still drives it in nice weather. The Hydes took it on a recent trip to the Kent Narrows, and the odometer clicked past 450,000 last week on a drive on Sweet Air Road near their Phoenix home.

"I never thought I'd own a car 50 years, or even 10 years," Bill Hyde says.

But the '58 Chevy endures, in no small part because of all the love and work he's put into it.

It's gone through three engines, six sets of brakes, 15 sets of tires, an upgraded transmission and enough rust-proofing to cover a battleship.

He's added power brakes, power steering, air-conditioning and 15-inch wheels for more clearance because, as he puts it, "This car has been places you wouldn't go in a Jeep."

And with that gorgeous paint job, it's still a neck-snapper on the road.

In fact, a few days ago, while Hyde drove it on the Beltway, a guy leaned out of a passing car and snapped a picture with his digital camera.

So this Saturday the Hydes will throw a big birthday bash for the '58 Chevy.

It should be some day. They'll serve hot dogs and apple pie. Family, friends and neighbors will show up to celebrate the old car and hear the stories once more.

Fifty years, 450,000 miles. Not too many car stories better than that one.

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