Fin Fan’s Fave
’57 Bel Air enthusiast boasts of impressive collection.
You don’t get much happier than hobbyist Ryan Gertner, living his dream in Rochester Hills. The artistic and well-organized engineer has indulged his passion for red 1957 Chevrolet Bel Airs by amassing an impressive collection of original and sometimes personally enhanced models, photographs and other items. Everything pays homage to his favorite car model.
After decades of yearning for one, Gertner also drives a real 1957 Bel Air sedan, red with a white top. Made in his native Baltimore, he purchased his dream car last August from a Corvette restoration shop in Old Forge, Pa. The vehicle is detailed to his exacting specifications. Upgrades to the pristine vehicle include disc brakes, a stereo system and a modern carburetor.
The Bel Air enthusiast also gets high-fives in life for his understanding wife, Jessica Gertner. She is fine with having their home office devoted to her husband’s collections and his classic car being the sole occupant of their two-car garage.
The couple met on JDate when the former Jessica Sheeran of Philadelphia attended graduate school at Michigan State University. Ryan graduated from GMI/Kettering University in Flint. For a wedding gift 12 years ago, Jessica splurged on purchasing a Danbury Mint model of the car Ryan loves, complete with pedestal and dust cover.
“I was happy I could do this for him,” said Jessica, 37. The family, including son Daniel, 9, belong to Temple Beth El.
Ryan, 40, said he fell in love with the shape and fins of ’57 Chevys when he saw the car featured on M.A.S.K., a television cartoon series.
“One of the first evenings when I got my full-size Chevy, I sat in the driver’s seat and streamed the Nov. 7, 1985, episode off YouTube,” he said. “It was really neat to watch the episode that started it all in a real ’57 Chevy that was mine!”
Before visiting his collections, Gertner pointed out the stunning ’57 red Chevy Bel Air beaded mosaic he created from fusing 69,000 Perler beads in 19 colors. He found a program to print an image he sized to 94-by-43 inches, to better show the vertical and horizontal lines of the car’s grille. Completing the project took a year.
All scale models, pictures and posters in the Gertner office are 1957 Chevrolet Bel Airs. Reproduction billboards are affixed below the ceiling. Four shelves display Gertner’s favorite car model in clear boxes, meticulously arranged by size and variation. Online retailer Etsy, and especially eBay, are where Gertner purchased most of his items. Novelties include a red Bel Air nightlight, phone, business card holder and whiskey decanters. Press the license plate on a VHS tape rewinder that resembles a Bel Air and the hood and interior sections pop up.
Gertner’s own Lego brick ’57 Chevy is made up of over 2,700 bricks and “took nine months to design and source all the pieces,” he said. The project filled up his downtime during a 21-month company assignment in England; his family could come for only 14 months. Back in the Southfield office of the tier-one automotive supplier that’s employed him for 13 years, Gertner’s cubicle is also decorated to show his Bel Air pride.
Gertner serves as official photographer of the Woodward Tri Five Cruisers, a family-oriented club dedicated to the restoration, preservation and enjoyment of ’55-’57 classic Chevrolets. He’s frequently on the go, racking up more than 3,000 miles driving his award-winning Bel Air to car shows and cruise-ins. A favorite stop is the Tuesday night weekly cruise, attracting up to 300 cars, at Culver’s restaurant in Lake Orion.
“Even though I own one now, I still run over and take pictures of all the ’57 Chevys at car shows first,” he said.
Gertner will attend the Woodward Dream Cruise on Saturday but plans to stay parked and photograph other vehicles.
To see Gertner’s car photos, visit flickr.com/photos/ryangertner/collections.
Woodward Dream Cruise begins at 10 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 18. For a list of events and nearby restaurants, visit woodwarddreamcruise.com.