For enough money, you can follow in the footsteps of Bruce Springsteen, sweat it out on the streets of a runaway American dream, and ride through the mansions of glory in his former suicide machine.
This 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air convertible once belonged to the Boss, and now it can be yours. Within a matter of hours, the vehicle will be sold to the highest bidder in an eBay auction. But at a current asking price of $350,000, it’s going to cost you considerably more than it cost Springsteen when he purchased the car for $2000 in 1975.
A golden yellow, with flames dancing up the hood, the car was inseparable from Springsteen during his initial rise from obscurity following the release of Born to Run. So much so, in fact, that he was forced to sell it only two years later because so many of his new fans recognized the vehicle.
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Its popularity never waned.
When Michael Crane, the vehicle’s current owner, first purchased the car in April 2006, it broke down on his drive home in Long Branch, New Jersey. He left the car there overnight while he went to work. The next day, he got a call from the local police threatening to tow the vehicle because it was leaking gas.
“I raced down there, and I was like, ‘You can’t tow the car,’ ” Crane recalled. “By the time I got there, there’s a crowd around the car, and they all know it’s Bruce Springsteen’s car. I tried to deny it, but they were all saying, ‘Come on, man, you know that’s Bruce’s car.’ ”
By coincidence, Crane had parked the car around the block from West End Court, the same street on which Springsteen lived in the early 1970s when he wrote material for the album that became Born to Run.
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A year after an extensive mechanical restoration, in 2007, Crane drove the Bel Air down to the Jersey Shore to get ice cream with his child and, on a whim, decided to stop by the Stone Pony, the legendary club in Asbury Park where Springsteen had often played for endless hours. By chance, Springsteen was playing a benefit for a local school there when Crane rolled in.
“I’m saying, ‘Hey Bruce, I got your car from ’75,’ and he’s ignoring me, but then I say it again, and he turns and looks, and his jaw drops,” Crane said. “He starts walking toward me and says, ‘That’s the car.’ And what does he want to see? The Hurst shifter. All these security guys are flashing their lights in, and he says, ‘That’s the Hurst shifter. That’s really my car.’ ”
Springsteen first purchased the car in 1974, and it plays a role in several of his biggest songs, including “Born to Run,” which catapulted him down Highway 9 and into worldwide prominence roughly a year later. Following the breakthrough album, Springsteen appeared on the covers of both Time and Newsweek in the same week in late October 1975, and in another coincidence, he’s pictured with the ’57 Chevy in both magazines—in both, on page 57.
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In his music, the ’57 Chevy makes its biggest appearance recast as a ’69 in “Racing in the Street,” on 1978’s Darkness on the Edge of Town. In a scene set in Asbury Park, Springsteen writes, “I got a ’69 Chevy with a 396, fuelie head, and a Hurst on the floor.”
In more recent years, Crane, a Westfield, New Jersey, native, has loaned the car to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame for its Springsteen-related exhibits, and it has been displayed in both Cleveland and New York. One outstanding mystery: Crane isn’t sure when Springsteen painted the car. Its original title says it was blue, but Bruce references its golden yellow and flames in early lyric sheets for “Seaside Bar Song.”
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But just because the vehicle played an outsize role in both Springsteen’s lyrics and his imagery as a means for escape, prospective owners should know his dark automotive secrets. Though he came of age in the heyday of car culture, Springsteen acknowledges in his new autobiography that he didn’t get his driver’s license until his 20s and confesses that he is a “terrible driver.”
Update, 12/20/16, 10:00 a.m.: The auction for the ’57 Chevy ended late Monday night, with a bid of $350,000 winning the vehicle. Thirty-nine people had placed 105 bids on the car in the seven-day run-up to the end of the auction.