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Massapequa Park man finishes restoring late father's '57 Chevy

A close-up view of a restored 1957 Chevrolet

A close-up view of a restored 1957 Chevrolet photographed at an Automat Co. car show in Hicksville on Saturday, June 20, 2015. Credit: Steven Sunshine

Michael Rezza sat behind the wheel of the gleaming, candy-red 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air with a grin stretching nearly as wide as the car's gold grill.

The Massapequa Park resident had done much more than restore a classic Chevy. He'd fulfilled his late father's wishes.

"This would have been my dad's dream," said Rezza, 41, showing off the Bel Air at a Hicksville car show on Saturday. "He would have been dancing in the parking lot."

Joseph Rezza Sr., of Brentwood, died of heart failure in March 2012 at 65. He had worked 17 years as an NYPD officer.

The elder Rezza bought the stripped-down Bel Air in 1981 when his son was 9 because he thought it was the most beautiful car ever made.

"There was no interior. No chrome," Michael Rezza recalled. "The only thing that the car had was the original motor and the original transmission."

He said his father took courses through Suffolk County Community College to learn how to rebuild the engine and other systems. Then he went to work.

But when Joseph Rezza's wife, Maureen, was diagnosed with breast cancer, he turned his attention to supporting her through the illness.

"For 10 years he took care of her and that car just sat stagnant for all that time," his son said. "Health and family is more important than a car."

His mother died in December 2011. When Rezza lost his father a few months later, he looked at the unfinished car in the garage in a different light.

Restoring the Chevy was a difficult task emotionally as well as logistically, he said. "It was hard to do. It was more about trying to keep my father's dream alive."

The biggest challenge was finding car parts that were more than a half-century old and people who could help him with the work, he said.

Experts from AutoMat Co. in Hicksville and Joe's Auto Collision in Brentwood scoured for parts online and through their connections.

To cut costs, Rezza, a moving company owner, said he installed all the chrome -- from the quarter panels to the logo trim. Then there were the modern add-ons: air conditioning, a quality audio system and Bluetooth.

He finished the three-year job this spring and estimates the final cost at $50,000. The pride he feels: priceless.

"It's an incredible ride," Rezza said. "It's in better condition today than it was the day it came out."

This Father's Day weekend, he entered his first car show, sponsored by AutoMat. The Chevy won first place in the competition's most intriguing category: best story behind a car.

Rezza's wife, Leah, 43, said he worked to bring his father's vision to reality -- down to the red-and-white leather interior. "He's been like a kid in the candy jar," she said.

The couple's children -- Tristan, 9, and Morgan, 7 -- have also enjoyed the car.

"They're always like, 'Can we go in the '57?' and I'm sitting there going, 'But you can't bring snacks, and put your feet down and why did we pick white upholstery on the inside?,' " she said with a laugh. "Michael's like, 'Get them in the car.' And I'm like, 'No, no, no, no, I need wipes!' "

Leah Rezza said Saturday that she wasn't sure if the family heirloom would go to her son or daughter.

Tristan, who overheard, was quick to end all speculation.

"It's going to me!" he declared. "I like everything about it."

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