One of the most revered names in helmets, Bell, emerged quite humbly out of the back of an auto parts store in California in the early 1950s. The famous brand was the result of a confluence of several key elements of inspiration. In 1945, Roy Richter, a race car driver and innovator in the budding hot rod and racing scene, pulled together his life savings ($1,000) to buy Bell Auto Parts, a small store named for its location, Bell, CA. As a teenager, Richter had worked at the store, which was founded in 1923. The plan was to build and tune race cars out of the shop’s garage. However, a friend’s death in a racing accident put Richter on a very different path.
At the time, helmets were somewhat of a rarity. The ones that existed were often little more than a leather or metal head covering. After a lot of experimentation, in 1956, Richter introduced an innovative, three-quarter coverage protective helmet. Christened the 500, it had a hand-laminated fiberglass shell. It was initially advertised in the store’s catalog as merely a part of Bell Auto Parts, listed as the Bell Auto Parts Helmet.