Chevrolet Bel Air
The Chevrolet Bel Air is a full-size automobile that was produced by
the Chevrolet division of General Motors for the 1950–1975 model years. From
1950–1952, Hardtops in Chevrolet's Deluxe Styleline model range were designated
with the Bel Air name, but it was not a distinct series of its own until the
1953 model year. Bel Air production continued in Canada for its home market
only through the 1981 model year.
In 1950, Chevrolet came up with a revolutionary style that would set a
pattern for decades. The style was the Bel Air Hardtop, which was a convertible
with a non-detachable solid roof. Models like this had been around
since the 1920s, including early Chevrolets, with no degree of success. But the
newly revised idea, sweeping the GM line from Chevrolet to Cadillac, had finally
found its era. First year production reached only 76,662 as buyers cautiously
tested the revised concept. The car cost $1,741 and weighed 3,225 pounds
In 1953 Chevrolet renamed its series and the Bel Air name was applied to the
premium model range. Two lower series, the 150 and 210, also emerged. The 1953
Chevrolet was advertised as "Entirely New Through and Through," due to the
restyled body panels, front and rear ends. However, essentially these Chevys had
the same frame and mechanicals as the 1949-52 cars.
The Bel Air series featured a wide chrome strip of molding from the rear
fender bulge, to the rear bumper. The inside of this stripe was painted a
coordinating color with the outside body color, and "Bel Air" scripts were added
inside the strip. Lesser models had no model designation anywhere on the car,
only having a Chevy crest on the hood and trunk. Bel Air interiors had a massive
expanse of chrome across the lower part of the dashboard, along with a de luxe
Bel Air steering wheel with full chrome horn ring. Carpeting and full wheel
covers rounded out Bel Air standard equipment. For 1954, the Bel Air stayed
essentially the same, except for a revised grille and taillights.
During these years, there were two engine choices, depending on the
transmission ordered. Both engines were "Blue Flame" inline six cylinder OHV
engines. featuring hydraulic valve lifters and aluminum pistons. The 115 hp
(86 kW) engine was standard on stickshift models, with solid lifters and splash
plus pressure lubrication. Powerglide cars got a 125 hp (93 kW) version which
had hydraulic lifters and full pressure lubrication. During 1953-54, Bel Airs
could be ordered in convertible, hardtop coupe, 2- and 4-door sedans, and, for
1954, the Beauville station wagon which featured woodgrain trim around the side
windows. Power steering was optional for 1953; 1954 added power brakes, power
seat positioner and power front windows. 1954 cars with stick shift got the 1953
In 1955, Chevrolets gained a V8 engine option. The new 265 cubic-inch V8
featured a modern, overhead valve high-compression, short stroke design that was
so good that it remained in production in various forms, for many decades. The
base V8 had a two-barrel carburetor and was rated at 162 horsepower (121 kW),
and the "Power Pack" option featured a four-barrel carburetor and other
upgrades, yielding 180 brake horsepower (130 kW). Later in the year, a "Super
Power Pack" option added high compression and a further 15 brake horsepower
(11 kW). That year, Chevrolet's full-size model received new styling that earned
it the "Hot One" designation by enthusiasts. Unlike Ford and Plymouth,
Chevrolet's styling was considered crisp and clean. Bel Airs came with features
found on cars in the lower models ranges plus interior carpet, chrome headliner
bands on hardtops, chrome spears on front fenders, chrome window mouldings, and
full wheel covers. Models were further distinguished by the Bel Air name script
in gold lettering. 1956 saw the introduction of the pillarless four-door model,
called Sport Sedan and available in both Bel Air and Two-Ten models. Engine
displacement grew to 283 cubic inches (4,638 cc) in 1957, with the "Super Turbo
Fire V8" option producing 283 horsepower (211 kW) with the help of continuous
fuel injection. These so-called "fuelie" cars are quite rare, since most Bel
Airs were fitted with carburetion.
The 1955-1957 Bel Air is among the most recognizable American cars of all
time; well-maintained examples (especially Sport Coupes and Convertibles) are
highly sought after by collectors and enthusiasts. They are roomy,
fuel-efficient, with tastefully restrained, period use tail fins and chrome.
From 1955–57, production of the two-door Nomad station wagon was assigned to the
Bel Air series, although its body and trim were unique to that model. Prior to
becoming a regular production model, the Nomad first appeared as a
Corvette-based concept vehicle in 1954. Chevrolet has since unveiled two concept
cars bearing the Nomad name, most recently in 1999. The 1955-1957 Chevrolets are
commonly referred to as TriFives.
For 1958, Chevrolet models were redesigned longer, lower, and heavier than
their 1957 predecessors. The Bel Air gained a halo model in 1958, the Impala,
available only as a hardtop coupe and convertible in its introductory year.
Impala styling followed the basic lines of the other Chevrolet models but
received special styling cues including a different roof line, a vent above the
rear window, unique side trim, and triple tail lights housed in slightly broader
alcoves. For the budget conscious, the Biscayne, (formerly the 210) and the
Delray (formerly the 150) completed this model year's family-oriented and
Chevrolet's design for the year fared better than its other GM offerings, and
lacked the overabundance of chrome found on Pontiacs, Oldsmobile's, Buicks and
Cadillac's. Complementing Chevrolet's front design was a broad grille and quad
headlights that helped simulate a 'Baby Cadillac'; the tail received a
fan-shaped alcove on both side panels, which housed dual tail lights. Despite
being a recession year, consumers made Chevrolet the No. 1 make of automobile
(beating Ford, which held the title in 1957) and the Bel Air was at the core of
Chevrolet's popularity. With its wide variety of body styles and models, Bel
Airs could be optioned with almost every conceivable luxury within the Chevrolet
line. The Nomad station wagon name also reappeared in 1958 when the vehicle
bowed as the premium four-door Chevrolet station wagon, lacking the unique
styling of the 1955-57 Nomads. Most Chevrolet station wagon models had two tail
lights housed in abbreviated alcoves, which were made smaller to accommodate the
Air in Black
For the second time in as many years, Chevrolet again came up with a totally
new car. From the front or rear the 1959 Chevrolets resembled nothing else on
the road. From the headlights placed as low as the law would allow to the
cats-eye taillights, the 1959 Chevrolet was a brand new car with all new sheet
metal, a new frame, and even new series names. the car was built on a 119-inch
(3,000 mm) wheelbase and was 211 inches (5,400 mm) long-which was 11 inches
(280 mm) longer than the 1957 model. This made Chevrolet the longest car in the
low priced range, whereas two years before it had been the shortest. In addition
the car was three inches (76 mm) wider outside and had five inches (127 mm) more
width inside than it did in 1958, through the reduction of door thickness.
The Bel Air, which had been the top line series since 1953, was now the
middle range. wagons were still classed by themselves, but had model numbers
matching the car series. Parkwood 6-passenger and Kingswood 9-passenger wagons
had Bel Air's model number, as such were the middle range wagons. Under the hood
little change took place. a variety of speed options, such as fuel injection,
special cams, lowered compression etc., which gave horsepower ratings up to 315.
Bel Air production was 447,100. The new Impala line bettered Bel Air by
Little change was made for 1960. The new models were refinements in the 1959
style with a much more restrained front end, double taillights compared to the
startling cats eyes of 1959. Under the hood things remained constant. Fuel
injection was no longer available, but with the 348 cubic inch engine, a
horsepower rating of 335 at 5800 rpm was now available. This involved the use of
three 2-barrel carburettors, special cam and an 11.25:1 compression ratio, all
sold as a package. New to the Bel Air series was the Sport Coupe, which used the
Impala's 2-door hardtop body , but lacked Impala's trim. The Bel Air Sport Sedan
continued to use the rear window overhang and huge wraparound rear window. Bel
Airs (and Biscaynes) had two taillights per side; the Impalas had three
taillights per side. Many of the same options and accessories that were
available on the Impala were also available on the Bel Air. Bel Airs had more
interior and exterior brightwork than the Biscayne.
For 1961, Chevrolet again had a totally new body, not just new sheet metal.
It's wheelbase remained 119 inches (3,000 mm), but its length was now reduced
slightly to 209.3 inches (5,320 mm).
All engines options of the previous year remained in effect with the standard
engines being the 235.5 CID Six of 135 hp (101 kW) or the 283 CID V8 of 170 hp
(127 kW). The V8 cost $110 more than the Six and weighed 5 pounds less. The Bel
Air 2-door sedan used squared-off roof styling and large wrap-around rear window
as opposed to the hardtop's swept-back design. The Bel Air 4-door Sport Hardtop
still used a different roof line than did the 4-door sedan.
For 1962, all sheet metal except the door panels was changed. Overall length
was stretched slightly to 209.6 inches (5,320 mm). The 4-door Sport Hardtop was
no longer offered in the Bel Air series. Standard engines remained the same as
the previous year. A new 327 CID V8 of 250 or 300 hp (224 kW) was offered in
addition to the giant (for the time) 409 CID V8 of 380 hp (283 kW) or 409 hp
(305 kW) with the fuel injection package. All wagons this year were 4-door
models and separate divisions for wagons was dropped. Now all models were either
Biscayne, Bel Air or Impala series.
For 1963, the full size Chevrolet received little more than a facelift.
Overall length increased to 210.4 inches (5,340 mm). Standard engines remained
the same, but the 283 CID V8 now produced 195 hp (145 kW). The 409 CID V8 was
now offered in 340, 400 and 425 hp (317 kW) versions. The Bel Air continued to
be Chevrolet's middle range, but it now consisted of only two car models- the
2-door sedan and the 4-door sedan. 6 and 9-passenger Bel Air station wagons were
for 1964, very few changes were made except the expected sheet metal and trim
renovations. Cars were 209.9 inches in length while the wagons were 210.8 inches
(5,350 mm) long. In addition to the un-changed standard engines, four different
327 CID engines were offered, developing from 250 hp (186 kW) to 365 hp (272 kW)
and three 409 CID engines ranging from 340 hp (254 kW) to 425 hp (317 kW).
Except for a chrome belt line and $100 difference in price there was little
exterior difference between the Bel Air and Biscayne version.
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For 1965, the full size Chevrolet was totally restyled, and the cars were
stretched to 213.3 inches (5,420 mm) overall, even though the wheelbase remained
the same. The new stamped grill had a lower extension below the bumper which was
slightly Veed. Curved window glass and round taillights mounted high
characterized the new styling. The interiors were also redesigned and a very
attractive dash resulted. The standard V8 remained the 283 CID model of 195 hp
(145 kW), but options included two new 396 CID engines of 325 and 340 hp
(254 kW) and two 409 CID blocks of 400 and 425 hp (317 kW). The Bel Air utilizes
a stainless-steel belt and rocker moulding, identifying signature on the rear
fenders, a glove compartment light and power tailgate on 9-passenger wagons to
distinguish itself from the lower priced Biscayne series.
For 1966, Chevrolet was in its second season of a totally new body change, so
mild face-lifting sufficed including forward thrusting, blunted front fenders and
a revised grill. At the rear, a break with the traditional round tail lamps took
place. Bel Air and Biscayne featured dual rectangular lamps with back-up lamps
built in. Overall length was 213.2 inches (5,420 mm). The standard Six cylinder
engine this year was the larger 250 CID version of 155 hp (116 kW). New for the
speed set was a 427 CID V8 of 390 or 425 hp (317 kW). Bel Air was readily
distinguishable from Biscayne by its full length body side moulding and rear
fender Bel Air signatures.
For 1967, Full-sized Chevrolets featured a new body with bulging rear
fenders, one of this years styling trends, not necessarily appreciated by
everyone. Bel Air 2 and 4-door Sedans continued in addition to 6 and 9-paasenger
wagons. This year Bel Air featured triple taillights unlike Biscayne's dual
units. Standard engines remained the same as the previous year. Optional engines
were a 327 CID V8 of 275 hp (205 kW), the 396 CID V8 of 350 hp (261 kW); or the
427 CID V8 of 385 hp (287 kW), plus various speed packages.
For 1968, the Full-sized Chevrolets received some changes but were quite
similar to the 1967 models, though they had grown one inch to 214.7 inches
(5,450 mm). Chevrolet's new grill design bears a strong resemblance to
Cadillac's, but Bel Air's dual round taillight design is strictly Chevrolet. In
an unusual move, the taillights were mounted in the bumper. In addition to the
250 CID Six of 155 hp (116 kW), standard engines included the new 307 CID V8 of
200 HP. The Bel Air with the standard 250 Six was capable of a top speed of
90 mph (140 km/h) and 18.4 mpg-US (12.8 L/100 km;
22.1 mpg-imp) at cruising speeds. When powered by the
new 307 CID V8, the Bel Air series cars had a top speed of 105 mph (169 km/h)
and 17.1 mpg-US (13.8 L/100 km; 20.5 mpg-imp)
at cruising speeds.
For 1969, the big Chevrolet was totally redesigned, given a new length, new
fender and body lines, and a new front and back end. The cars remained on the
119-inch (3,000 mm) wheelbase, but grew to a new length of 219.9 inches
(5,590 mm), while the wagons grew 4.3 inches (110 mm) to a new length of 217.7
All engine options remained the same as 1968 up to a new 427 V8 of 425 HP. This
was the final year for the Bel Air 2-door sedan and station wagons.
For 1970, the Chevrolet line was very little changed and regulated primarily
to a new a very attractive front end. The standard Six was still the 250 of 155
HP. The standard V8 in full-size Chevrolets was now the 350 of 250 HP. Optional
engines went up to the 454 of 345 HP. The Bel Air series was now a one model
By the late 1960s (with the introduction of the Caprice), the Bel Air and its
Biscayne stable mate were primarily marketed to automotive fleet customers.
However, the Bel Air remained available to retail customers who sought a basic,
no-frills, full-sized car that was better trimmed than the low-line Biscayne.
When the Biscayne was discontinued after 1972, the Bel Air was demoted to the
A 250 cubic-inch six-cylinder engine and three-speed manual transmission with
column shift remained standard equipment through the 1973 model year on sedans
with the 350 V8 and automatic standard on wagons - the Turbo Hydramatic
automatic had been the sole transmission choice on V-8-powered Bel Airs since
the spring of 1971 though the old two-speed Powerglide was still offered with
the six-cylinder engine through the 1972 model year. Only about 1,400 cars were
built with the inline six in 1973. The engine and manual transmission were
shelved by the end of the model year - marking the last full-sized American car
to offer a manual gearbox.
All Bel Air sedans built in 1974 and 1975 listed a 350 two-barrel V8 engine
and Turbo-Hydramatic transmission as standard, with station wagons getting the
400 four-barrel V8, again with Turbo-Hydramatic standard. The 400 V8 was
optional on sedans and the 454 was available on both models.
With the discontinuation of the Bel Air two-door sedan after the 1969 model
year, all U.S.-market Bel Airs sold between 1970 and 1975 were four-door sedans
or station wagons - the latter carrying the Townsman nameplate from 1969 to 1972
and Bel Air from 1973 to 1975. However, a Bel Air hardtop coupe - based on the
Impala sport coupe body - was sold in Canada from 1970 to 1975. This body even
had a roofline similar to the original '66-67 Caprice coupe style for the years
1974 and 1975.
Most other changes to the Bel Air during its final years were identical to
the more expensive Caprice and Impala lines. For instance, the 1975 models had a
new roofline and came with new dashboard, radio and climate control graphics
(the speedometer read up to 100 mph (160 km/h), and had smaller numbers for
kilometres per hour). In addition, customers could buy their 1975 Bel Air with
two new options: an Econominder gauge package (which included a gauge that
monitored fuel economy, due in part to growing demands for fuel economy) and
Chevy Bel Air Convertible - 1955
In 1975, Consumer Reports tested a Bel-Air four-door sedan with the
350 V8 engine and Turbo Hydramatic against other U.S.-built full-sized cars of
that period including the Pontiac Catalina, Ford LTD and Plymouth Gran Fury.
Although the car performed well in its tests, Consumer Reports pointed
out the Bel-Air had less noise insulation and a less-comfortable rear seat than
its higher-priced siblings, and that a comparably-equipped Chevrolet Impala
(with additional sound insulation, and upgraded upholstery and seat padding, a
$203 premium over the Bel-Air) "would be even closer to the Pontiac in overall
quality." Even so, the magazine stated that - for instance - the Bel-Air was
"only slightly noisier than the Pontiac."
Consumer Reports concluded in its report that prospective buyers should pay
the extra $200 or so to upgrade to the costlier Impala noting advantages such as
greater resale value and interior/exterior appointments more comparable to the
other tested full-sized vehicles.
The last Bel Airs for the United States were manufactured for 1975. For 1976,
a lower-trimmed Impala "S" four-door sedan was a one-year offering which had a
bit less standard equipment than regular Impalas and could be considered a
partial replacement for the Bel Air.
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Bel Airs in Canada
Chevrolet's Canadian affiliate continued the Bel Air as its lowest-priced
full-size car through the 1981 model year, and was Chevrolet's badge engineered
version of the Pontiac Laurentian with minimal exterior and interior trim.
For 1977, Canadian Bel Airs received the same downsizing as their
Impala/Caprice counterparts in the U.S. Body styles offered during this period
included four-door sedans, two-door coupes and station wagons. Reflecting the
smaller size of these downsized big cars was a line-up of generally smaller
engines for improved fuel economy with Chevy's 250 cubic-inch "Turbo-Thrift"
six-cylinder reinstated as standard power in sedans for the first time since
1973 with the 140 horsepower (100 kW) 305 Turbo-Fire V8 available as an option
in sedans and standard on wagons.
The 170 horsepower (130 kW) 350 Turbo-Fire V8, available in both models, was
now the top option as the larger 400 Turbo-Fire small block and 454 Turbo-Jet
big block V8s were no longer available. Standard equipment on Bel Airs during
this period included small hubcaps, cloth-and-vinyl upholstery in sedans or
all-vinyl in wagons, cigarette lighter, ashtray, automatic dome light for front
doors, full carpeting, Astro Ventilation, Delco Freedom battery, variable-ratio
power steering, power front disc brakes and Turbo Hydramatic transmission.
For 1980 the engine line-up was revised with the inline six replaced by a new
3.8-liter or 229 cubic-inch V6 based on the small-block V8 as the base engine in
sedans. The new base V8 (standard on wagons, optional on sedans) was a smaller
267 cubic-inch small-block with two-barrel carburettor, while the 305
small-block (optional on all models) got a 15 horsepower (11 kW) increase to
155 horsepower (116 kW) thanks to the change from a two-barrel to four-barrel
carburettor. The 350 V8 was now restricted to police-option vehicles. Another new
option for 1980-81 was the Oldsmobile-built 350 Diesel.
Bel Air Concept
In 2002, a concept Bel Air convertible was shown at the North American
International Auto Show. It featured many styling and design cues from the
legendary 1955–57 models, and had tail lights very similar to the Ford
Thunderbird. So far, General Motors has shown no interest in producing the car.
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1958 Chevrolet Bel Air Impala