Chevrolet Bel Air

BelAir

The Chevrolet Bel Air was a full-size automobile that was produced by the Chevrolet division of General Motors for the 1950–1981 model years. Initially only the two door Hardtops in the Chevrolet model range were designated with the Bel Air name from 1950 to 1952, as distinct from the Styleline and Fleetline models for the remainder of the range. With the 1953 model year the Bel Air name was changed from a designation for a unique body shape to a premium level of trim applied across a number of body styles. The Bel Air continued with various other trim level designations until US production ceased in 1975, production continued in Canada for its home market only through the 1981 model year.

BelAir 1952

First generation (1950–1954) 

For 1950, Chevrolet came up with a revolutionary style that would set a pattern for decades. The Bel Air Hardtop was styled as 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 lb (1,463 kg). Front suspension was independent, named "knee-action". 1953 Chevrolet Bel Air Convertible The first Bel Airs of this era shared only their front sheetmetal ahead of the A pillar with the rest of the range. The Windshield, doors, glass, and trunk were common with the Styline DeLuxe Convertible Coupe, however the roof, rear quarters and rear windows (3) were unique. The chassis and mechanicals are common with the rest of the passenger car range, and the overall appearance is the same as the rest of the range except that the roof line is lower and the unique three piece rear screen give it a longer and more balanced look. The first Bel Airs were only available with the "DeLuxe" premium trim level and specification. Apart from the usual annual grille and trim changes the 51-52 Bel Air differs from the earlier 50 model with introduction of the higher and squarer rear guards that were across the whole range. 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 (as successors to the Special and Deluxe series, respectively). The 1953 Chevrolet was advertised as "Entirely new through and through," due to the restyled body panels, front and rear ends. However, essentially these Chevrolets had similar frame and mechanicals to the 1949-52 cars. The 53-54 Chevrolet range had a unique and somewhat awkward look about it and much of this stemmed from its role as a transitional model to introduce a raft of changes that were necessary to pave the way for the introduction of the 55-57 range that really established the Bel Air as a cultural icon. The pre-war technology: such as torque tube drive, six cylinder splash feed engines, knee action suspension, split windshields, etc., of the early models was phased out and the foundations for the first post war modern Chevrolet passenger car were finalized in this 53-54 model. Of all the Bel Air variants available across the 53-54 range the two door hardtop and convertible remain the stand outs in terms of style. 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. 1953 was the first year for a curved, one-piece windshield. Bel Air interiors had an optional massive expanse of chrome across the lower part of the dashboard (most were painted), along with a deluxe 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, and a revised engine that had insert bearings and higher oil pressure, needed for the full-flow oil filtration system that was not available prior to 1954. Prior to 1954, the 235 and 216 cubic inch six cylinder engines had babbit bearings and scoops to create oil pressure at the bottom of each rod and the oil pressure was standard at 15-30 PSI. During these years, there were three engine choices, depending on the transmission ordered. Both 235 cubic inch engines were "Blue Flame" inline six cylinder OHV engines, featuring hydraulic valve lifters (in 1953 with automatic transmissions) and aluminum pistons. The 106 hp (79 kW) 235 cubic inch displacement engine was standard on stickshift models, with solid lifters and splash plus pressure lubrication including babbit bearings. Powerglide cars got a 115 hp (86 kW) version which had hydraulic lifters and full pressure lubrication. 1954 Chevrolet Bel Air 2-door Hardtop In 1953 and 1954, Bel Airs could be ordered in convertible, hardtop coupe, two- and four-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 used the 1953 Powerglide engine.

BelAir 1956

Second generation (1954–1957) 

For 1955, Chevrolet's full-size model received all new styling and power. It was called the "Hot One" in GM's advertising campaign. Chevrolet's styling was crisp, clean and incorporated a Ferrari-inspired grille. 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, stainless steel window moldings, and full wheel covers. Models were further distinguished by the Bel Air name script in gold lettering later in the year. For 1955 Chevrolets gained a V8 engine option.and the option of the 2 speed Powerglide automatic, or a standard three speed Synchro-Mesh manual transmission with optional overdrive. The new 265 cu in (4,340 cc) V8 featured a modern, overhead valve high compression, short stroke design that was so good that it remained in production in various displacements for many decades. The base V8 had a two-barrel carburetor and was rated at 162 hp (121 kW), and the "Power Pack" option featured a four-barrel carburetor and other upgrades yielding 180 bhp (130 kW). Later in the year, a "Super Power Pack" option added high-compression and a further 15 bhp (11 kW). "Idiot" lights replaced gauges for the generator and oil pressure. This was not the first Chevrolet to be installed with a V8 engine. The first Chevrolet with a V8 engine was introduced in 1917 called the Series D which was built for two years, and was manufactured before Chevrolet joined General Motors. Motor Trend magazine gave the Bel Air top marks for handling. Popular Mechanics reported acceleration for a V8 Bel Air with Powerglide as being 0-60 mph in 12.9 seconds, plus a comfortable ride, and good visibility. On the other hand, the horn ring blocked some of the speedometer, regular gasoline made the engine knock, and the first V8 engines off the line burned too much oil. Front legroom was 43.1". Brakes were 11" drums. A new option for V8-equipped 1955 models was air conditioning, with outlets on each side of the dashboard; a heavy-duty generator was included on cars equipped with this option. The 1956 Bel Air received a face-lift with a more conventional full-width grille, pleasing those customers who didn't favor the Ferrari-inspired '55 front end. Distinctive two-tone bodyside treatments and graceful front and rear wheel openings completed the "speedline" restyling. Single housings incorporated the taillight, stoplight, and backup light, and the left one held the gas filler - an idea popularized on Cadillacs. Among the seven Bel Air models was a new Sport Sedan, a pillarless four-door hardtop that looked handsome with all the windows rolled down and allowed easy entry into the back seat. Production exceeded 103,000, compared to 128,000 two-door hardtops. Shapely two-door Nomad wagons topped the price chart at $2,608, but now carried the same interior and rear-wheel sheetmetal as other Bel Airs, lacking the original's unique trim. Only 7,886 were built. The least costly Bel Air, at $2,025, was the two-door sedan. Seatbelts, shoulder harnesses, and a padded dashboard were available, and full-size cars could even get the hot Corvette 225-horsepower engine. In 1956 sales material there was an optional rain-sensing automatic top, which was first seen on the first on the 1951 LaSabre concept car. However, it is believed that it was never installed on a car. Popular Mechanics reported only 7.4% of owners in their survey ordered seat belts. In 1957 engine displacement grew to 283 cu in (4,640 cc) with the "Super Turbo Fire V8" option producing 283 hp (211 kW) with the help of continuous (closed loop) mechanical fuel injection. These so-called "fuelie" cars are quite rare, since most Bel Airs were fitted with carburetion. The 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, with tastefully restrained, period use tail fins and chrome. A second automatic transmission, Turboglide, was optional. While the original two-speed Powerglide continued unchanged, Turboglide provided a continuously variable gear ratio which made "shifting" imperceptible. The shift quadrant on Turboglide cars followed a "P R N D Gr" pattern. From 1955 to 1957, 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.

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