250px-57 Chevy BelAir
See also 57 Chevy

Template:Morefootnotes Template:Infobox automobile The Chevrolet Bel Air is a full-size automobile that was produced by the Chevrolet division of General Motors from 1950–1975. 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.


First Generation (1950–1954)Edit

Template:Infobox Automobile generation 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 Template:Convert.[1]

File:53 Bel Air.jpg

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 Chevrolets 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 Template:Convert engine was standard on stickshift models, with solid lifters and splash plus pressure lubrication. Powerglide cars got a Template:Convert version which had hydraulic lifters and full pressure lubrication. In 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 used the 1953 Powerglide engine.

Second Generation (1955–1957)Edit

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File:55 Chevy BelAir.jpg

For 1955, 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 moldings, and full wheel covers. Models were further distinguished by the Bel Air name script in gold lettering. For 1955 Chevrolets gained a V8 engine option. The new [[Chevrolet small-block engine#265|Template:Convert V8]] featured a modern, overhead valve high compression, long 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 Template:Convert, and the "Power Pack" option featured a four-barrel carburetor and other upgrades yielding Template:Convert. Later in the year, a "Super Power Pack" option added high-compression and a further Template:Convert. 1956 saw the introduction of the pillarless four-door model, called the Sport Sedan and available in both Bel Air and Two-Ten models. For 1956 and '57, Chevy's had the gas cap hidden behind the chrome of the driver side tail fin. Engine displacement grew to [[Chevrolet small-block engine#283|Template:Convert]] in 1957, with the "Super Turbo Fire V8" option producing Template:Convert 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, fuel-efficient, with tastefully restrained, period use tail fins and chrome.

File:57 Bel Air.jpg

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. Template:Clear

Third Generation (1958)Edit

Template:Infobox Automobile generation For 1958, Chevrolet models were redesigned longer, lower, and heavier than their 1957 predecessors, and the first ever production Chevrolet big block V8, the [[Chevrolet Big-Block engine#348|Template:Convert]], was now an option. The Bel Air gained a halo vehicle 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 utility offerings.

File:1958 Impala.jpg

Chevrolet's design for the year fared better than its other GM offerings, and lacked the overabundance of chrome found on Pontiacs, Oldsmobiles, Buicks and Cadillacs. 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 rear gate. Template:Clear

Fourth Generation (1959–1960)Edit

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File:59 Bel Air.jpg

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 Template:Convert wheelbase and was Template:Convert long-which was Template:Convert 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 Template:Convert wider outside and had Template:Convert 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, and 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 and lowered compression, gave horsepower ratings up to 315. Bel Air production was 447,100. The new Impala line bettered Bel Air by 20,000 units.

File:60 Bel Air.jpg

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 cat's 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 carburetors, a 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 the Impala's trim. The Bel Air Sport Sedan continued to use a rear window overhang and a huge wraparound rear window. Bel Airs (and Biscaynes) had two taillights per side; the Impalas had three taillights per side — a situation that would persist for most years through 1975. Many of the same options and accessories that were available on the Impala were also available on the Bel Air. The Bel Airs had more interior and exterior brightwork than the Biscayne.

Fifth Generation (1961–1964)Edit

Template:Infobox Automobile generation For 1961, Chevrolet again had a totally new body, not just new sheetmetal. Its wheelbase remained Template:Convert, but its length was now reduced slightly to Template:Convert.

File:1961 Chevrolet Bel Air.jpg

All engines options of the previous year remained in effect with the standard engines being the 235.5 CID Six of Template:Convert or the 283 CID V8 of Template:Convert. The V8 cost $110 more than the Six and weighed Template:Convert 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 sheetmetal except the door panels was changed. Overall length was stretched slightly to Template:Convert. 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 [[Chevrolet small-block engine#327|Template:Convert]] V8 of 250 or Template:Convert was offered in addition to the giant (for the time) [[Chevrolet Big-Block engine#409|Template:Convert]] V8 of Template:Convert or Template:Convert with the dual four-barrel carburetor setup. All wagons this year were 4-door models and separate distinctions for wagons were dropped. Now all models were either Biscayne, Bel Air or Impala series. Full carpeting returned as standard equipment on all 1962 Bel Air models for the first time in several years. For 1963, the full size Chevrolet received little more than a facelift. Overall length increased to Template:Convert. Replacing the older 235 cubic-inch six-cylinder engine as standard equipment was a new 230 cubic-inch six-cylinder of more modern design with a 140-horsepower rating that was based on the 194 cubic-inch six introduced on the compact Chevy II Nova the previous year. The base V8 remained the 283 CID, which was upgraded to produce Template:Convert. The 409 CID V8 was now offered in 340, 400 and Template:Convert versions, while the small block 327 V8 continued with options of 250 and 300 horsepower. 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 again offered.

File:64 Bel Air.jpg

For 1964, very few changes were made except the expected sheet metal and trim renovations. Cars were Template:Convert in length while the wagons were Template:Convert long. In addition to the un-changed standard engines, there were two different 327 CID engines were offered, developing from Template:Convert to Template:Convert and three 409 CID engines ranging from Template:Convert to Template:Convert. Except for a chrome belt line and $100 difference in price there was little exterior difference between the Bel Air and Biscayne version.

Sixth Generation (1965–1970)Edit

Template:Infobox Automobile generation For 1965, the full size Chevrolet was totally restyled, and the cars were stretched to Template:Convert 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 Template:Convert, but options included two new [[Chevrolet Big-Block engine#396|Template:Convert]] CID engines of 325 and Template:Convert and two 409 CID blocks of 400 and Template:Convert.

File:65 Belair Sedan.jpg

The Bel Air utilizes a stainless-steel belt and rocker molding, 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 facelifting sufficed including forward thrusting, blunted front fenders and a revised grill. At the rear, a break with the traditional round taillamps took place. Bel Air and Biscayne featured dual rectangular lamps with back-up lamps built in. Overall length was Template:Convert. The standard Six cylinder engine this year was the larger 250 CID version of Template:Convert. New for the speed set was a [[Chevrolet Big-Block engine#427|Template:Convert]] V8 of 390 or Template:Convert. Bel Air was readily distinguishable from Biscayne by its full length body side molding and rear fender Bel Air signatures. All-vinyl interiors were now standard on station wagons while cloth and vinyl trims continued on sedans. For 1967, Full-sized Chevrolets featured a new body with bulging rear fenders, one of this year's 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 Template:Convert, the 396 CID V8 of Template:Convert; or the 427 CID V8 of Template:Convert, 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 Template:Convert. 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 Template:Convert, standard engines included the new [[Chevrolet Small-Block engine#307|Template:Convert]] V8 of Template:Convert. The Bel Air with the standard 250 Six was capable of a top speed of Template:Convert and Template:Convert at cruising speeds. When powered by the new 307 CID V8, the Bel Air series cars had a top speed of Template:Convert and Template:Convert at cruising speeds.

File:69 Bel Air.jpg

For 1969, the big Chevrolet was totally redesigned, given a new length, new fender and body lines, and a new front and back end, but continued using the basic 1965 chassis, innerbody structure and even the rooflines of pillared two- and four-door sedans. The cars also remained on the Template:Convert wheelbase, but grew to a new length of Template:Convert, while the wagons grew Template:Convert to a new length of 217.7 Engine offerings included a standard 250 cubic-inch six-cylinder and 235-horsepower 327 V-8, and optional V-8 engines included two 350s of 255 and 300 horsepower, a 396 rated at 265 horsepower and three 427 V8s Template:Convert, Template:Convert, and Template:Convert. This was the final year for the Bel Air 2-door sedan and the Bel Air based station wagon was renamed Townsman, as part of a Chevrolet move to revert back to the pre-1962 practice of using different nameplates on station wagons than other models. Three- and four-speed manual transmissions were again offered along with the two-speed Powerglide automatic with the six-cylinder, and 327 and 350 V-8s; and the three-speed Turbo Hydramatic, offered only with the big-block V-8s since its 1965 introduction, was now available with all engines. For 1970, the Chevrolet line was very little changed and regulated primarily to a new and very attractive front end. The standard Six was still the 250 of 155 HP. The standard V8 in full-size Chevrolets was now the [[Chevrolet Small-Block engine#350|Template:Convert]]of Template:Convert. Optional V-8 engines included a 300-horsepower 350 and 265-horsepower 400, with the top offering a [[Chevrolet Big-Block engine#454|Template:Convert]] of Template:Convert. The Bel Air series was now a one model 4-door sedan while the station wagon was again sold under the Townsman nameplate.

Seventh Generation (1971–1975)Edit

Template:Infobox Automobile generation By the late 1960s (with the introduction of the Caprice), the Bel Air and its Biscayne stablemate 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 low-level model. Bel Airs, again used four-segmented tailights as opposed to the triple-segmented lights of higher-level Impala and Caprice models, except in 1972 when all models shared the same triple-segmented lights mounted in the bumper. 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 1974-1975 listed a 350 two-barrel V8 engine and Turbo-Hydramatic transmission as standard, with station wagons getting the [[Chevrolet Small-Block engine#400|Template:Convert]] 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 1969-1972 and Bel Air from 1973-1975. However, a Bel Air hardtop coupe — based on the Impala Sport Coupe body — was sold in Canada from 1970-1975. This body even had a roofline similar to the original '66-67 Caprice coupe style for 1974-1975. Most other changes to the Bel Air during its final years were identical to the more expensive Caprice and Impala lines, some of which were mandated by government safety regulations in the U.S. that included Template:Convert front bumpers in 1973 and similar-designed rear bumpers in 1974. The 1975 models had a new roofline and (along with the Impala) grille that was a direct copy of the 1974 Caprice front end. Inside, there was a new instrument cluster markings, radio and climate control graphics (the speedometer read up to Template:Convert, and had smaller numbers for kilometers per hour). 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 as well as a temperature gauge) and intermittent wipers. 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 and placed second to the Pontiac, 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.[2] The last Bel Airs for the U.S. were manufactured for 1975. For 1976, a lower-trimmed Impala "S" four-door sedan was a one-year offering which had less standard equipment than regular Impalas and functioned as a replacement for the Bel Air.

Canada only Bel AirsEdit

Eighth Generation (1976-1981)Edit

Template:Infobox Automobile generation In Canada, Chevrolet continued the Bel Air as its lowest-priced full-size car through the 1981 model year. For 1977, Canadian Bel Airs received the same downsizing as their Impala/Caprice counterparts in the U.S. Body styles offered during this period were a four-door sedan, two-door coupe and station wagon. Reflecting the smaller size of these downsized big cars was a lineup of generally smaller engines for improved fuel economy with Chevy's 250 cubic-inch six-cylinder reinstated as standard power in sedans for the first time since 1973, with the Template:Convert 305 V8 available as an option in sedans and standard on wagons. The Template:Convert 350 V8, available in both models, was now the top option as the larger 400 small block and 454 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 automatic transmission. The 1980 Bel Air along with other full-size Chevrolets, was revised with all-new exterior sheet metal, which helped improve aerodynamics and thus fuel economy; the car was also fitted with a new grille, identical to that of the higher-priced Impala. Also that year, the engine lineup 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 carburetor, while the 305 small-block (optional on all models) got a Template:Convert increase to Template:Convert thanks to the change from a two-barrel to four-barrel carburetor. The 350 V8 was now restricted to police-option vehicles. Another new option for 1980-81 was the Oldsmobile-built 350 Diesel. With a dramatic downturn in full-size car sales, the Bel Air was dropped after the 1981 model year, as were a number of other low-trim full size cars in the Canadian market including the Pontiac Laurentian, Mercury Marquis Meteor, and the Ford LTD Custom 500.

2002 Bel Air ConceptEdit

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File:2002 bel air.jpg

In 2002, a concept Bel Air convertible was shown at the North American International Auto Show. It features many styling and design cues from the legendary 1955–57 models, such as the chrome windshield frame, traffic light viewfinder, and a gas filler cap behind the tail light, similar to 1956-1957 Chevy's gas cap behind the chrome trim on the back of the tail fin, but more like the 1948-1958 Cadillac gas cap light. It also features the same a body on frame hydroforming technology (used in the frame rails of the Corvette and GM’s midsize sport-utility vehicles) and a sheet metal body, on a Template:Convert wheelbase, and a Template:Convert track. Suspension is short long arm up front and Hotchkiss drive in the rear. It rides on five-spoke aluminum wheels with Template:Convert red line tires and anti lock discs all-round. The elegant, yet simple interior features a twin-element instrument panel, column-mounted gearshift and bench seats covered in soft high-tech fabrics colored red to match the exterior that are cleverly designed to slide forward for easier backseat entry. It also served as a showcase for the their new turbocharged inline five-cylinder concept engine based on the L52 (Vortec 3500), straight-5 truck engine. According to a September 2002 GM press release, the all-aluminum 3.5 L (211 cu in) 20 valve DOHC engine, with a bore of 93.0 mm (3.7 in), and a stroke of 102.0 mm (4 in), that delivers up to 315 horsepower and Template:Convert of torque, mated to a Hydra-Matic 4L60-E electronically controlled four-speed automatic. A virtual "turbo boost" button on the steering wheel activates the powertrain control module to trigger a more aggressive spark and fueling calibration for maximum horsepower. It also led the 13th Annual Stater Brothers Route 66 Rendezvous as the official vehicle in September 2002. General Motors has shown no interest in producing the car.[3]

Drag RacingEdit

Of noteworthy importance is the 1962 Bel Air Sport Coupe, the last year a Bel Air hardtop was available. This model featured the "bubbletop" roof from 1961, and was popular with drag racers who ordered the car with the new-for-'61 409 cubic inch "W-block" V8 with up to Template:Convert; a special package including aluminum body panels, heater delete, and four-speed manual transmission. A car with this configuration is a valuable collector vehicle that commands a big premium over other 1962 models including the Super Sport.



See alsoEdit

"Chevrolet" - Folk & Country song by singer/songwriter Ricky Fitzpatrick.


  1. Sixty years of Chevrolet by George H. Dammann
  2. "Full-Sized Sedans: Pontiac, Chevrolet, Plymouth, Ford," Consumer Reports, February 1975, pg. 103
  3. 2002 GM press release

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