Chevrolet Bel Airs
In 1950, Chevrolet debuted an iconic car that set a new tone for the next few decades. First called the Deluxe Styleline Bel Air, the Styleline became simply “Bel Air” in 1953. Previous, similar models had failed miserably, but it seemed that the Bel Air came along at just the right time.
By the time of the name change, the body style was recognizable by a wide chrome strip of molding that ran from the rear fender bulge to the rear bumper and Bel Air scripts. The interior of the Bel Airs also became more luxurious, featuring chrome details and a top of the line steering wheel with a full chrome ring. Standardized carpeting and full wheel covers also made an appearance with this 1953 model. Engines throughout the first generation included a 3.5L I6 & 3.9L I6 -- backed by a 3-speed auto or manual. The Bel Air was available in a 2-door hardtop coupe, a 2-door coupe, a 4-door sedan, a 2-door convertible, and a 4-door station wagon.
The second generation of the Bel Air arrived in 1955 with a powerful, stylish new look. From the Ferrari-inspired grill to chrome fender spears and stainless window openings, the new Bel Air was sharp. It included a V8 engine option for the first time, even with the option for air conditioning. GM also added an optional 2-speed powerglide transmission to the three speed manual or automatic selections. This second gen Bel Air was called the “Hot One” in GM’s advertising campaign. This model gained more attention, including top marks from Motor Trend and praise from Popular Mechanics for its impressive power, a smooth ride, and clear visibility.
The 1956 model got a few facelift changes, with a full-width grill and two-tone bodyside treatment. Seat belts were an option for the ‘56 Bel Air - but less than 8% of consumers opted in for seat belts.
The 1957 Bel Air remains to be one of the most popular models made, as well as one of the most recognizable American cars of all time, and one of the most popular classics today. These models are highly sought after by car 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.
While the Bel Air continued to evolve over time, a trend away from full size cars led to the end of Bel Air production after the 1981 model year. A concept Bel Air convertible made an appearance at the North American International Auto Show in 2002, although no moves toward actual production has been made. Take a look at the ever-popular classic Bel Air options available at Smoky Mountain Traders here.