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Chevrolet Bel Air

GNU Free Documentation License - Morven

1956 Chevrolet Bel Air

The Chevrolet Bel Air is a full-size automobile that was produced by the Chevrolet division of General Motors for the 19501975 model years. From 19501952, 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.


57 BelAir

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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 (1,463 kg).[1]

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 Powerglide engine.

Chevrolet Bel Air 1953


Chevrolet Bel Air 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 195557, 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 utility offerings.

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 rear gate.

Chevrolet Bel Air in Black


Chevrolet Bel 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 20,000 units.

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 again offered.

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 4-door sedan.



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 low-level model.

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 intermittent wipers.

1955 - Chevy Bel Air Convertible


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."[2]

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 195557 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 Automobile


1958 Chevrolet Bel Air Impala



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