The Bel Air name appeared in 1950 but did not become a distinct series until 1953, when it was designated as Chevrolet’s premium offering, pitched at growing numbers of middle-class buyers who were migrating to leafy suburbs.
Lavish trim and heavy chromework distinguished spanking new Bel Airs from lesser Chevys, with two-and four-door sedans, a sports coupe and convertible offered to eager buyers.
Dealers were delighted to find (with over half a million sold) that demand was brisk. An eight-seat Townsman station wagon was added for 1954, whilst the following year saw an all-new contemporary look for six Bel Air body styles, plus strikingly colour-coordinated interiors and the chance to select the fabulous new V8 Turbo-Fire engine. Other optional extras included air conditioning, power steering and electric windows. Although the stylish Nomad station wagon was nominally part of the Bel Air family, the wagon that did serious business was the Townsman four-door model.
In 1956 a new four-door Sport Sedan was introduced and the Bel Air range had a facelift. This saw a reworked grille, revised wheel apertures and two-tone paint jobs — all combining to give these big cars a sense of speed, even at rest. A masterly reworking in 1957 made cars that were effectively unchanged mechanically look completely different, with sharp fins and aluminum trim panels.
Classic mid-1950 Chevrolets are considered to be among the most attractive the company ever made, with the ’55, ’56 and ’57 Bel Airs (commonly called TriFives) being those most eagerly sought by collectors — especially convertibles. In 1958, the Impala arrived to share senior status with the Bel Airs, which thereafter — though retaining great mid-range status and selling in large numbers —slowly started sliding down the totem, finishing up as no-frills fleet cars in the 1970s.
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
1953 (until 1975)
Numerous options, usually the 3.9 l (235 cid) Straight Six or 4.3 l (265 cid) V8
Varied by model and engine, but the ’53 launch model was capable of 87 mph (140 km/h)
YOU SHOULD KNOW:
1955 was the year when the 50-millionth car built by Chevrolet finally rolled off the line … and by accident or design it turned out to be a Bel Air hardtop that was especially trimmed in gold to mark the momentous milestone.