History of the Chevy Bel Air (2023)

History of the Chevy Bel Air (1)

An icon of its time, one of the most sought-after classic vehicles, a charming car with luxury engraved in its character.

So what is a Bel Air? The Chevrolet Bel Air model was available for 31 years from 1950-1981. With its classic look, two-toned paint jobs, big steering wheels, chrome detailing, convertibles, V8 engines and hardtops, the Chevy Bel Air had people falling in love. Chevrolet designed iconic full-size, muscle, sedan and station wagon models under the Bel Air nomenclature that evolved over time with different body styles and features.

Even now, collectors and classic car enthusiasts seek out the Chevy Bel Air. Learn more about the history of this iconic vehicle and how to get your own.

First and Second-Generation Chevy Bel Air

Discover where it all began with the first and second generations:

First Generation (1950-1954)

History of the Chevy Bel Air (2)

Thefirst generation Bel Air reigned from 1950 to 1954. The name "Bel Air" came from the famous city of Los Angeles and became almost as recognizable, if not more so than, its namesake.

The first produced Bel Airs in 1950 were only available in the DeLuxe trim level, which was premium. The two-door hardtop models from 1950 to 1952 hit the market under the Bel Air name to differentiate them from the Styleline and Fleetline models produced by Chevrolet. The first produced classics cost about $1,700 with an independent front suspension that was referred to as "knee action."

Between 1951 and 1952, along with standard trim and grille changes that came with almost every model year after, the vehicle gained squarer rear guards that spanned across the entire range. What set these models apart from others in the range were their roofs, rear windows and rear quarters. The doors, windshield, glass and trunk were similar to the Styleline DeLuxe Convertible Coupe.

With overwhelming success, the rise of the Chevy Bel Airs within the first few years was surprising, considering previous models with similar details and characteristics failed to intrigue consumers.

In 1953, Chevrolet changed its name from describing the unique body shape, designating the premium trim levels available under the Bel Air name. As successors of the Chevy's Special and DeLuxe series, they came out with two lower series — the 150 Delray and 210 Biscayne. This year's first-generation models had a distinguishable chrome strip that accented the rear bulge at the fender to the rear bumper.

The 1953 model also gained Bel Air scripts and became more luxurious than before with the inclusion of fancier interior features like chrome accents, a high-end steering wheel and a chrome horn ring. Carpets and wheel covers also made an appearance in the 1953 Bel Air version. Chevy's more modern passenger cars were even outfitted with a one-piece, curved windshield.

The 1954 version didn't change much from the previous year, aside from revised taillights and a new grille. The engine during this year also contained insert bearings, and the oil pressure was higher.

With first-generation Bel Air vehicles, you could choose between a 3.5L, also known as the "Thriftmaster," or a 3.9L I6 engine called the "Blue Flame" with a three-speed automatic or manual transmission.

There were quite a few body styles you could select, too, like:

  • Two-door convertible
  • Two-door coupe
  • Two-door hardtop coupe
  • Four-door sedan
  • Four-door Beauville station wagon

Second Generation (1955-1957)

History of the Chevy Bel Air (3)

(Video) History of the 1957 Chevy BelAir

The icon of the 1950s — the second-gen Bel Airs.

TheBel Air second-generation model ran from 1955-1957. Known as the Tri Fives, these Bel Airs underwent marvelous upgrades compared to the first-gen models while carrying over only a few original characteristics from the early 1950 designs.

With more power and style than before, the second generation Bel Air models acquired upgrades like:

  • Bel Air script in gold
  • Chrome fender spears
  • Ferrari-inspired grilles
  • Full wheel covers
  • Hardtop chrome headliner bands
  • Stainless steel window openings

These fancy new upgrades granted the 1955 Bel Air model a signature name — the "Hot One." Second-gen models gained fast attention with their luxurious upgrades.

V8 engines also made an appearance in 1955 with a full line of engine options, including:

  • 3.5L I6
  • 3.9L I6
  • 4.3L V8
  • 4.6L V8

With more engine options available, you could also choose between the traditional three-speed manual or automatic transmissions but now with a third option including a two-speed Powerglide transmission.

The second-generation Chevy Bel Air was the first Chevrolet with air conditioning if consumers wanted. Chevy outfitted the 1955 Bel Airs with AC outlets on both sides of the dashboard, and these cars even had a heavy-duty generator inclusion. From 1955 to 1956, you could choose to have the air conditioning option, but from 1957 onward, it was a prerequisite.

Popular Mechanics and Motor Trend both gave Bel Air cars great praise for having impressive handling and visibility while being powerful and smooth. But with every compliment comes complaints, some of which were engine knocking noises and excessive oil use in the V8 engines.

The 1956 Chevy Bel Air catered to those who didn't like the Ferrari-inspired front end by sporting a more conventional grille. A two-toned body side became a new feature this year, along with rear- and front-wheel openings to finish off the restyling of the Speedline design.

Other added features included:

  • Padded dashboards
  • Seatbelts
  • Shoulder harnesses

A new model addition came under the Bel Air line in 1956 as the sport sedan, which was a hardtop with four doors for easy access into the back seat.

One of the most popular Bel Air models — and classic cars for that matter — came off the manufacturing line in 1957. The 1957 Chevy Bel Air series also debuted a two-door and four-door station wagon called the Nomad, but if you were still wanting the classic Bel Air look, you could opt for the following body styles:

  • Two-door convertible
  • Two-door hardtop
  • Two-door sedan
  • Four-door hardtop
  • Four-door sedan

The 1957 Bel Air also gained the "Super Turbo Fire" V8 engine option that reached about 283 horsepower (hp). These models are rare since most others had carburetor engines.

The final models of the second generation also had a second automatic transmission option known as the Turboglide, which made shifting undetectable.

The most popular Bel Air is indeed the 1957 model. It's one of the most recognizable classic American cars of all time, with the convertible and Chevrolet Bel Air sport coupe versions being the most sought after.

Third and Fourth Generation Chevy Bel Air

With the late '50s, the Bel Air's design began to change with the times in the third and fourth generations.

(Video) Evolution of Chevrolet BelAir 1950-1975, History of Chevrolet BelAir, Chevrolet BelAir Evolution.

Third Generation (1958)

At this point, Bel Airs had a range of models and body styles that could be outfitted with almost any type of luxury, which is one of the reasons they were— and still are—so popular.

Third generation Bel Airs lasted a single year with the introduction of a new engine, different styling aspects and exterior upgrades. In 1958, Chevrolet manufactured a lower, longer and heavier Bel Air that featured the firstV8 big block engine measuring 348 cubic inches. The car's front design had a broader grille with a quad headlight to look similar to a "Baby Cadillac."

The 1958 model also transitioned its alcoves on both side panels to a fan shape to house dual taillights. The "Safety Girder" cruciform frame was manufactured into this model, as well, for better safety precautions. The frame had box-section side rails along with a cross member that was boxed. These X-frames supported the 1958 to 1964 Bel Airs.

Nomads made a reappearance this year as a four-door station wagon with more straightforward styling than the previous years and became known as the premium four-door Chevy sedan. The 150 Delray and 210 Biscayne also made a reappearance as more family-oriented vehicles like the Nomad station wagon.

Known as Chevy's halo vehicle in 1958, the Impala appeared as a hardtop coupe or convertible. The Impala looked similar to the previous Bel Air models but received unique side trims, an altered roofline, a vent above the rear window and triple taillights, which were held in broader alcoves.

Fourth Generation (1959-1960)

History of the Chevy Bel Air (4)

The 1959 Chevy Bel Air underwent a significant redesign with flat, wing-shaped tailfins and a longer design compared to the previous year. Not only was it longer, but the 1959 model was wider, both in the interior and exterior, with thinner doors to make up for the added width.

1959 dubbed this line of fourth-generation Bel Airs as middle range vehicles with the six-passenger Parkwood and nine-passenger Kingswood Bel Air wagons. This year was also when Chevrolet came out with the Chevy Biscayne, which was now a police model with a 348 cubic-inch V8 engine. It was a police-only version capable of a whopping 135 mph.

Not much changed the next year in 1960 other than a few refinements, like a more moderate front end and the return of the double-cone taillights compared to the more cat-eyed version of 1959.

Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Generation Chevy Bel Air

Upgrades and advancements in the 1960s gave the Bel Air a new body design. Learn more about the fifth, sixth and seventh generations that characterized this decade:

Fifth Generation (1961-1964)

History of the Chevy Bel Air (5)

In 1961, Chevrolet debuted the fifth generation Bel Air classics with a limited release featuring a 409-cubic-inch displacement (cid) big-block V8 engine, which quickly became a drag racing sensation. The most loved model for racers was the Chevy Bel Air sport coupe because it was lighter than the hardtop Impala.

In 1962, Chevy rounded the hardtop, dubbing it the "bubble top" look that we still reference today. They also got rid of the hardtop sport four-door Bel Air option. At this point, there were only four-door wagon options as the Biscayne or Impala series under the fifth generation Bel Air nomenclature.

One year later, Chevy introduced a new six-cylinder engine with more horsepower and upgraded the V8 to produce more horsepower, as well. The 1963 Chevrolet Bel Air only had two model options — the two- or four-door sedan with six and nine passenger options.

Sixth Generation (1965-1970)

History of the Chevy Bel Air (6)

Very few changes were made to Bel Airs up until 1965, when Chevy came out with the sixth generation Bel Air vehicles. A new restyling came about in 1965 with a much longer vehicle than before, although Chevy kept the same wheelbase. Bel Airs also received an upgraded grille with a lower extension under the bumper. Other advancements included:

(Video) The Fast One -- 55 - 57 Chevy

  • Curved window glass
  • Glove compartment light
  • Improved dashboard
  • Rear fender signature
  • Redesigned interiors
  • Rocker molding
  • Round taillights
  • Stainless steel belt

Engine options also received an upgrade with the following selections:

  • 325 hp
  • 340 hp
  • 400 hp
  • 425 hp

In 1966, Chevrolet continued to upgrade the Bel Air's style, including blunted front fenders, a revised grille and a traditional round tail lamp. During this year, Chevy Bel Airs featured the 250 cid six-cylinder engine and a new 390 hp V8 for the four-speed manual.

Vinyl interiors were also now standard within the station wagon models. You could distinguish the Bel Air from the Biscayne because the 210 was longer and the Bel Air had fender signatures.

One year later in 1967, a new body design with large rear fenders made an appearance with the addition of passenger wagons that could hold six and nine passengers. The 1967 Bel Air had triple taillights, unlike the dual units of the Biscayne, and its standard engine selections remained the same, with optional engines being the 327 cid V8 and 396 cid V8.

Chevy didn't change too much in terms of design with the 1968 Bel Air other than mounting the taillights in the vehicle's bumper and a new engine—the 200 hp V8. Safety upgrades like shoulder belts and side marker lights were also included this year.

In 1969, a new fender, front and back end, length and body lines were part of the fresh upgrade with engine options that included:

  • Standard six-cylinder 327 V8
  • 255 hp
  • 265 hp
  • 300 hp
  • 335 hp
  • 390 hp
  • 425 hp

1969 was the final year Chevy manufactured the two-door sedans. They also renamed the station wagon model as the Townsman since Chevrolet started to revert back to using nameplates on station wagons, something they practiced in 1962. Transmission options included:

  • Two-speed Powerglide automatic
  • 327 V8
  • 350 V8
  • Three-speed manual
  • Three-speed Turbo Hydramatic with big-block V8s
  • Four-speed manual

At the end of the sixth generation in 1970, so many major changes were made to the Bel Air models throughout its 20-year hold on the automobile market.

Seventh Generation (1971-1975)

Seventh generation Chevrolet Bel Airs started production in 1971 and lasted until 1975. In 1972, Chevrolet discontinued the Biscayne model while demoting the Bel Air to the low-level model. Once again, the Bel Air vehicles had two-segmented taillights, contrasting the triple versions of the Impala model. Engine options included:

  • Two-speed Powerglide six-cylinder
  • Three-speed manual six-cylinder
  • Automatic 350 V8
  • Turbo-Hydramatic automatic V8

In 1973, Chevy shelved the inline-six and manual transmissions, marking it the final full-size American car with a body-on-frame to have a manual gearbox. From 1974 to 1975, the seventh generation Bel Air sedans had the 350 V8 engine and Turbo-Hydramatic transmission. The station wagon included the 400 V8 engine as standard, with the 454 V8 as an option on both models. Between 1970 and 1975, only four-door sedans and station wagons were sold since Chevy discontinued the two-door options.

In the final years of Bel Air production, the models had similar upgrades to the Impala and Caprice Chevy lines. The features included a new grille, roofline, radio, graphics for climate control, intermittent wipers and a fuel economy gauge. Many government safety regulations came out at this time, too.

Up until the end of the seventh generation, Bel Air cars were full-size. After this generation of Bel Airs, the production also solely moved to Canada, and its reign in the United States came to an end.

The revolutionary style of the Bel Air captured an entire era with its ever-evolving and luxurious characteristics. From its iconic chrome accents to wind-shaped tailfins, the Chevy Bel Air was a favorite among consumers then and now.

History of the Chevy Bel Air (7)

Chevy Bel Air FAQs

It can be challenging to differentiate the seven Chevrolet Bel Air generations and the models within each, so here are a few common facts, answers and questions to help.

1. What Are the Measurements of a 1955 Bel Air?

The Bel Air from the second generation has awidth of 73 inches, a length of 195.6 inches and a wheelbase of 115 inches.

(Video) 1959 Chevrolet Bel Air 348 CI Tri Power 335 HP 4 Speed in Red & Ride My Car Story with Lou Costabile

History of the Chevy Bel Air (8)

2. What Is a Chevrolet 210?

The 210 is a midrange Bel Air modecalled Biscayne made from 1953-1957. The production series number of 2100 was shortened by one digit to stay with the trend of using numerical vehicle names.

3. What Is the Most Valuable Bel Air?

The 1957 Bel Air is the most popular and valuable, depending on its condition.

4. What Three Series Models Did the Bel Airs Include?

The models included the 150, the 210 and the upscale Bel Air.

5. What Was the Most Popular Body Style in 1957?

Chevrolet's most popular Bel Air was the convertible model because it was luxurious in every way compared to others in its class.

6. What Was the Standard Engine of the 1957 Bel Air?

The inline, six-cylinder Blue Flame I6 was standard for the second generation vehicle.

7. What's the Top Speed of a 1957 Bel Air?

A Chevy Bel Air from this year can go up to about 101 mph.

8. Why Is the 1957 Bel Air so Popular?

Chevrolet introduced V8 engines for the first time to power the larger vehicles, making them popular at the time. Classic car enthusiasts today see the 1957 Bel Air as iconic given its trendy past.

9. How Much Is a 1957 Chevy Bel Air Worth?

You might find Bel Airs from this year for tens of thousands of dollars, depending on the condition.

10. Why Was the 1957 Bel Air More Expensive?

It underwent significant changes like headlight pods, a new dashboard, sealed cowl and newly positioned air ducts, giving it a more luxurious feel and price tag than other vehicles.

The Bel Air Chevrolet series changed from one generation to the next, with each including different years of changes as well. If you have more questions about Bel Air history, our passionate and knowledgeable team can help with clarification.

View Other Guides on Chevrolet Vehicles:

  • History of the Chevy Camaro
  • History of the Chevy Chevelle
  • Guide to the C8 Corvette

Find Your Dream Bel Air at Volo

A trusted classic car dealer that can deliver a high-quality Chevrolet Bel Air is what will bring your dream to a reality. Our inventory of classic Bel Airs at Volo Museum Auto Sales — along with the rest of our unique inventory — changes every two to three months to bring in what's new and desirable for enthusiasts like you.

We have on-site mechanics to inspect each car to make minor repairs, ensuring each vehicle is in its best and most reasonable condition. Our team of experts also provides post-purchase support and offers competitive prices.

If you're interested in a Chevrolet Bel Air, you can test drive your favorite vehicles before deciding. There's no better way to fall in love with a Bel Air than sitting behind the wheel.

Learn More About Our Selection of Bel Airs

As a family-owned and operated business since 1960, Volo Auto Museum is also the oldest collector car dealer. If you're looking for a classic and top-quality Chevy Bel Air, you canview our inventory onlineorreach out to a Volo representative for more information. You can alsovisit our classic car locatorto be notified when your specific Bel Air model arrives in our shop.

(Video) Why the 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air Is An Icon


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