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by Jay Traugott
A true symbol of 1950s America.
Without question, the Chevrolet Bel Air is one of the most identifiable cars of 1950s America. During this time, America was in a boom period following their WWII victory and the returning GIs came back to a country quite different than the Depression era place they left. Jobs were plentiful, higher education opportunities were newly available courtesy of the GI Bill, and many for the first time began to move away from large cities and into the suburbs.
Suburbia was born and the American Dream seemed destined for all and, of course, owning a cool car was part of it all. Chevrolet embraced this opportunity with the Bel Air, first launched in 1950. Cadillac at the time certainly established some of the most definitive styling of the fifties, but Chevrolet was a brand the middle class could afford. The Bel Air had coupe-like exterior styling along with a non-detachable roof and thanks to borrowing some styling traits from Cadillac, the Bel Air began to catch on with buyers. By 1953, the lower cost 150 and 210 series debuted and the Bel Air line was given a restyling.
Power came from either a 3.5- or 3.9-liter inline-six engine and a two-speed Powerglide automatic transmission was optional. Optional features, which were considered quite something at the time, included power steering and air conditioning. Power steering and brakes were added the following year. But it was in 1955, however, that the Bel Air became a true icon. Dubbed the “Hot One” by many enthusiasts, Chevrolet gave the car all-new styling that was clean, beautiful, and different all at once. There was plenty of chrome throughout the body and Cadillac's styling influence was evident throughout, especially in the taillight design.
The Bel Air body style lineup also expanded with the addition of the new 'Sport Sedan' that went without B-pillars so that all four windows could be rolled down for a somewhat open air driving experience. The two-door Nomad station wagon also appeared, though it wasn't built in large numbers. The second generation Bel Air was once again powered by the same inline-six engines, but a 265 cu in V8 with 162 was offered and in 1957 Chevrolet added a 283 V8 with 283hp. All told, buyers could choose from a body style lineup that included two- and four-door hardtops, a sedan, convertible, and two- and four-door wagons.
When the third generation Bel Air debuted in 1958, not only did its overall dimensions increase, but it was the first production Chevrolet to feature a big block V8 as an option. The next year saw the fourth generation have its debut, but from here on out, the Bel Air sort of lost that fantastic styling that so well defined the time in which people bought them. This 1957 Bel Air hardtop that was recently up for sale on eBay went through an extensive restoration 12 years ago, but it still looks like the job is much more recent. The paint is supposedly in excellent condition as well as all of the chrome and stainless steel.
The interior, also in remarkable shape, is decked out with the factory-type two-tone silver and black combo. Power comes courtesy via a Chevy V8 that was recently serviced with newly reworked heads, intake and carburetor. It's mated to a TH350 automatic and there's a little over 96,500 miles on the odometer. Judging by the listing, it appears to have sold for $42,000 but it's not hard to find several other Bel Air listings on the eBay and other auction sites. For anyone wanting to own a true American automotive gem, the Chevrolet Bel Air should be high on your list.