The 1953-1954 Chevrolet Bel Air arrived none too soon. Ford, determined to regain sales supremacy, launched an all-out production "blitz" that year as the industry shifted back into high gear with the end of the Korean hostilities. Forced to sell cars they hadn't ordered, Ford dealers resorted to heavy discounting. Chevrolet had no choice but to follow, and the race was on, though Chrysler Corporation and the independents ended up the losers.
For 1954, Ford again face-lifted its new-for-1952 bodies, but stole a march on Chevrolet with a new 239-cid overhead-valve V-8 and ball-joint front suspension. Chevrolet replied with more chrome, a wider grille with more teeth, new taillights, brighter colors, new interior trims, and a fortified six running 115 horses with stickshift (same as that year's 223-cid Ford six), or 125 with Powerglide (versus the Ford V-8's 130).
The One-Fifty business coupe was renamed Utility sedan, while a spiffy two-door sedan called Delray replaced the Two-Ten convertible and hardtop. Finally, the Two-Ten Townsman was upgraded into a Bel Air, bringing the series up to five separate models. New options, most often installed on Bel Airs, included power brakes ($38) and power front seat and front door windows ($86 for either).
Despite Ford's hard press, Chevrolet had added just enough pizazz in 1953 and 1954 to remain "USA-1," producing nearly 1.35 million cars for 1953 (about 100,000 more than Ford) and 1.166 million for 1954 (about 20,000 ahead). The Two-Ten emerged as the volume leader in both years, but the Bel Air finished a creditable second, rare for a flagship line even in those heady days.
The Bel Air's success also indicated that buyers were ready for more upmarket Chevrolets with colorful "living room" interiors; chromier, two-tone exteriors; and ever more convenience options. Indeed, the 1953-1954 Chevy pointed toward the future more than anyone probably realized at the time.
As collector cars, the 1955-1957 Chevrolets will probably always overshadow the 1953-1954 models, but the latter -- especially the Bel Airs -- are being discovered by enthusiasts as very pleasant cars with significance as the last of the low-suds "pre-classic" Chevrolets, an important transition in the make's history. That' s reason enough to include on any collectible car list -- that and the bow-tie badge they wear.
Go to the next page to read the specifications of the 1953-1954 Chevrolet Bel Air.