Chevrolet Bel Air


The Chevrolet Bel Air nameplate came to represent the middle-line breadwinner among Chevy's full-size models, but as this article demonstrates, it didn't begin that way.

The Chevrolet Bel Air name made its debut for 1950 on the Chevrolet Styleline Deluxe Bel Air. This car was actually near the pinnacle of that year's Chevy offerings and was in fact Chevy's first hardtop car.


1950 Chevrolet Styleline DeLuxe Bel Air two-door hardtop side view
The Chevrolet Bel Air began in 1950 with this sporty version of the
standard Chevy. See more pictures of classic cars.

In addition to covering the 1950 Bel Air, this article also looks at the 1950 Chevrolet Special and DeLuxe models from which it sprang. You'll also find information on the 1954 Chevrolet Bel Air as well as the lineup that generated the 1954 240 Bel Air: the 1954 Chevrolet 150 Special, 210 DeLuxe, and Delray.

Further down you can visit articles on the Bel Air through the 1961 model year, by which time the nameplate had settled comfortably into its middle-ground role. The Bel Air badge had one final flourish, however, and that came with the 1958 model year, when the Bel Air designation was used to launch a classic new Chevy nameplate, the Impala.

For coverage of the 1958 Chevrolet Bel Air Impala, and for the 1962 through 1975 Bel Airs, check out our article on the Chevrolet Impala.

1959 Chevrolet Bel Air four-door sedan rear view
The Chevrolet Bel Air, like this 1959 sedan,
came to symbolize big-Chevy value.

For more picture-packed articles about Chevys and other great cars, see:
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  • Sports Cars: Discover the pleasure of sports motoring at its purest in these captivating articles on the best sports cars from around the world.
  • Consumer Guide Automotive: Here's your source for news, reviews, prices, fuel-economy and safety information on today's cars, minivans, SUVs, and pickups.
  • Consumer Guide Used Car Search: In the market for a used Chevy or virtually any other pre-owned vehicle? Check out these reports, which include safety recalls and trouble spots.
  • How Chevrolet Works: Get the inside story of one of America’s greatest automotive marques in this lavishly illustrated history of Chevrolet, beginning with its founding in 1911.

1950 Chevrolet Special and Deluxe

Redesigning the 1950 Chevrolet Special and Deluxe was a costly undertaking, so its major revamping had to last a few years to pay off.

Chevrolet Styleline Deluxe Sport Coupe
The 1950 Chevrolet Styleline Deluxe
sport coupe changed little from 1949 models.

Following up on a hugely successful 1949, 1950 Chevrolets showed only mild styling changes, led by a touched-up grille. Not that it mattered. Shoppers still clamored for new cars, and Chevrolet ended the year with record sales -- nearly 1.5 million.

As one ad noted, "Chevrolet has the whole town talking." What many of those folks talked about was gearshifting -- or the lack of it: namely, Chevy's new Powerglide transmission, the first automatic in the "low-priced three."

Optional for $159 on DeLuxe models only, Powerglide operated through only a single speed unless the driver selected "Low" range manually. In theory, the torque converter's variable ratios would meet all driving needs. Besides, cars with Powerglide carried a stronger (105-horsepower) and larger (235.5 cubic inch) six-cylinder engine, with hydraulic lifters and a higher-lift cam.

Despite those extra horses, Powerglide sopped up lots of engine power, and automatic-equipped cars took off at a decidedly leisurely pace, slowed further by an EconoMISER rear-axle ratio. On the other hand, they ran quieter, avoiding the annoying tappet clatter that Chevrolet owners endured for years. Manual-shift cars kept the smaller solid-lifter engine, boosted from 90 to 92 horsepower.

Chevrolet Styleline DeLuxe Convertible
The 1950 Chevrolet Styleline DeLuxe
convertible sold as well as the 1949 model.

1950 Chevrolet Special and Deluxe Facts

Model

Weight range (lbs.)

Price range (new)

Number built

HJ Styleline Special

3,025-3,120

$1,329-$1,450

194,853

HJ Fleetline Special

3,080-3,115

$1,403-$1,450

66,959

HJ Styleline DeLuxe

3,090-3,460

$1,482-$1,994

846,320

HK DeLuxe Fleetline

3,115-3,145

$1,482-$1,529

313,796

For more picture-packed articles about Chevys and other great cars, see:

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  • Consumer Guide Used Car Search: In the market for a used Chevy or virtually any other pre-owned vehicle? Check out these reports, which include safety recalls and trouble spots.
  • How Chevrolet Works: Get the inside story of one of America’s greatest automotive marques in this lavishly illustrated history of Chevrolet, beginning with its founding in 1911.

1950 Chevrolet Styleline DeLuxe Bel Air

The new 1950 Chevrolet Bel was Chevrolet's first hardtop and the pioneer pillarless coupe in the low-priced market. Buick, Cadillac, and Oldsmobile turned out sumptuous "hardtop convertibles" in 1949, but neither Chrysler nor Ford had one on the market.


1950 Chevrolet Bel Air
The pillared 1950 Chevrolet Bel Air
was promoted for elegance over sportiness.


A Bel Air, advised the sales brochure, was "open to the summer breeze" yet "snug against the wintry wind," with "the coziness and permanence of an all-steel top." In short, you got both sportiness and all-weather comfort.

Chevrolet offered just one hardtop (in the Styleline DeLuxe series), versus four versions of Pontiac's similar Catalina, but far more Bel Airs went to customers -- 76,662 in all. Priced at $1,741, a Bel Air brought $106 less than a convertible but $243 more than a sport coupe.

From the beltline down, a Bel Air looked exactly like other Stylelines. Convertible-type frame reinforcements made up for some loss of structural rigidity due to the lack of B-pillars. Rather than the usual broadcloth, upholstery was leather and pile-cord fabric.

Bright metal headliner bows helped give the feel of a real ragtop, while rolling down the windows delivered an airy, jaunty experience. Before long, hardtops would overtake convertibles in the sales race.

1950 Chevrolet Bel Air, Interior
The interior of the 1950 Chevrolet Bel Air
continued the outward trend of two-toning.

1950 Chevrolet Styleline DeLuxe Bel Air Facts

Model

Weight (lbs.)

Price (new)

Number built

HJ Styleline DeLuxe

3,225

$1,741

76,662

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  • How Chevrolet Works: Get the inside story of one of America’s greatest automotive marques in this lavishly illustrated history of Chevrolet, beginning with its founding in 1911.

1951 Chevrolet Styleline and Fleetline

The 1951 Chevrolet Styleline and Fleetline looked softer and rounder, though little changed in overall contour. The softer and rounder look was credited to a smooth new "Fashion-Front" grille and integrated "Reflector-Guard" taillights. Parking lights moved to the outer edges of the grille molding to yield a wider, more substantial appearance.

Chevrolet Fleetline DeLuxe Sedan
The 1951 Chevrolet Fleetline Deluxe sedan
was stylish but felt outdated to buyers.


DeLuxe models wore neat fender skirts, accentuating the clean body lines. They also displayed such extras as stainless steel moldings on front fenders and doors, and a 39-hour wind-up clock inside. Of course, any Chevrolet could be dressed up with an outside sun shade, bumper wing tips, or a grille guard -- and many were.

Within the new curved "Safety-Sight" instrument panel, gauges were grouped in two circular clusters with non-glare lighting. Control knobs sat below in a recessed panel.

Also on the safety side, "Jumbo-Drum" brakes demanded as much as 25-percent less pedal pressure and were promoted as the largest in the low-priced field.

Chevrolet started the season with 14 models in two body styles -- notchback Styleline or fastback Fleetline -- again in either Special or DeLuxe trim. Most Fleetline fastbacks left the lineup at midyear, leaving only the two-door DeLuxe. Americans no longer were drawn to slantback body shapes, which many believed to be old-fashioned.

Bel Air production rose sharply, to 103,356 cars, despite the fact that both Ford and Plymouth added hardtop body styles this year. Songstress Dinah Shore got Americans to whistle and hum the tune "See the USA in your Chevrolet," and that slogan also began to appear in print ads.

More than 43 percent of DeLuxe Chevrolets came with Powerglide. Obviously, customers weren't worried about its reputation for slippage and slowness. Claims of "smooth flow of power from zero to cruising speed" were accurate enough, but promises of "sensational 'hillability'" and "flashing acceleration" didn't quite measure up in the real world.

Sales dipped slightly from record-breaking 1950, to below 1.25 million, but Chevrolet clung tenaciously to its first-place ranking, again finishing comfortably ahead of Ford.

1951 Chevrolet Styleline DeLuxe Convertible
The 1951 Chevrolet Styleline DeLuxe drop-top
epitomized the era's long-deck look.

1951 Chevrolet Styleline and Fleetline Facts

Model

Weight range (lbs.)

Price range (new)

Number built

JJ Styleline Special

3,040-3,130

$1,460-$1,595

175,285

JJ Fleetline Special

3,090-3,130

$1,540-$1,594

9,805

JK Styleline DeLuxe

3,110-3,470

$1,629-$2,191

855,293

JK Fleetline DeLuxe

3,125-3,155

$1,629-$1,680

189,603

For more picture-packed articles about Chevys and other great cars, see:

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  • How Chevrolet Works: Get the inside story of one of America’s greatest automotive marques in this lavishly illustrated history of Chevrolet, beginning with its founding in 1911.

1952 Chevrolet Styleline and Fleetline

1952 Chevrolet Bel Air hardtop
The 1952 Chevrolet Bel Air hardtop
was praised as reliable and reasonably priced.

Ads insisted that the 1952 Chevrolet Styleline and Fleetline models were "more beautiful than ever," but at a glance, little difference was discernible between 1951 and 1952 Chevrolets.

Wider parking lights stood at the ends of a touched-up grille, which featured a row of "teeth" along the formerly smooth bar.

Mechanically, too, the cars carried on as before: a 105-horsepower, 235.5-cubic-inch engine for those with Powerglide, but a 92-horse, 216.5-cubic-inch rendition of the Stovebolt Six for manual-shift models. As before, the bigger engine had hydraulic lifters, while stick-shift drivers endured the familiar clatter of solid tappets.

A Fleetline two-door fastback remained on sale, but for the last time, and only in DeLuxe trim. Otherwise, the lineup was a duplicate of 1951: four Styleline Special body styles and a half-dozen Styleline DeLuxes. Powerglide remained available only on DeLuxe models, whose freshened interiors harmonized with body colors.

Reacting to the Korean conflict, civilian automobile production was cut this year, causing all automakers to post considerably smaller totals. Even with only 818,142 cars built, Chevrolet again scored well ahead of Ford, with Plymouth and Buick trailing far behind.

Edward N. Cole replaced Edward H. Kelley as head of engineering -- a portent of major mechanical changes in the works.

1952 Chevrolet Fleetline DeLuxe sedan
The 1952 Chevrolet Fleetline DeLuxe
was Chevy's last fastback sedan of the era.

1952 Chevrolet Styleline and Fleetline Facts

Model

Weight range (lbs.)

Price range (new)

Number built

KJ Styleline Special

3,045-3,115

$1,530-$1,670

84,409

KK Styleline DeLuxe

3,100-3,475

$1,707-$2,297

671,472

KK Fleetline DeLuxe

3,110

$1,707

37,164


For more picture-packed articles about Chevys and other great cars, see:

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  • How Chevrolet Works: Get the inside story of one of America’s greatest automotive marques in this lavishly illustrated history of Chevrolet, beginning with its founding in 1911.

1953 Chevrolet 150 Special and 210 Deluxe

With the new 1953 Chevrolet 150 Special and 1953 Chevrolet 210 Deluxe, words like "Startlingly New!" and "Wonderfully Different!" rang true amidst the usual advertising hype.

1953 Chevrolet Two-Ten
The 1953 Chevrolet Two-Ten offered
sharp looks at less cost than the Bel Air.

Structurally, the cars largely carried on the 1949-52 design, but new squared-off, rounded-edge bodies provided a rather different look. They also served as an evolutionary link to the forthcoming mid-Fifties shape.

Among other changes, a one-piece curved windshield replaced the prior twin-pane setup. Totally fresh front-end styling, Chevrolet insisted, "accentuates the appearance of power and fleetness."

Trunk openings were larger, and shoulder room greater, so each model could hold "six big people without crowding." Inside, the driver now started the engine with the ignition key, which replaced the short-lived pushbutton.

Chevrolet issued a total of 16 models in three series: bare-bones One-Fifty, mid-range Two-Ten, and upmarket Bel Air. Two-Tens could look nearly as sharp as Bel Airs, especially when two-toned, while the One-Fifty series exhibited a bargain-basement demeanor -- right down to its bare rubber windshield moldings and virtual lack of body trim.

All Chevrolets now carried 235.5 cubic inch engines, but again, models equipped with Power-glide got more power: a new 115-horsepower Blue Flame six with hydraulic lifters and 7.5:1 compression. Manual-shift cars held a Thrift-King six-cylinder engine, delivering 108 horsepower on 7.1:1 compression. Both had full-pressure lubrication.

Powerglide gained a new automatic starting range for true two-speed operation, making it better able to deliver the promised "breath-taking acceleration from a standing start" as well as swift pickup for passing. Both Two-Tens and Bel Airs could get Powerglide for $178 extra.

Power steering was newly optional on all models, but it cost exactly as much as automatic -- one reason why it took a while to gain acceptance. As the model year ended, Chevrolet had moved more than 1.3 million cars, but its lead over Ford was narrowing.

1953 Chevrolet Two-Ten
The 1953 Chevrolet Two-Ten four door
was the year's best-selling Chevrolet.

1953 Chevrolet 150 Special and 210 Deluxe Facts

Model

Weight range (lbs.)

Price range (new)

Number built

150 Special

3,140-3,420

$1,524-$2,010

176,579

210 DeLuxe

3,190-3,495

$1,707-$2,273

649,821


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  • How Chevrolet Works: Get the inside story of one of America’s greatest automotive marques in this lavishly illustrated history of Chevrolet, beginning with its founding in 1911.

1953 Chevrolet 240 Bel Air

The 1953 Chevrolet 240 Bel Air rose to meet the challenge posed by the changing tastes of American auto buyers. Instead of mere transportation, increasingly affluent families sought cars that reflected their upscale lifestyles.

1953 Chevrolet 240 Bel Air convertible
1953 Chevrolet Bel Air sales proved
a market existed for a low-priced uplevel car.

As city dwellers gravitated from cramped apartments to ranch houses in the growing suburbs, a stripped-down vehicle seemed increasingly out of place.

Like several other American automakers, Chevrolet had an answer for these social shifts. The Bel Air -- which was formerly offered only as a hardtop coupe -- now became a full four-model top-line series, easily identified by their unique two-toned spears on the rear fenders.

In addition to the two-door hardtop, now called a Sport Coupe, the series included a convertible and two- and four-door sedans. Why buy a lower-priced sedan, customers apparently wondered, when a Bel Air commanded only $113 more than its Two-Ten equivalent, and just $204 more than a spartan One-Fifty.

A Sport Coupe and convertible were also included in the Two-Ten lineup, but neither body style would last beyond this year in mid-range form. Like its less-costly mates, Bel Airs had a clean new dashboard but wore more lavish trim and heavy chrome.

New center-fold seatbacks swung in toward the center, allowing more room for entering and leaving the front seat. Crank-type regulators, similar to those that rolled windows up and down, now operated the front ventipanes.

Chevrolet asserted that the Bel Air stood "in a class all its own," and plenty of customers agreed. A total of 514,760 were produced, including nearly a hundred thousand alluring Sport Coupes and better than 24,000 convertibles.

Bel Airs thus accounted for more than 38 percent of total sales, pleasing dealers who'd wondered whether a line of upmarket Chevrolets really would catch on. Sure, Two-Tens sold better yet, but the One-Fifty series trailed its more glamorous siblings by a wide margin.

1953 Chevrolet Bel Air Coupe
The 1953 Chevrolet Bel Air Coupe
boasted a 108-horsepower standard engine.

1953 Chevrolet 240 Bel Air Facts

Model

Weight range (lbs.)

Price range (new)

Number built

240 Bel Air

3,230-3,470

$1,820-$2,175

514,760


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  • How Chevrolet Works: Get the inside story of one of America’s greatest automotive marques in this lavishly illustrated history of Chevrolet, beginning with its founding in 1911.

1954 Chevrolet 150 Special, 210 DeLuxe, and Delray

1953 Chevrolet Two-Ten Sedan
The 1954 Chevrolet 210 sedan remained
Chevy's best-selling mid-level car.

The 1954 Chevrolet 150 Special, 1954 Chevrolet 210 DeLuxe and 1954 Chevrolet Delray all featured modest touch-ups that gave them a slightly sharper edge, with revised styling at both the front and rear.

New bumpers extended farther around the fenders, taillights wore surrounding brightwork, and a reworked vertical-tooth grille flared neatly into oval parking lights, below fluted headlight rings. The 210 series shrunk considerably, losing its hardtop coupe and convertible but adding a Del Ray club coupe.

Both the 150 and 210 lineups included six-passenger Handyman station wagons.

A new Blue Flame 125 engine went into Powerglide-equipped cars, delivering 125 horsepower -- 10 more than before. The manual-shift's engine got a boost to 115 horses. A new muffler, said the sales brochure, "hushes engine sounds to a whisper." Powerglide could now be installed on any model, including the low-budget 150 series.

Fresh vinyl and fabric interiors harmonized with new "fashion fiesta" body colors. Green-tinted E-Z-Eye glass was optional on all Chevys. Electric-powered front-window and front-seat controls were optional on 210s and Bel Airs, for $86 each. Power steering cost only $135 this year. Newly available power brakes brought just $38, but "zippy thrifty" Powerglide still added $178 to the tariff.

1954 Chevrolet Two-Ten Club Coupe advertisement
1954's Chevrolet 210 Club Coupe
was a "sport model" with whitewall tires.

1954 Chevrolet 150 Special, 210 DeLuxe, and Delray Facts

Model

Weight range (lbs.)

Price range (new)

Number built

150 Special

3,145-3,455

$1,539-$2,020

129,459

210 DeLuxe

3,185-3,470

$1,717-$2,13

524,222


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  • How Chevrolet Works: Get the inside story of one of America’s greatest automotive marques in this lavishly illustrated history of Chevrolet, beginning with its founding in 1911.

1954 Chevrolet 240 Bel Air

1954 Chevrolet Bel Air convertible
The 1954 Chevrolet Bel Air series,
like this convertible, remained top sellers.

The 1954 Chevrolet 240 Bel Air again had a contrasting color panel on rear fenders, which matched the roof colors of two-tone paint jobs. Production of the five-model Chevrolet Bel Air lineup approached that of the less-expensive 210 series, now offered in only four body styles.

Dramatically upgraded interiors were finished in twin-hued blends of cloth and vinyl, bringing unheard-of style inside moderately priced automobiles. The Bel Air line now included an eight-passenger Townsman wagon, which still carried vestiges of woodgraining on its steel body panels.

Sport Coupes and convertibles were now offered only in Bel Air form, but ragtop production dropped below 20,000 cars. Clearly, hardtops were gaining steadily in popularity over true convertibles as a result of their all-weather coziness.

Continuing the upscale trend that had been developing, the Bel Air four-door sedan ousted the equivalent 210 as the most popular model, despite a $113 price difference.

The 30-millionth Chevrolet was built on December 28, 1953, but for the model year, production dropped a little behind Ford's -- an uncomfortable position for the automaker that claimed to offer "America's favorite car." Ford now had an overhead-valve V-8 engine available, but Chevrolet engineers were busy with a V-8 that would turn into a phenomenon.

1954 Chevrolet Bel Air Sport coupe
The 1954 Chevrolet Bel Air Sport Coupe
offered a wealth of options at a low price.

1954 Chevrolet 240 Bel Air Facts

Model

Weight range (lbs.)

Price range (new)

Number built

240 Bel Air

3,220-3,540

$1,830-$2,283

486,240


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  • How Chevrolet Works: Get the inside story of one of America’s greatest automotive marques in this lavishly illustrated history of Chevrolet, beginning with its founding in 1911.

1955 Chevrolet Bel Air

1955 Chevrolet Bel Air Convertible
The 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air convertible was,
and is, a highly coveted automobile.

When the 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air arrived, Chevrolet enjoyed an all-new image practically overnight. Rather than a car driven mainly by dads and aunts, the sensationally redesigned "Motoramic" models quickly gained a reputation as "The Hot Ones."

In this landmark year, Chevy finally had a bold response to Ford in the performance battle: a lively 265 cubic inch V-8 that would nurture a whole generation of muscular engines. Better yet, that V-8 was slipped into a fresh, contemporary body sporting a rakish beltline dip and a Ferrari-inspired grille.

Chief engineer Edward N. Cole earned credit for Chevrolet's first V-8 in 35 years. Simple in construction and economical to build, the 265 cubic inch Turbo-Fire was a model of efficiency.

Instead of common rocker shafts, for instance, the short-stroke V-8 used independent rocker arms, each retained by a fulcrum ball and lock nut. That meant less reciprocating weight and greater rev potential. In basic trim, the V-8 delivered 162 horsepower, but an optional Plus-Power Package with dual exhausts hiked output to 180 horsepower.

"Try this for sighs," said the sales brochure of the Bel Air's color-coordinated interior. Even a sedan, it continued, "looks as young as you feel behind the wheel." Half a dozen Bel Air body styles went on sale, topped by a glamorous convertible and sleek hardtop Sport Coupe.

Whatever the body style, ads called Bel Air a "blue-ribbon beauty that's stealing the thunder from the high-priced cars." Sales leader was the four-door sedan, with over 345,000 built. A new Bel Air Beauville four-door station wagon ended the season with triple the sales of a comparable '54 wagon.

Those who liked their Bel Airs loaded could order everything from Touch-Down overdrive and Air Temp air conditioning to power steering and brakes, electric windows, Continental kit, and a power seat. A convertible paced the Indianapolis 500 race, piloted by general manager Thomas H. Keating, and a gold-trimmed hardtop rolled off the line as the 50-millionth car built by General Motors.

1955 Chevrolet Bel Air Wagon
The 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air Wagon
sold triple the units of its Ford counterpart.

1955 Chevrolet Bel Air Facts

Model

Weight range (lbs.)

Price range (new)

Number built

Bel Air

3,140-3,370

$1,888-$2,262

764,852


For more picture-packed articles about Chevys and other great cars, see:

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  • How Chevrolet Works: Get the inside story of one of America’s greatest automotive marques in this lavishly illustrated history of Chevrolet, beginning with its founding in 1911.

1955 Chevrolet Bel Air Nomad

1955 Chevrolet Bel Air Nomad
The 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air Nomad merged
station wagon utility with hardtop style.

The 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air Nomad was in a class all its own. No other station wagon has ever achieved the near-classic status granted to Chevrolet's glorious 1955 Nomad -- or come close. Even Pontiac's similarly shaped Safari never matched a Nomad's style and flair.

Because hardtops accounted for nearly one-fifth of the market and wagons nearly 15 percent, logic dictated a marriage of the two. Nomad began as a popular Corvette-based dream car at the 1954 GM Motorama. Blending the posh airiness of a hardtop with a wagon's practical virtues, the production Nomad debuted in February 1955.

Rakish is the only way to describe the Nomad, with its hardtop door-glass framing and sloping rear quarters that paralleled the angle of the wide B-pillars. Styling touches included a fluted roof, wraparound rear side glass, and rear-wheel cutouts.

From the cowl back, Nomads shared little sheetmetal with other Chevrolets, except for the basic floorpan. Doors differed, because Nomads lacked a beltline dip, and quarter panels were unique due to the wheel cutouts. A special interior featured waffle-rib upholstery.

Though handsome, the glassy greenhouse made the car hot on sunny days, air circulation wasn't top-notch, and tailgates leaked rain. Highest-priced of the '55s at $2,571, only 8,386 Nomads were built this year, and sales sagged further in the next two seasons.

1955 Chevrolet Bel Air Nomad
The flashy 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air Nomad
was outsold by less ostentatious wagons.

1955 Chevrolet Bel Air Nomad Facts

Model

Weight (lbs.)

Price (new)

Number built

Bel Air Nomad

3,285

$2,571

8,386


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  • How Chevrolet Works: Get the inside story of one of America’s greatest automotive marques in this lavishly illustrated history of Chevrolet, beginning with its founding in 1911.

1955 Chevrolet 150, 210, and Delray

1955 Chevrolet Two-Ten Club Coupe
The 1955 Chevrolet Two-Ten continued
to prove the popularity of mid-level sedans.

When the 1955 Chevrolet 150, 1955 Chevrolet 210 and 1955 Chevrolet Delray arrived, dealers had plenty to be enthused about. Not only were these Chevys longer, lower, and wider, but their "New Look" body was remarkably free of chrome excess -- a growing affliction of the Fifties.

Chevrolets featured a Sweep Sight wraparound windshield and jaunty beltline dip, both inspired by limited-edition GM cars. Drivers faced new Swing-Type brake and clutch pedals and an "airliner look" twin-cove instrument panel with central glovebox.

Bel Airs garnered the attention, but the half-dozen mid-range Two-Tens sold almost as well, and the bare-bones One-Fifty series had its own following. A Two-Ten sedan was the most popular two-door model, and the four-door wasn't far behind its Bel Air cousin.

In addition to the Two-Ten hardtop coupe, Chevy issued a Delray Club Coupe -- similar to the two-door sedan but more alluring inside. Any model might have a 180-horsepower Super Turbo-Fire V-8, a 162-horsepower Turbo-Fire, or the familiar Blue Flame six, now rated at 123 or 136 horsepower.

Billed as "red-hot hill-flatteners," the V-8 sedans were "setting the drag strips on fire," according to ads. Chevrolet easily beat Ford in sales during a year that saw records set throughout the automobile industry.

1955 Chevrolet One Fifty Police Car
This 1955 Chevrolet One-Fifty police sedan
showcases the versatility of the line.

1955 Chevrolet 150, 210, and Delray Facts

Model

Weight range (lbs.)

Price range (new)

Number built

150

3,070-3,275

$1,593-$2,030

125,446

210

3,130-3,355

$1,775-$2,127

805,309


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1956 Chevrolet 150 and 210

1956 Chevrolet Two-Ten sedan
The 1956 Chevrolet 210 sedan's
two-tone paint emphasized its clean lines.

Four 1956 Chevrolet 150 models and eight 1956 Chevrolet 210s went on sale that model year, including a pair of 210 pillar-less hardtops: a two-door Sport Coupe and new four-door Sport Sedan.

A nine-passenger Beauville station wagon joined the 210 lineup, giving Chevrolet a total of six suburban haulers. The Delray coupe returned, too, rounding out the 210 selection.

Even a looks-tame 210 sedan promised "quick and nimble ways," with up to 225 horsepower available from a 265-cubic-inch V-8 carrying twin four-barrel carbs -- the same engine as offered in the Corvette.

A chrome "V" on the hood revealed the presence of V-8 power, starting with the basic 162-horsepower version. Inside, dashboards repeated the symmetrical look from '55.

In each series, proclaimed the sales brochure, "fine-car quality has been delightfully blended with heart-stirring, high-stepping performance." Properly equipped, an ordinary Chevrolet could reach 60 mph in under 10 seconds. Not even the venerable six was forgotten, earning a boost to 140 horsepower.

Ads promoted "frisky new power...to make the going sweeter and the passing safer." Chevrolet once again beat Ford in sales -- though not by much -- but competition was heating up as the horsepower wars continued, and no one could count on staying in the number one spot forever.

1956 Chevrolet Two-Ten sedan
This 1956 Chevrolet 210 sedan
shows off the optional Continental body kit.

1956 Chevrolet 150 and 210 Facts

Model

Weight range (lbs.)

Price range (new)

Number built

150

3,117-3,299

$1,734-$2,171

157,294

210

3,167-3,490

$1,912-$2,348

737,371


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  • How Chevrolet Works: Get the inside story of one of America’s greatest automotive marques in this lavishly illustrated history of Chevrolet, beginning with its founding in 1911.

1956 Chevrolet Bel Air

1956 Chevrolet Bel Air Sport Coupe
This 1956 Chevrolet Bel Air Sport Coupe
shows off the popular hardtop body style.

The 1956 Chevrolet Bel Air was the first of many Chevrolets to receive a face-lift. This gave Chevrolets a more conventional full-width grille, pleasing those customers who didn't favor the Ferrari-inspired '55 front end.

Distinctive two-tone bodyside treatments on Bel Airs imparted a look of motion -- even when standing still. Graceful front and rear wheel openings completed the "speedline" restyling. Single housings incorporated the taillight, stoplight, and backup light, and the left one held the gas filler -- an idea popularized on Cadillacs.

Among the seven Bel Air models was a new Sport Sedan, a pillarless four-door hardtop that looked handsome with all the windows rolled down and allowed easy entry into the back seat. Production exceeded 103,000, compared to 128,000 two-door hardtops.

Shapely two-door Nomad wagons topped the price chart at $2,608, but now carried the same interior and rear-wheel sheetmetal as other Bel Airs, lacking the original's unique trim. Only 7,886 were built. The least costly Bel Air, at $2,025, was the two-door sedan.

Seatbelts, shoulder harnesses, and a padded dashboard were available, and full-size cars could even get the hot Corvette 225-horsepower engine.

In September of 1955, Chevrolet engineer Zora Arkus-Duntov, driving a disguised '56 Bel Air four-door sedan, set an American Stock Sedan record for the 12.5-mile ascent up Pike's Peak.

1956 Chevrolet Bel Air Convertible
The 1956 Chevrolet Bel Air convertible
sold well despite the popularity of hardtops.

1956 Chevrolet Bel Air Facts

Model

Weight range (lbs.)

Price range (new)

Number built

Bel Air

3,187-3,506

$2,025-$2,608

669,064


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  • How Chevrolet Works: Get the inside story of one of America’s greatest automotive marques in this lavishly illustrated history of Chevrolet, beginning with its founding in 1911.

1957 Chevrolet Bel Air

1957 Chevrolet Bel Air Sport Coupe
For 1957, the Chevrolet Bel Air Sport Coupe
wore flashy fins and an updated grille.

The 1957 Chevrolet Bel-Air epitomized the newly-facelifted Chevy line and led the way for the '57 Chevy to become one of American's most memorable cars. What's hard to believe is that so many shoppers shunned Chevrolets back then, turning instead to restyled Fords.

Chevy trailed Ford in model-year output by 170,000 cars, as Plymouth rose to number three. Not until years later was the '57 recognized by many as the sharpest Chevy of the decade -- best looking of the 1955-57 "classic" era, if not the make's full life span -- as well as an engineering marvel.

Sure, the basic design was getting a little dated, but masterful reworking cleverly concealed the car's origins, making it look almost brand-new. Riding new 14-inch rubber, Chevrolets stood 2.5 inches longer and 1.5 inches lower. Twin lance-shaped windsplits down the hood substituted for the customary ornament. Modest, if sharp, fins brought up the rear -- a mere hint of things to come.

Bel Airs came in seven models, wearing anodized aluminum trim panels on their rear bodysides. In pastel shades, such as turquoise and white, a '57 convertible or Sport Coupe is enough to send shivers through many an enthusiast today, especially when it's loaded with factory extras.

Nomad again was the costliest Bel Air, with just 6,103 built -- far below the 166,426 Sport Coupes and 47,562 ragtops. For every Nomad, more than four times as many Bel Air Townsman four-door wagons were purchased. The best-selling Bel Air was a practical pillared four-door sedan.

Under the hood, customers could get anything from the long-lived six or 265-cubic-inch V-8, to half a dozen interpretations of the enlarged 283-cubic-inch engine. Some Bel Airs even carried fuel-injected V-8s, on loan from Corvette and whipping up as much as 283 horsepower -- one horse­power per cubic inch -- in an ordinary passenger car from the low-priced three.

It seemed only fitting that Ed Cole, who'd been responsible for the original V-8 and its offshoots, now served as Chevrolet's general manager.

1957 Chevrolet Bel Air Convertible
A 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air Convertible,
the iconic "'57 Chevy" prized by collectors.

1957 Chevrolet Bel Air Facts

Model

Weight range (lbs.)

Price range (new)

Number built

Bel Air

3,232-3,465

$2,238-$2,757

702,220


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  • How Chevrolet Works: Get the inside story of one of America’s greatest automotive marques in this lavishly illustrated history of Chevrolet, beginning with its founding in 1911.

1957 Chevrolet 150 and 210

1957 Chevrolet Two-Ten Sport Coupe
Continuing a trend, the 1957 Chevrolet 210
sold almost as well as the Bel Air.

1957 Chevrolet 150s and Chevrolet 210s were part of the year's new line of Bel Airs. In one of the ironies that make automotive history fascinating, Chevrolet used the "1 USA" logo in ads for the first time in 1957 -- a model year when Ford finished in the number one position.

Chevy seemed to have it all -- gorgeous body, startling selection of V-8 engines, even a new transmission choice -- but scads of shoppers ordered Fords. "Sweet, smooth, and sassy," pledged some of Chevrolet's ads, yet new-car buyers said "ho-hum."

Those who did buy liked Bel Airs best, despite their higher prices, but the eight-model 210 series sold almost as well. Less than a hundred dollars separated the 210 Sport Sedan and Sport Coupe from their upscale mates, and Bel Airs trounced their mid-range counterparts when the totals were tallied.

Obviously, most people who wanted a sharp car were willing to pay a little extra to get the best Chevy had to offer. As usual, the low-budget 150 sold slowest, though a Utility sedan -- lacking a rear seat -- started at a mere $1,885, versus $2,122 for the cheapest 210. The 210 Beauville was the only nine-passenger station wagon, priced $107 higher than a six-passenger Townsman.

"The road isn't built that can make it breathe hard," declared an ad for V-8 models. Any Chevrolet might be fuel-injected, right down to the blandest 150 sedan, but the $484 tariff helped limit sales. However, a special run of fuelie two-doors was prepped for Daytona Speed Weeks.

Plenty of Chevys made do with the 140-horsepower six, but V-8 choices stretched all the way from 162 to 283 horsepower. Powerglide remained available, but triple-turbine Turboglide vowed to perform "without the slightest hint of a shift." Sadly, that new transmission developed a poor reputation for reliability.

Inside, an all-new dashboard abandoned the symmetrical layout. Popular factory accessories included everything from air conditioning and a power antenna to Autronic Eye headlamp control, seatbelts, Continental kit -- and a "Kool Kooshion" ventilated seat pad.

1957 Chevrolet One-Fifty Utility Sedan
The modest 1957 Chevrolet 150 offered
optional fuel-injection for extra kick.

1957 Chevrolet 150 and 210 Facts

Model

Weight range (lbs.)

Price range (new)

Number built

150

3,163-3,406

$1,885-$2,307

856,080

210

3,225-3,561

$2,122-$2,563

651,358


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  • How Chevrolet Works: Get the inside story of one of America’s greatest automotive marques in this lavishly illustrated history of Chevrolet, beginning with its founding in 1911.

1958 Chevrolet Bel Air, Delray, and Biscayne

1958 Chevrolet Delray
The entry-level 1958 Chevrolet Delray
still offered style to spare.

The 1958 Chevrolet Bel Air, 1958 Chevrolet Delray and 1958 Chevrolet Biscayne actually were better as well as bigger, if leaning more toward luxury than roadability. "Look Ma, no fins" could have been a slogan, as other makes heeded a trend toward wild rear ends.

Quad headlights followed yet another fashion. The "low, thrusting silhouette" was nine inches longer and five inches lower, on a wheelbase stretched 2.5 inches. As might be expected, the '58s were also heavier -- by 200 to 300 pounds.

A three-model Delray series displaced the One-Fifty, and Biscayne sedans edged aside the Two-Ten, while Bel Air/Impala topped the line. Nomads were now ordinary four-doors, so the only two-door wagon was the bottom-line Yeoman. Shoppers had five wagons to choose from.

Enlarged liftgates hinged into the roof and raised out of the way. Sedans featured slim door-pillar styling, and even a Delray wore plenty of brightwork. Newly optional Level-Air suspension was patterned after Cadillac's, with a rubber bellows at each wheel. Expensive and unreliable, it proved a short-lived fad.

For the first time, full-size cars could have a bigger, more potent engine than Corvettes. A low-budget Delray might carry the top 348 cubic inch big-block, or even a 283 fuelie. Styling cycles normally went three years, but the tasteful '58 body lasted only one season.

1958 Chevrolet Delray
The 1958 Chevrolet Delray featured
dual exhausts and twin taillights.

1958 Chevrolet Bel Air, Delray, and Biscayne Facts

Model

Weight range (lbs.)

Price range (new)

Number built

Delray

3,156-3,442

$2,013-$2,262

178,000 (approx.)

Biscayne

3,404-3,450

$2,236-$2,397

100,000 (approx.)

Bel Air

3,424-3,514

$2,386-$2,618

592,000 (approx.)

Station Wagon

3,693-3,839

$2,413-$2,835

187,063

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  • How Chevrolet Works: Get the inside story of one of America’s greatest automotive marques in this lavishly illustrated history of Chevrolet, beginning with its founding in 1911.

1959 Chevrolet Bel Air and Biscayne

1959 Chevrolet Biscayne sedan
The 1959 Chevrolet Biscayne sedan
featured wing-like fins and a long wheelbase.

Chevy's sales brochure for 1959 models, including the 1959 Chevrolet Bel Air and 1959 Chevrolet Biscayne, said it simply: "all new all over again." Totally restyled, flaunting dramatic horizontal fins, Chevrolets adopted a new 119-inch wheelbase -- longest in the low-priced field.

Thinner doors helped deliver five extra inches of interior space. Wide horizontal "nostrils" up front held the parking lights. Thin windshield and ultra-slim raked C-pillars freed hardtop bodies of blind spots. Compound-curve, wraparound windshields grew in size, boosting visibility.

The Delray series disappeared, replaced by Biscayne, promoted as "beauty on a budget." That move made Bel Air the mid-range line, offering a hardtop Sport Sedan and regular pillared sedan. Bel Airs sold best, followed by Impalas. Station wagons came in four series.

Engines were unchanged, as the "horsepower race" eased for the moment. Choices ranged from the new 135-horsepower Hi-Thrift 235 cubic inch six through a selection of 283- and 348-cubic inch V-8s. A fuel-injected rendition of the 283 again developed 290 horsepower, while the top 348 provided 315.

More than one-third of this year's cars carried six-cylinder engines. Five transmissions were available: Turboglide, Powerglide, four-speed, three-speed, or overdrive. Chevrolet ended the model year in the top spot again but led Ford by only a tiny margin this time.

1959 Chevrolet Bel Air sedan
The 1959 Chevrolet Bel Air also sported
fins and a new wraparound windshield.

1959 Chevrolet Bel Air and Biscayne Facts

Model

Weight range (lbs.)

Price range (new)

Number built

Biscayne

3,480-3,605

$2,160-$2,419

311,800 (approx.)

Bel Air

3,510-3,660

$2,386-$2,674

447,100 (approx.)

Station Wagon

3,860-4,020

$2,571-$3,009

214,400 (approx.)

For more picture-packed articles about Chevys and other great cars, see:

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  • How Chevrolet Works: Get the inside story of one of America’s greatest automotive marques in this lavishly illustrated history of Chevrolet, beginning with its founding in 1911.

1960 Chevrolet Bel Air and Biscayne

1960 Chevrolet Bel Air Sport Hardtop Coupe
The 1960 Chevrolet Bel Air Sport Hardtop Coupe
conveyed a subtle style.

The 1960 Chevrolet Bel Air and 1960 Chevrolet Biscayne didn't sell as strongly as the lavishly outfitted Impala, but they nonetheless continued to attract a following of their own.

In fact, adding a hardtop Sport Coupe to the Bel Air lineup -- joining the also-pillarless Sport Sedan -- gave shoppers a stylish automobile for $108 less than a comparable Impala.

Actually, not everyone coveted the Impala's extra helping of brightwork. Some preferred the less-adorned body surfaces of a "lesser" model, espe­cially since the same engines could be installed in any Chevy -- right down to the most humble Biscayne sedans. In addition to the ample selection of V-8s, many Chevrolets held the venerable Blue Flame six, still chugging out 135 horsepower.

In addition to the pair of hardtops, the Bel Air series included two- and four-door sedans. Biscaynes came only in sedan form. Four wagon lines were marketed: luxury Nomad, economical two- or four-door Brookwood, four-door Parkwood, and nine-passenger Kingswood.

Not counting wagons, about 381,500 Bel Airs were built, versus 287,700 Biscaynes -- and close to half a million Impalas. Obviously, Americans still leaned toward luxury, whenever pocketbooks could withstand the assault. In any series, those wild rear ends -- starting off as popular, then derided as gauche -- don't look half bad today.

1960 Chevrolet Bel Air Sedan
The 1960 Chevrolet Bel Air four-door Sedan
was toned down from previous years.

1960 Chevrolet Bel Air and Biscayne Facts

Model

Weight range (lbs.)

Price range (new)

Number built

Biscayne

3,455-3,570

$2,175-$2,423

287,700(approx.)

Biscayne Fleetmaster

3,480-3,560

$2,230-$2,391

N/A (included in Biscayne)

Bel Air

3,490-3,620

$2,384-$2,661

381,500 (approx.)

Station Wagon

3,845-4,000

$2,586-$2,996

212,700 (approx.)

For more picture-packed articles about Chevys and other great cars, see:

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  • How Chevrolet Works: Get the inside story of one of America’s greatest automotive marques in this lavishly illustrated history of Chevrolet, beginning with its founding in 1911.

1961 Chevrolet Bel Air and Biscayne

1961 Chevrolet Bel Air Sedan
The 1961 Chevrolet Bel Air 4-door sedan
was toned down from previous versions.

The 1961 Chevrolet Bel Air and 1961 Chevrolet Biscayne clearly showed the influence of Bill Mitchell, who had headed GM styling since 1959. Though far from compact, the totally redesigned Chevrolets -- a tad shorter and narrower, but roomier than ever with their widened door openings -- were called "parkable."

Freshly sloped A-pillars nearly eliminated the annoying "dogleg" below the windshield. Final vestiges of tailfins disappeared.

The '61s were also claimed to have "the most quiet, vibration-dampened, relaxing ride you've ever tried," assisted in that quest by the rugged X-built Safety-Girder frame.

An easy-to-reach instrument console placed everything, including the glovebox, ahead of the driver. Seats were higher, but trunk sills sat lower, extending full width for easier luggage loading.

Billed as "America's most popular model," the Bel Air assortment included both a hardtop Sport Coupe and a Sport Sedan, along with pillared sedans. Low-budget Biscayne sedans sold the slowest, as usual. Six station wagons rounded out the lineup. Model-year output totaled 330,000 Bel Airs, 201,000 Biscaynes, and 168,900 wagons.

Chevy promoted 24 power teams, centered on five transmissions. Outputs for the 348 cubic inch big-block V-8 ranged from 250 to 280 horsepower (with 305-, 340-, and 350-horse versions listed as "special order" options) while the 283 cubic inch V-8 delivered either 170 or 230 horsepower.

1961 Chevrolet Bel Air Sedan
Even the Chevrolet Bel Air two-door Sedan
shed its fins for 1961.

1961 Chevrolet Bel Air and Biscayne Facts

Model

Weight range (lbs.)

Price range (new)

Number built

Biscayne

3,390-3,505

$2,175-$2,423

201,000 (approx.)

Biscayne Fleetmaster

3,410-3,500

$2,230-$2,391

3,000 (approx.)

Bel Air

3,430-3,555

$2,384-$2,596

330,000 (approx.)

Station Wagon

3,845-3,935

$2,653-$3,099

168,900 (approx.)

For more picture-packed articles about Chevys and other great cars, see:

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  • Consumer Guide Used Car Search: In the market for a used Chevy or virtually any other pre-owned vehicle? Check out these reports, which include safety recalls and trouble spots.
  • How Chevrolet Works: Get the inside story of one of America’s greatest automotive marques in this lavishly illustrated history of Chevrolet, beginning with its founding in 1911.