Chevrolet Bel Air

In 1950, a convertible Chevrolet with solid roof made a stunning entrance on the US car market turning the name Bel Air into an icon. It wasn't a completely unique since similar models existed even earlier, but Chevy Bel Air was the one that became successful.

Only 76,662 units were produced in the first year of production, as the management was feeling the pulse of the buyers. At a price of $1,741 and weighing 1,463 kg Chevrolet had the whole town talking about their new unit. At the time buyers were hungry for new models, pushing the sales into the sky.

From the technical standpoint, mild changes in styling and lack of shifting gears was what separated it from the competition. Chevrolet introduced a new Powerglide automatic transmission, becoming the first in the lower budget category.

Powerglide system used a single speed unless the driver selected "Low" range manually. A stronger 105 hp 235.5 cubic inch six-cylinder engine with hydraulic lifters and a higher-lift cam was built in to complete the performance. The downside was large power drain from the Powerglide system; combined with EconoMISER rear-axle ratio the final effect was slower initial pace of Chevrolet Bel Air. The plus side was relatively quiet engine operation which delighted most of the Chevy lovers.

The first hardtop and the pioneer pillarless coupe in the low-priced market was open to the summer breeze, snug against the wintry wind and had the coziness and permanence of an all-steel top. As an interesting fact, Chrysler and Ford didn't enter the niche until later, but Buick, Cadillac, and Oldsmobile presented their respected versions of hardtop convertibles on the market few years earlier.

Lack of B-pillars created some loss of structural rigidity which was replaced with convertible-type frame reinforcements. The usual broadcloth upholstery was switched with leather and pile-cord fabric. Bright metal headliner bows increased the driving experience. The Korean conflict in 1952 cut the civilian automobile production far beyond the standard production. However, even in such harsh conditions with only 818,142 cars built, Chevrolet performed admirably leading the market. Before long, hardtops sales surpassed convertibles.

In 1953 Chevrolet applied the Bel Air name to the premium model range. Restyled body panels, front and rear ends on the same sturdy frame and mechanics once again captured the attention of American public. Advertised as entirely new vehicle with a wide chrome strip of molding from the rear fender bulge to the rear bumper Chevrolet Bel Air stripe was done with precision.

The inside of this stripe was painted a coordinating color with the outside body color, along with Bel Air scripts. A curved, single piece windshield was installed for the first time. Carpeting and full wheel covers rounded out Bel Air standard equipment. The following year model stayed essentially the same, with revised grille and taillights, and minor modifications to the engine.

Nicknamed the "Hot One" in General Motor's advertising campaign in 1955, Chevrolet Bel Air was given completely fresh styling and power performance. New features included interior carpet, chrome headliner bands on hardtops, chrome spears on front fenders, stainless steel window moldings and full wheel covers. Bel Air name script in gold lettering was a special touch. Chevrolet provided a V8 engine as a modern option.

The new 265 cu in (4,340 cc) V8 featured a modern, overhead valve high compression, and long stroke design. Chevy Bel Air received the top marks for handling from the professional Motor Trend magazine. Popular Mechanics tested acceleration for a V8 Bel Air with Powerglide – resulting in 0-60 mph in 12.9 seconds, plus a comfortable ride, and good visability. The final mark remains the one of Chevrolet fans all over the world, as they continue to enjoy in the beauty of the iconic Bel Air model to this very day.

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