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Hardtop Hero

It began in 1950 as a designation for the top of the line Chevy Deluxe model and came as a two-door hardtop. After three years, the Bel-Air established itself as its own high-end line that offered a wagon, two and four-door sedans, and convertible and sport coupe models. A classic in the truest sense of the word, its first generation resurrected the design of the non-removable hardtop, popular in the 1920s, and its new design from '55-'57 is one of the most desired and popular classic models today.

It was GM's top-of-the-line model for much of its early life. It offered an inline-six over-head valve engine with 115 horsepower in the first generation. In the second generation, from 1955-1957, a restyling resulted in lavish looks with colorful two-toned "shoebox style" bodies, sleek lines, chrome moldings, and humble tailfins that had everyone excited. It sported a 265ci V8 with 180 horsepower.

Many of the '55 cars came in solid colors, and two-tone options weren't available until the following year. That same year the 265ci V8 had its output increased to 205 or 225 horsepower. 1957 is one of the model years most sought after by collectors. It was the last year that the Bel-Air was the highest model available from Chevy. It offered many optional additions that are now considered standard: fuel-injection, power steering and brakes, air conditioning, power windows and seats, radio, and rear speakers.  In many ways, the 1957 Bel-Air was ahead of its time. 

From the Top Line to the Bottom

The Bel-Air's history follows the motto "The higher you climb, the further you fall." 1958 began the slow demise of the Bel Air. The Impala replaced it, and much of the Bel Air's styling mimicked the Impala's.  The Bel-Air was losing its original flair. It came with quad head and tail lights, a lower frame, and for '59 it copied the extended, bat-like Impala tailfins. Throughout the ‘60s, the Bel-Air toned down the protruding fins to ease parking and maneuvering. Its biggest engine was a 409ci V8 ranging from 340-425 horsepower, and its ability to handle such a nice engine along with its full-size space attracted much commercial and public use, resulting in a high interest from the police.

Unfortunately, as the ‘70s rolled around, the Bel-Air dropped in power and performance, and became the low-level full-size model for Chevy in '72. It was later discontinued in '75. Never the less, the Bel Air has a strong following of enthusiasts that are constantly searching for junked cars to restore, and some of its early models are the most desired collectible American cars around.

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