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Chevrolet Bel Air: Buying guide and review (1955-1957)

Chevrolet Bel Air Chevrolet Bel Air Chevrolet Bel Air Chevrolet Bel Air Chevrolet Bel Air
Combining all that was great about American design and rugged mechanicals into a timeless package, the mid-1950s Chevrolet Bel Air truly captured the hearts of the American nation. It imprinting itself into popular culture like few others; songs, movies, art and even alcoholic drinks recipes all reference these Chevys. In the first half of the ‘50s the Bel Air name had been used solely for the two door hard top versions of Chevrolets range, then in 1955 Chevrolet rebranded its cars, with the Bel Air name now referring to all of its upmarket cars.

The Bel Air was never built to be the fastest or handle the best, what it did offer was a stylish comfortable mode of transport that really did stand out from the competition. Today these cars continue to offer a great blend of ‘50s style and laid back charm that it has done for so many years.
 
Which one to buy?
 
The second generation Chevrolet Bel Air was produced between 1954 and 1957. There were a host of options, body styles, running gear and trim options to choose from. 

The Bel Airs received quite comprehensive external styling changes every year, and enthusiasts tend to disagree regularly over which one is the best. In truth, each model year has a distinct style, but there were many mechanical changes to improve reliability. 

Generally the convertibles, Nomads and two door hardtops are some of the most desirable models out there, with the ‘57 Bel Air being the most sought after. Other body styles are also in demand and can offer a more cost effective way to get behind the wheel of a classic Bel Air. It’s worth keeping in mind that after so many years, a lot have been restored and repaired; original engines, trim and options will more than likely have been changed along the way. 

Unlike some other collectable cars out there, the Bel Air was anything but a limited edition special. With over two million cars built, and with a myriad of specifications, there are still a lot of cars out there to choose from – from two and four-door hardtops to coupes, convertibles and even a station wagon. Four engine options and three transmission choices round out the offerings. 

While air conditioning was a rare option there was a long list of other extras that customers could choose from. Some of the more interesting ones included an ashtray with built in vacuum device and a foot-operated windshield-washing device.

Such was this cars popularity that the term ‘Tri-Five’ was coined when referring to the 55 to 57 Chevy models and there are dozens of enthusiasts clubs dedicated to keeping these cars on the road.
 
Performance and specs

Chevrolet Bel Air 1957 4.6 
Engine 4626cc, 16-valve SOHC V8 
Power 220bhp @ 5000rpm 
Torque 300lb ft @ 4800rpm
Top speed 111mph 
0-60mph 8.3seconds 
Fuel consumption 17mpg 
Gearbox Four-speed manual
 
Dimensions and weight
 
Wheelbase 2921mm
Length 5080mm
Width 1876mm
Height 1521mm
Weight 1540kg
 
Common problems
 
It’s very rare to find a non-modified car so take a good look around your potential purchase to ensure that any modifications or restorations have been done professionally, as well as to ensure you are buying the model and year that is being advertised. Parts, body panels and service items are in good supply however you may have to source most of these from the US. 

• On 1957 convertibles check under the car and look for a large centre X-frame, if this is missing then either the car has a non-original chassis or it’s not a ‘57 model.

• Rust can strike anywhere, so even if the car's body is in generally good condition then check the most common trouble spots for signs of rust just to be sure. These include behind the headlamps and above the wheel arches. 

• Replacement body panels are in good supply, and there are many dedicated specialists who can sell you practically every nut and bolt for these cars.

• As there were so many cars made and so many possible body styles, checking the VIN numbers is important to ensure your car is what the seller says it is. The second digit should be a C denoting that the car is a Bel Air.

• Nomads had unique interior, seat and dashboard trim, making parts harder to source than other models.

• Engines are reliable and can last up to 150 000 miles between rebuilds if serviced regularly. Rare fuel injected models are highly prized but can be fiddly to maintain.
 
Model history

1955: Chevrolet introduces the upmarket Bel Air range of cars. Large range of trim, paint and comfort options. Station Wagon ‘Nomad’ body style introduced in top spec level. Optional 170bhp 4.3 Litre V8 engine offered nicknamed ‘The Hot One’.
1956: Changes to grille, trim and exterior styling. Engine upgrades for V8’s gave optional 220bhp.
1957: Further grille and tail fin changes and increased range of paint and trim options. Engine range now up to eight offerings including 280bhp 4.6-litre V8 with fuel injection.
 
Production numbers
 
1955: 773 238
1956: 669 064
1957: 702 040
 
Owners clubs, forums and websites
 
• www.trifive.com
• www.classicchevy.com
 
Summary and prices

Although there were far more four-door Sedans built, the most common cars for sale nowadays are the two-door coupe and convertibles. A car requiring some attention can start at £6000, rising to £25,000 for a perfect condition example. The ‘57 coupes, Nomads and rare fuel injected models tend to trade at quite a premium and a prime restored example will fetch £60,000 or more. There is no doubt that the Tri-Five Chevys are great, and very versatile classic cars, whether you’re looking for a tar burning hot rod or a sedate weekend cruiser there’s a Bel Air to suite every occasion.

Words: John Tallodi
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Last updated: 1st Dec 2015
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Chevrolet Bel Air cars for sale

6 Search results
Chevrolet Bel Air
33900 86995 GBP
  • 1954 Chevrolet Bel Air

    $33,900(£27,706.47) $33,900(£27,706.47)

    This rare hardtop features a ground up restoration and is powered by a 235 cubic inch inline 6 cylinder engine with external oil filter. A very rare option in 1954 was the power steering which this unit has. Other features include a Powerglide automatic transmission, AM radio, rocker moldings with stone guards, fender skirts, wide whitewall tires, full wheel covers, door handle nail guards, back up lights, front bumper guards, gas door chip guard, stainless tail pipe tips & front seat belts. Refinished in original code 561 India Ivory & Romany Red.

    • Year: 1954
    For sale
    Wagner's Classic Cars
    0049 214 614 21 VIEW CONTACT NUMBER
  • 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air Two Door Hardtop

    POA POA

    Big Block 454 cid V-8 Engine Punched to 462 cid 700-R4 Automatic Overdrive ?57 Chevy Bel Air Show Car Multiple Award Winner at Indoor and Outdoor Events Holley 850 Carburetor Lunati Cam MSD Ignition Gold Coast Jet Hot Headers March Serpentine Front-Runner System Custom March Air Cleaner 9-Inch Ford 3.70 Rear End with Moser Axles 4-Wheel Disc Brakes with Dual Master Cylinder Complete New Suspension Installed During Build with 605 Power Steering, & Rear Traction Bars One-Off Custom Wheels Patterned After ?57 Bel Air Hubcaps All The Bel-Air Trim Intact Chrome, Glass, & Moldings Custom Stitched Two Tone Bucket Seat Interior Custom Console and Dash Overlay Vintage Air Conditioning with Custom Vent System Matching Fully-Lined Trunk Compartment

    • Year: 1957
    For sale
  • Chevrolet Bel-Air

    £78,995 £78,995

    This is probably one of the best 57 Bel Air's on the planet and is reluctantly going up For Sale. Please feel free to contact us with any questions or queries that you may have.Every part of this car has been modified with the best parts possible - a true ''one off'' motor vehicle.'57 Bel AirEngineDart 434 small-block, Edelbrock RPM heads, Eagle forged rods, Cola steel crankshaft, JE forged 8:1 pistons, Isky hydraulic roller camshaft, B&M intake manifold and 177 supercharger, Edelbrock 750 carburetor, custom K&N air filtration, MSD ignition, Full Mallory electronic fuel pump system.Transmission700-R4 four-speed automatic, 2,800-rpm stall converter, assembled by Positive Transmissions, Escondido, CASuspensionCorvette C4(F) Corvette A-arms, Aldan coilover shocks, Baer Alcon 14.5-inch disc brakes(R) Dana 44 center section, Aldan coilover shocks, Baer disc brakes, 3.70:1 limited-slip, chassis by Super Rides InteriorGlide Engineering seats, leather buckskin seating surfaces, custom leather door panels, West Tech instrumentation, ididit column, Budnik Gasser steering wheel, Gennie shifter, custom steel dash and console, fabrication by Super Rides, interior by Armando's Rod and Custom, Hemet, CA. Vintage Air air conditioning and satellite radio installed.ExteriorCustom grille, fabricated steel hood, custom taillights, fabricated inner fenders, rear bumper, belly pan, and engine compartment by Super Rides, Simple Green four-stage paint.WheelsBudnik Gassers(F) 18x7(R) 18x9.5TiresNitto

    • Mileage: 900 mi
    • Engine size: 7500
    For sale
  • 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air Pro Touring Coupe

    $85,000(£69,470.50) $85,000(£69,470.50)

    Professionally built car utilizing all the best components available. This hi-end hot rod rolls on a complete Art Morrison “Tri-Five” chassis with independent front suspension, coil over shocks, 9” rear axle and powered by a new Edelbrock crate350/435 small block. Other options include an overdrive automatic transmission, Sanderson headers, 3” custom exhaust, March serpentine pulley system, Wilwood disc brakes, AutoRad aluminum radiator, Vintage Air, Flaming River polished tilt steering column, 18” Billet Specialties “Vintage Legacy II wheels, custom ultra leather interior, Dakota Digital dash, smooth bumpers, power windows, power steering, custom electronic exhaust cutouts. Comes with build photos and receipts. Don’t miss this one!

    • Year: 1955
    For sale
  • Chevrolet Bel-Air

    £86,995 £86,995

    This is probably one of the best 57 Bel Air's on the planet and is reluctantly going up For Sale. Please feel free to contact us with any questions or queries that you may have.Every part of this car has been modified with the best parts possible - a true ''one off'' motor vehicle.'57 Bel AirEngineDart 434 small-block, Edelbrock RPM heads, Eagle forged rods, Cola steel crankshaft, JE forged 8:1 pistons, Isky hydraulic roller camshaft, B&M intake manifold and 177 supercharger, Edelbrock 750 carburetor, custom K&N air filtration, MSD ignition, Full Mallory electronic fuel pump system.Transmission700-R4 four-speed automatic, 2,800-rpm stall converter, assembled by Positive Transmissions, Escondido, CASuspensionCorvette C4(F) Corvette A-arms, Aldan coilover shocks, Baer Alcon 14.5-inch disc brakes(R) Dana 44 center section, Aldan coilover shocks, Baer disc brakes, 3.70:1 limited-slip, chassis by Super Rides InteriorGlide Engineering seats, leather buckskin seating surfaces, custom leather door panels, West Tech instrumentation, ididit column, Budnik Gasser steering wheel, Gennie shifter, custom steel dash and console, fabrication by Super Rides, interior by Armando's Rod and Custom, Hemet, CA. Vintage Air air conditioning and satellite radio installed.ExteriorCustom grille, fabricated steel hood, custom taillights, fabricated inner fenders, rear bumper, belly pan, and engine compartment by Super Rides, Simple Green four-stage paint.WheelsBudnik Gassers(F) 18x7(R) 18x9.5TiresNitto

    • Mileage: 900 mi
    • Engine size: 7500
    For sale
  • Chevrolet Bel-Air

    £86,995 £86,995

    This is probably one of the best 57 Bel Air's on the planet and is reluctantly going up For Sale. Please feel free to contact us with any questions or queries that you may have.Every part of this car has been modified with the best parts possible - a true ''one off'' motor vehicle.'57 Bel AirEngineDart 434 small-block, Edelbrock RPM heads, Eagle forged rods, Cola steel crankshaft, JE forged 8:1 pistons, Isky hydraulic roller camshaft, B&M intake manifold and 177 supercharger, Edelbrock 750 carburetor, custom K&N air filtration, MSD ignition, Full Mallory electronic fuel pump system.Transmission700-R4 four-speed automatic, 2,800-rpm stall converter, assembled by Positive Transmissions, Escondido, CASuspensionCorvette C4(F) Corvette A-arms, Aldan coilover shocks, Baer Alcon 14.5-inch disc brakes(R) Dana 44 center section, Aldan coilover shocks, Baer disc brakes, 3.70:1 limited-slip, chassis by Super Rides InteriorGlide Engineering seats, leather buckskin seating surfaces, custom leather door panels, West Tech instrumentation, ididit column, Budnik Gasser steering wheel, Gennie shifter, custom steel dash and console, fabrication by Super Rides, interior by Armando's Rod and Custom, Hemet, CA. Vintage Air air conditioning and satellite radio installed.ExteriorCustom grille, fabricated steel hood, custom taillights, fabricated inner fenders, rear bumper, belly pan, and engine compartment by Super Rides, Simple Green four-stage paint.WheelsBudnik Gassers(F) 18x7(R) 18x9.5TiresNitto

    • Mileage: 900 mi
    • Engine size: 7500
    For sale
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