The Chevrolet Bel Air was a full-size vehicle produced from 1950 to 1975 in the United States, and until 1981 in Canada. The concept of the Bel Air was to have a sporty hardtop convertible in their lineup. This car was initially based on the Styline DeLuxe model from 1949.
The first generation Bel Air was produced 1950 to 1954, though the Bel Air wouldn’t be its own model until 1953, when the lineup gained a 2-door coupe and 4-door sedan. A 2-door convertible was also introduced. This generation Bel Air was based on the GM A-body platform from 1936, shared with other models in the Chevrolet lineup (ie: Chevy 150, 210, Impala, etc.), and other GM models, such as the Pontiac Chieftain, Star Chief, Oldsmobile 76, and 88. In this generation’s final year of production, 1954, the lineup gained a station wagon model. Power came from the 215 CI (3.5L) Thriftmaster inline-6 and the 235 CI (3.9L) Blue Flame inline-6. The Blue Flame 6 produced 125 horsepower.
The Bel Air was revised in 1955. The new model would still share the 1936 A-body platform with other GM vehicles like the previous generation model had. As this was the case, the 115 inch wheelbase of the previous generation counterpart had been retained for this lineup, but was nearly 2 inches shorter in exterior length. Hardtop, sedan, and station wagon models were standard throughout the lineup for the entire generation. A new engine option was the 265 (4.3L) Small-Block V8, which was also featured in the Corvette. The difference for the Bel Air’s 265 was that it produced 162 horsepower, versus the Corvette’s 195 horsepower. The Bel Air was given a cosmetic update for 1956, and another for 1957.
The 215 Thriftmaster and the 235 Blue Flame engines from the previous generation were available in this model, but two new V8s were introduced: the 265 CI (4.3L) and 283 CI (4.6L) Small Blocks.
For one year only, in 1958, Chevrolet produced its third generation Bel Air model. This car transitioned to the more extensive full-size, rear-wheel-drive B-body platform. This allowed the Bel Air to strongly resemble its platform twin, the Impala. In addition to the hardtop, sedan, and convertible models, a coupe was introduced to the lineup. A larger V8, the Big Block, was introduced. This engine was good for anywhere between 250 to 315 horsepower.
The Bel Air was radically redesigned for its fourth generation in 1959. This included a low-slung four-headlight design and curvier windshield/pillar design. Engine choices were the 235 Blue Flame 6, 283 Small Block V8, and 348 Big Block V8.
1961 saw the debut of the fifth generation Bel Air. The exterior dimension changes included a shortened length, although the wheelbase remained the same. After that year, the 4-door hardtop was discontinued. The Bel Air continued to be updated year after year, and the 1963 and 1964 models saw significant change. It began to more resemble its platform counterparts, the Biscayne and Impala.
The 1965 Bel Air was not only cosmetically redesigned, but also slightly longer than its predecessor. The wheelbase remained the same from the prior generation. The body styles for this generation would range from 2-door and 4-door sedans and a 4-door wagon. It would be this point onward that the Bel Air would offer little semblance to its namesake due to its strong resemblance to its other platform model counterparts. Engine choices included two inline-sixes (230 and 250), and a range of Small Block and Big Block V8s. In 1970, the wagon was renamed Townsman, and the 250 inline-6 developed 155 horsepower. The top of the line that year was the 454 Big Block V8.
From 1971 to 1975, the Bel Air was practically the same as the contemporary generation Caprice. The B-body platform had rubbed off on the Bel Air so much, that both the Bel Air and Caprice were assembled in the same Arlington (Texas), Oshawa, Ontario (Canada), and South Gate (California) assembly plants. They even shared the same two Small Block V8s, the 350 and 400, as well as the 454 Big Block. The Caprice and Impala proved to be more worthy mainstays in the Chevrolet lineup, and 1975 saw the final year of American production of the Bel Air.
Canada would see the “Bel Air” name continue on in 1976, in the same generation from 1970. In 1977, the Canadian-only eighth generation debuted, still strongly resembling its Caprice/Impala counterparts. These models were assembled in Baltimore, Maryland; Flint, Michigan; and Oshawa, Ontario in Canada. The engine lineup consisted of a singular inline six, the 250, and 305 and 400 Small Block V8s. A drop in sales spelled the end for the Bel Air altogether, and 1981 saw the final “Bel Air” in the Chevrolet lineup, America or Canada.