Thursday 4 February 2016
The Chevrolet Bel Air was a full-size automobile that was produced by Chevrolet for the 1950–1981 model years. Initially only the two door Hardtops in the Chevrolet model range were designated with the Bel Air name from 1950 to 1952, as distinct from the Styleline and Fleetline models for the remainder of the range. With the 1953 model year the Bel Air name was changed from a designation for a unique body shape to a premium level of trim applied across a number of body styles. The Bel Air continued with various other trim level designations until US production ceased in 1975, production continued in Canada for its home market only through the 1981 model year.
By the late 1960s (with the introduction of the Caprice), the Bel Air and its Biscayne stablemate were primarily marketed to automotive fleet customers. However, the Bel Air remained available to retail customers who sought a basic, no-frills, full-sized car that was better trimmed than the low-line Biscayne. When the Biscayne was discontinued after 1972, the Bel Air was demoted to the low-level model. Bel Airs again used four-segmented taillights as opposed to the triple-segmented lights of higher-level Impala and Caprice models, except in 1972 when all models shared the same triple-segmented lights mounted in the bumper.
A 250-cubic-inch six-cylinder engine and three-speed manual transmission with column shift remained standard equipment through the 1973 model year on sedans with the 350 V8 and automatic standard on wagons—the Turbo Hydramatic automatic had been the sole transmission choice on V-8-powered Bel Airs since the spring of 1971 though the old two-speed Powerglide was still offered with the six-cylinder engine through the 1972 model year. Only about 1,400 cars were built with the inline six in 1973. The engine and manual transmission were shelved by the end of the model year—marking the last full-sized, "body on frame" American car to offer a manual gearbox.
All Bel Air sedans built in 1974–1975 listed a 350 two-barrel V8 engine and Turbo-Hydramatic transmission as standard, with station wagons getting the 400 cu in (6,600 cc) four-barrel V8, again with Turbo-Hydramatic standard. The 400 V8 was optional on sedans and the 454 was available on both models.
With the discontinuation of the Bel Air two-door sedan after the 1969 model year, all U.S.-market Bel Airs sold between 1970 and 1975 were four-door sedans or station wagons—the latter carrying the Townsman nameplate from 1969 to 1972 and Bel Air from 1973 to 1975. However, a Bel Air hardtop coupe—based on the Impala Sport Coupe body—was sold in Canada from 1970 to 1975. This body even had a roofline similar to the original '66-67 Caprice coupe style for 1974–1975.
Most other changes to the Bel Air during its final years were identical to the more expensive Caprice and Impala lines, some of which were mandated by government safety regulations in the U.S. that included 5 mph (8.0 km/h) front bumpers in 1973 and similar-designed rear bumpers in 1974. The 1975 models had a new roofline and (along with the Impala) grille that was a direct copy of the 1974 Caprice front end. Inside, there were new instrument cluster markings, radio and climate control graphics (the speedometer read up to 100 mph (160 km/h), and had smaller numbers for kilometers per hour). Customers could buy their 1975 Bel Air with two new options: an Econominder gauge package (which included a gauge that monitored fuel economy, due in part to growing demands for fuel economy as well as a temperature gauge) and intermittent wipers.
In 1975, Consumer Reports tested a Bel Air four-door sedan with the 350 V8 engine and Turbo Hydramatic against other U.S.-built full-sized cars of that period including the Pontiac Catalina, Ford LTD and Plymouth Gran Fury. Although the car performed well in its tests and placed second to the Pontiac, Consumer Reports pointed out the Bel-Air had less noise insulation and a less-comfortable rear seat than its higher-priced siblings, and that a comparably equipped Chevrolet Impala (with additional sound insulation, and upgraded upholstery and seat padding, a $203 premium over the Bel-Air) "would be even closer to the Pontiac in overall quality." Even so, the magazine stated that—for instance—the Bel-Air was "only slightly noisier than the Pontiac". Consumer Reports concluded in its report that prospective buyers should pay the extra $200 or so to upgrade to the costlier Impala, noting advantages such as greater resale value and interior-exterior appointments more comparable to the other tested full-sized vehicles.
The last Bel Airs for the U.S. were manufactured for 1975. For 1976, a lower-trimmed Impala "S" four-door sedan was a one-year offering which had less standard equipment than regular Impalas and functioned as a replacement for the Bel Air.
- engine: V8
- capacity: 5700 cc
- horsepower: 180 HP
- gearbox: 4+1
- top speed: 170 km/h