Monday, June 27, 2011

1957 Chevrolet Bel Air

As an icon of its age, the 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air ranks right alongside Elvis, Marilyn Monroe, and Leave It to Beaver -- curious for a mass-market car in the last year of a three-year cycle. Nevertheless, these Chevys struck a chord that resonates to this day -- even among those born long after the cars were built.
Of course, there were plenty of reasons to like the '57 Chevys. Though styling was only another facelift of '55, it looked great: longer-lower-wider thanks to prominent new tailfins, a switch from 15- to 14-inch wheels, and a big new bumper/grille. Ribbed rear-fender appliqu├ęs readily identified top-line Bel Airs, including the $2511 convertible.

Far more exciting, Chevy's 265 V-8 was punched out to 283 cubic inches and offered in no fewer than six versions with 185 to 283 horsepower. The latter came from newly optional Ramjet fuel injection, which made for near racing-level performance right off the showroom floor. Chevrolet advertised it as the first American production car to achieve the magic goal of "one horsepower from every cubic inch of engine displacement," though the Chrysler 300B's optional engine actually beat it by one year. Even a four-barrel 270-bhp model could run 0-60 mph in well under 10 seconds.

But perhaps the main reason for the '57s' enduring mystique is that they were the last of the "Hot Ones," arguably the most attractive and roadable Chevys of the decade. As the song says, you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone.

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