In 1958, a Bel Air trim line was launched – and the rest is history: the Impala lasted one year as the range-topping Bel Air option before becoming a distinct car. One that rewrote American automotive history with its competition-crushing production numbers. Meanwhile, the inceptor Bel Air soldiered on, averaging almost 600,000 units annually between 1953 and 1958.
That says something about the iconic model – it is not, in any way, shape, or form, a rarity. But it doesn’t mean it is in any way less appealing just because its all-time production numbers pull seven-figure volumes. For instance, the second generation, built between 1955 and 1957, totaled over 2.2 million Bel Airs.
It also pointed out another preference of the New World gearheads – the automobile with two rows of seats instead of just one. Ironically, the sportscar from the same manufacturer – and the only American sportscar that mattered, in all fairness – almost committed suicide in 1955. The Corvette barely managed to push 700 units down showroom floors.
To be historically accurate, that same year also brought us the Ford Thunderbird, which, while also a two-seat concoction, didn’t claim sporty attributes. And remember that even the famous ‘personal luxury automobile’ wasn’t flooding the market with its two-door, two-occupant architecture. It was from 1958 onward that the T-bird caught air under its wings and made bean counters really proud.
With so many units overspilling on America’s roads – the highway system was still a plan in 1955 – it’s pleasantly satisfying to see the Chevrolet Bel Air continuing to pose such a hypnotic magnetism on gearheads after seven decades. This example starring in the video attached to this story belonged to a man who kept it from his teen years (when it was his high school driver) until December 2021.
That’s when he sold his beloved Chevy – after a four-decade ownership – to a brother of one of his high school buddies, Tony Munao, smiling proudly next to the ’55. With 43,000 original miles (just over 69,000 clicks) at the time of sale and a long-time custodian to look after it, the Bel Air was already in great shape before it changed hands.
While it isn’t all blueprint-correct, his ’55 is by no means a disappointment – and this statement is based on the fact that, despite not following the broadcast sheet specs, the Chevy is a head-turner. The most obvious not-true-to-the-assembly-line difference is the dual carburetion of the inline-six motor. The Bel Air of 1955 didn’t have that – all the more the six-cylinder versions – but it was a popular day-two mod that many people used to get more out of the cost-friendly engine.
Two powerplants were offered for the ‘55s – a 235.5-cubic-inch Six (3.9-liter) and the new-for-the-year 265 V8 (4.3 liters). Depending on the transmission, the Six was tuned to either 123 hp for the three-speed manual (either conventional or with overdrive) or 136 hp when coupled to the two-speed Powerglide and its torque converter. The V8, by the way, came with 162 hp as standard, with a two-barrel carb. However, a special Plus-Power Package offered 180 hp from a four-barrel carburetor, a modified intake manifold, and a dual exhaust.
As for the renovated 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air, it sure does make the Bowtie proud. Yes, the money-making division of General Motors has some great names to brag about, from the Corvette to the Camaro and from the Impala to the Suburban. But the Bel Air can rightfully sit at the brand’s high table with just as much right as all the other Chevy icons, and this particular example is one of the reasons.