Cars We Love: 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air

1957 Chevrolet Bel Air

Some cars, if they have an eye-catching design or sold well during their time in the spotlight, are lucky enough to achieve iconic status within the automotive community. A rare car can transcend mere automotive icon status and in the minds of the general public, that car becomes representative of a period of time, an age, if you will, in which the car was new. Few things create instant memory flashbacks of the decade known as “The Fifties” more than poodle skirts, 45 rpm records, and the ’57 Chevy Bel Air.

Chevrolet’s initial plan for 1957 was to introduce an all-new car building on the success of the 1955 and 1956 models. Delays in the new car forced Chevy management to reconsider their decision at the last minute and go to plan ‘B’ – a full face-lift of the 1956 Chevrolet. Designers kept the rear deck lid, the roof, and the doors from the ’56 and proceeded to fulfill legendary designer Harley Earl’s desire for the ’57 to look “as big as possible.”

Clare MacKichan, who oversaw the design, remembers that the whole team was under great pressure to differentiate the ’57 from the previous model. Designer Bob Cumberford looks back on the 84-hour work weeks during the crash design program and remembers that no one who worked on the car liked the design.

1957 Chevrolet Bel Air

Yet when the 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air was unveiled on December 8, 1956, the designers had succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. In addition to its looks, the Chevy offered two V8 engines, a 283 CID that had the first American production fuel-injection system as an option, and a 265 CID V8, along with a six-cylinder engine producing 140 horsepower. In addition, a buyer could choose from two manual transmissions or two automatic transmissions. The car was available in more than 20 exterior colors, and with an option list a mile long, could be tailored to the exact wishes of the buyer.

Chevrolet sold over 700,000 1957 Bel Airs – but it was only the second-best selling model in the Chevrolet lineup. The top sales honor went to the mid-line 210 four-door sedan. But the 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air had the last laugh – to many people, car fans or not, it represents a period of time that still stirs their memories.









Photos by Greg Gjerdingen and Tracie Hall

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