The buzz words in the Chevy ad campaigns for the newly styled 1955 Bel-Air were “The Hot One,” and the car did create some hot controversy among enthusiasts. This full-sized Chevrolet got full marks for handling from Motor Trend, while Popular Mechanics liked the comfort, quick acceleration, and excellent visibility the hot one offered. The car was well-liked by consumers also, but the horn ring obscured part of the speedometer. The first examples of this early 265 (4.3L) V8 small-block engine burned too much oil, and they all ran poorly on regular low-octane gasoline.
The engine was the first V8 in a Chevrolet product since Chevy joined GM in 1917. Although in its second year of production in ’55, the engine design was the first of its kind. Almost all GM engineered large- and small block-engines, spanning the next three or four decades, had roots that extend back to this 265. The entry-level Bel Air looked sharp with clean fresh body styling, although purists had mixed feelings about the Ferrari-inspired front clip, particularly the grille. For the folks who didn’t like to read gauges, the new Bel Air came equipped with “idiot lights” to do away with the mundane task of evaluating them, and car enthusiasts of the time scorned them.
1955 Bel Air Nomad
The more uptown models had carpeting throughout, stainless-steel window moldings, full wheel covers, and decorative chromed spears on each front fender with the hard-top models sporting chrome headliner bands. This was the first year for air conditioning as an option, and the V8 engine had a beefed-up alternator to handle the increased load for models so equipped. A two-barrel carburetor on the 265 engine in a ’55 Bel Air coupled to the two-speed Powerglide automatic transmission will do 0-60 mph (97 km/h) in 12.9 seconds.
This entry-level V8 featured overhead valves, a short stroke, and high compression, delivering 162 bhp (121 kW), but if you optioned the Power Pack, a four-barrel would increase the output to 180 bhp (130 kW), or the ultimate power in ’55 was the Super Power Pack (introduced mid-year) with a higher compression 265 and the four-barrel produced 195 bhp (145 kW). The transmissions available are the optional two-speed Powerglide or the three-speed Synchro-mesh manual with an overdrive gear added for increased highway fuel economy.
The most expensive unit in ’66 was the Nomad wagon with a sticker price of $2,608, but there were only 7,886 units. The entry-level six-cylinder Bel Air had a base price of $2,025. Optional equipment on the table in ’57 included a rain-sensing automatic top, a padded dashboard and seat belts. Popular Mechanics did a survey on the ’56 Bel Air and found only 7.4 percent of new owners chose to order seat belts that year.
1957 Bel Air
The big news for the 1957 Bel Air was the 265 was worked to 283 cubic inches (4.6L). Most ’57 Bel Airs had a carburetor for the Super Turbo Fire 283 V8, but a very rare option was the closed-loop, mechanically fuel-injected version (Fuelie) that produced 283hp (211 kW). The transmissions for ’57 included the three-speed manual, the two-speed Powerglide, and the new three-speed Turboglide with a continuously variable gear ratio with an almost undetectable shift. The entire three years of the G2 Bel Air, known by enthusiasts today as the TriFives, are very collectible, while the ’57 (image below) is possibly the most widely recognized Chevy ever made.