Chevrolet BelAir ’57

The 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air is one of America’s most iconic vehicles. It’s right up there with the Ford Mustang and Chevrolet Corvette. Even people who aren’t into cars know what a ‘57 Chevy is. Perhaps you’ve seen one at a local classic car show or in a movie or are just curious about the origins of this legend. Read on as we reveal the details that make the 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air so special.

The Beginner’s Guide To The 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air

The 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air is one of America’s most iconic vehicles. It’s right up there with the Ford Mustang and Chevrolet Corvette. Even people who aren’t into cars know what a ‘57 Chevy is. Perhaps you’ve seen one at a local classic car show or in a movie or are just curious about the origins of this legend. Read on as we reveal the details that make the 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air so special.

Bel Air Basics

We cover the differences from early Chevrolets later on, but it’s essential to know that the 1957 Chevrolet was available in three trims: the base 150, the mid-level 210, and the top-tier Bel Air. The Bel Air gets all of the attention as it boasts the most features and distinctive accents. Given the Bel Air’s looks and equipment, it was often referred to as the poor man’s Cadillac.

While many associates the Bel Air with a two-door body style, this Chevy was available in different configurations.

  • Convertible
  • Sport Coupe and Sedan (a two-door hardtop without the pillar in between the side windows)
  • Two-Door and Four-Door Sedan (these models have the center pillar)
  • Four-Door Wagon (a three-row wagon configured for nine passengers)
  • Nomad Station Wagon (a two-door, six-passenger wagon)

The Bel Air also shared General Motors’ A-body platform with the Pontiac Chieftain. Collectors who find themselves getting priced out of the ‘57 Chevy market often turn to the Chieftain as a less expensive way of owning a GM classic.

1955, 1956, or 1957: Spotting the Differences

Red Chevrolet Nomad
Image by GM Heritage Center

The second generation of Chevrolet’s full-size (A-body) model lasted just three short model years (1955-1957)—these cars are sometimes referred to as the Chevy Tri-Five. Unlike today where there can be little to no difference between model years, Chevy made each year of the second-gen series distinctive. This was primarily to keep up with archrival Ford.

Notably, the Bel Air trim was available all three years, but it’s easy to spot the differences. To begin with, the 1955 Bel Air has more protruding headlights, a more narrow grille that does not extend to the entire width of the car, and teardrop-shaped parking lights placed directly below the headlights. In addition, the front end of the hood is more rounded.

For 1956, the Bel Air can be identified by a full-width grille with integrated parking lights below the headlights and a more vertical front end of the hood with an integrated “V” at the center. Plus, the ‘56 has unique side trim with a painted center that runs most of the car’s length.

Chevrolet goes over the top with the 1957 Bel Air to distinguish it from earlier models and those of other GM divisions and Ford and Chrysler. Begin by looking for the Chevy bowtie emblem at the center of the grille (not on the hood). Next, you’ll notice twin “rockets” on the hood instead of the single jet that sits on the hoods of 1955 and 1956 Bel Airs. You’ll also find that the headlights have a more protruding eyebrow than 1956 (even more so than the ‘55).

Most significantly, the elaborate chrome front bumper with a torpedo accent under each headlight is another giveaway that you’re looking at in 1957. And, of course, exaggerated vertical tails fins are another way of contrasting the ‘57 against older models.

What Makes The 1957 Chevy Bel Air So Special?

1957 Chevrolet Nomad
Image by GM Heritage Center

The ‘57 Bel Air is a standout today because of its ability to remind people of simpler times and look that appears in sharp contrast to today’s vehicles that often seem so similar. Yet, back in 1956 (when the ‘57 first went on sale), the Bel Air was all the rage thanks to a combination of unique features that went beyond the signature styling.

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