Chevrolet Bel Air 1953


Chevrolet Bel Air 1953


Chevrolet Bel Air 1953

  • Origin United States of America
  • Engine 3,859 cc, straight-six
  • Top speed 87 mph (140 km/h)

A quarter of a million Bel Air sedans, Chevrolet's luxury model, were made in 1953, helped by competitive pricing and attractive styling with increasing amounts of chrome. Though the 1953 Chevrolet line was mostly new and redesigned, designers just couldn't seem to shake some of their old ideas.

Appearing more modern than the nice looking but now dated 1949-1952 models, the new Chevrolets nonetheless retained their upright, almost boxy stance, and the reminders of rear fenders were still apparent four years after the primary competition, Ford, had gone to slab-side body designs. Plymouth did away with the separate rear fender for its own 1953 models. This isn't to say that all was old school. New features appearing on the 1953 line included one-piece curved windshields, one-piece wraparound rear windows (on some models), optional power steering, ignition key starting (as opposed to the pushbutton of earlier models), and highercompression six-cylinder engines. And, just to make sure that everyone knew these Chevys were new, all-new model designations were given. Replacing the former Special was the low-priced 150 Special line. The prior DeLuxe was now the 210 DeLuxe. The new addition to the big Chevy line was the 240 Bel Air. The numbers designated their model numbers, but for whatever reason, Chevrolet chose to advertise them as the "One-Fifty," "Two-Ten" and "Bel Air" respectively, and that is the way they are presented here, as these are the names by which most enthusiasts know them.

Frontal styling was similar to recent model years, yet totally new. Two horizontal bars made up what appeared to be an oval grille opening. Then a center horizontal bar, with three vertical bars and a circular parking light pod mounted to each end, filled the opening. A full wraparound bumper completed the look. Hoods sported restyled hood emblems and hood ornaments. The hood line was still higher than the front fender line, which went in a straight line the length of the car to the rear fender and taillamp. Around back, fender and trunk lines were raised, creating a more spacious luggage compartment. Taillights were of an oblong vertical design, mounted at the top of the rear fender edge, with three distinct sections: a small top-mounted taillight/brake light combo, a center reflector, and an area at the bottom that housed the optional back-up lights. Bodyside trim varied by model as described under each model section. As previously mentioned, the larger displacement 235.5 CID 6-cylinder engine was now used on all lines, while higher-compression heads that increased horsepower were used on Powerglide equipped cars. Interiors were given a fresh look with a revised instrument panel and new color choices. New 6-passenger Handyman station wagons rounded out the big Chevrolet changes, one each in the One-Fifty and Two-Ten lines.

A truly new and different model that captured the public's attention was the Corvette. The first volume production two-seat sports car ever produced by an American manufacturer was built on June 30, 1953, at the Flint, Michigan, assembly plant. The history of the Corvette is quite well documented elsewhere, so only a brief synopsis follows. Originally appearing as General Motors' dream car EX-122 in 1952, the Corvette was so well received that work began immediately to put the car into production, essentially unaltered from its show car appearance. Utilizing a fiberglass body, special chassis tuning, and a Blue-Flame 6-cylinder engine with three one-barrel carburetors transmitting through a Powerglide automatic, the Corvette presented an image of performance, even if it was not the high-powered sports car some had expected. That would come later.

An original run of 300 units were mostly hand-assembled for the 1953 model year. During the first year, assembly was moved to the St. Louis, Missouri, plant, which would be the Corvette's home for the next 28 years. Styling was low-slung and sleek with features such as a wraparound windshield and a low mounted oval shaped grille with thirteen vertical "teeth" mounted on a center horizontal bar. Small, blade-type bumpers protected the fenders front and rear, with center mounted grille guards. Simple trim and script adorned the sides. In true sports car style, the original Corvette did not use side windows or exterior door handles, but did have a full display of gauges and bucket seating for two, with a center, floor-mounted transmission shifter. All first year Corvettes were painted Polo White with red interiors. It was an auspicious beginning, and over 50 years later, "America's only true production sports car" (to quote a 1972 advertising slogan) is still with us.