If there is one single car, one single model year that best symbolizes the 1950s in the United States – and Canada for that matter – it has to be the 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air. Based on the 150 Chevrolet Series, the Bel Air was Chevrolet’s top of the line for that year. It was available in two- and foor door hardtops configuration, as well as a station wagon called the Nomad, and of course as a very stylish convertible, with optional power roof. Design wise, the Bel Air is the 50s, distilled into its purest form. It has fins, of course, but they are actually quite restrained compared to its contemporaries, and the car has a low and long look without actually being that enormous. Put simply, it was a car that would appeal to just about everyone, young and old, and well into the future.
Several engines were offered, from a straight-six cylinder engine with 185 horsepower, to the excellent 285 horsepower, 4.6-liter V8, which also appeared in the Corvette that year. Equipped with the big engine, the Bel Air was a very fast car, with a 0-60 time of 8 seconds, and a 125 miles per hour top speed. Unfortunately but unsurprisingly, the biggest engine was a $500 option – a lot of money at the time – and it found few takers.
In terms of truly classic cars, the 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air is the only one worth talking about. While it stayed in production for years afterwards, it quickly turned into nothing more than another oversized, wallowing barge, the clean, simple and elegant lines of the 1957 model long forgotten.