COAL Capsule: 1963 Chevy Bel Air

01 63 Chev Bel AirDad’s ‘63 Bel Air and Mom’s ‘64 Falcon

Some have opined that the dividing line between Detroit eras, old and new, was 1963.  I find 1957 a more pivotal point for Detroit’s offerings, as it was the last time Chevy or Ford offered a full-size car that comfortably seated six and didn’t stretch two city blocks.

In 1963 my father was transferred from Mobil Oil de Mexico to Mobil Oil Caribe, in San Juan, PR. Goodbye Mercedes 190; hello, ‘63 Chevy Bel Air with three on the tree, the new 230 cu in inline six and manual everything.

The Bel Air was a nice looking car, especially in Ivy Green. It didn’t have the overdone exterior or interior trim of the Impala, but it did have full carpeting and was quite comfortable for our family of five. In my own private testing, it was quite capable of laying endless amounts of rubber from its Atlas Bucron tires (from a 230 six? -Ed). However, I preferred Mom’s Falcon. It’s doors closed with a thunk, and its unit body was far tighter than the Chevy’s, though my dates couldn’t have cared less.


Model year 1963 was probably the last year that the full-size Chevy and Ford offerings were seen as desirable performance machines by up-and-coming street thugs. The ‘64s had grown increasingly baroque, and the mid-sized offerings from Dodge and Plymouth had an advantage in the quarter-mile, spawning competitors efforts by Ford’s Thunderbolt and Mercury’s Cyclone–and of course, Pontiac, with the GTO. The biggies were closing in on the final curtain.

Aside from styling, the 1964 full-size lineups from both Chevy and Ford were pretty much carried over from the previous year; 1965 would see more meaningful changes as Ford abandoned rear leaf springs and introduced its LTD, the harbinger of the Brougham era.

02 63 Chevy SS

This photo has been in my scrapbook a long time, although I didn’t take it and don’t know how I came to have it. In any case, this ’63 Impala SS makes for a good farewell picture of the full-size performance car. Nose-up attitude, no hubcaps, and some “in your face” name painted above the engine emblem that probably read “409.”

03 Malcolm DurhamA Legend in His Time (photo by Malcolm Durham)

One of the drag racers who made his name with ‘63 Chevys was Malcolm Durham, a Hyattsville, Maryland transplant originally from North Carolina. Durham , an icon in the Washington, DC area, not only built this Chevy and others, but also drove them, beating such luminaries as Grumpy Jenkins and Ronnie Sox. The Strip Blazer shown is more than likely an RPO Z11 427, which was the apotheosis of the 409 “W” engine series and not the 427 Mark II Z33 Mystery Motor, with which Junior Johnson shocked the NASCAR boys at Daytona in ’63.

Durham, who ranks 48th among the NHRA’s top 50 drivers, has been referred to as “the Jackie Robinson of Drag Racing.”. He died in 2006.