Curbside Classic: 1964 Chevrolet Bel Air Wagon – Love Transcends All

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(first posted 1/6/2012)    Why was and is the ’64 Chevy so commonly loved? Well, it’s not because of its willowy X-frame, crappy drum brakes, Powerglide, undersized tires, funky seating position, vague and slow steering, wallowing handling, or any other objective quality. Let’s face it, by 1964, its 1958 underpinnings were obsolete. Yet who doesn’t feel emotions well up when confronted with one, even a battered old survivor like this one? It’s America’s sweetheart, and it’s not polite to talk ill about her. Nobody’s perfect. Maybe that’s its secret.

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Chevys were embraced for decades, because…everyone else drove one. It’s like kids; we may all think we want our kids to grow up to be President, but deep down we just want them to fit in, be well adjusted, and most of all, be loved. Despite their inevitable lack of perfection. And ours. So folks just got a Chevy wagon, and half the battle was won right there. Nobody spoke ill about a Chevy, so that was hopefully going to rub off a bit.

Well, life isn’t quite so simple anymore. In 1964, a Chevy wagon could be driven by anyone, whether it was a pinko college professor with a couple of kids, or a John Bircher with half a dozen. The prof would trade it in a couple of years for a VW Squareback, to his kids’ annoyance. But this was 1964: the last year before the sixties really kicked into high gear of the old Interstellar Powerglide.

Of course it’s iffy to pick 1964 as the exact watershed year. Obviously, things had been brewing for years. But it exploded in 1964. The Beatles arrived, and so did long hair. The youth culture now become the predominant one; a passing of the torch (song). And how many Chevys were traded in for a brand new Mustang? The kids will survive somehow in its cramped rear seat.

Coincidentally, or not, the 1964 Chevy was the end of one road, literally. And no, it’s Jet-Smooth ride wasn’t going to fly anymore. It was grounded; the world was changing too quickly.

Instead of “See The USA” it was “See More Skin”. The times they were a changing, quickly.

No, Chevy love didn’t magically disappear in 1965. But those bulging hips…there was a suggestion of overt sexiness that hadn’t ever been there before; the new Chevy was literally busting out of its formerly chaste suit.

The ’64 reeks of the “good old days” as if that mythological place really ever existed. But myths are often more powerful than reality, and the ’64 Chevy is an icon of it. Or more like an altar to it.

The myth, that is. Just don’t look to closely, because like all myths, it’s full of holes. But we don’t really want to see them or hear about that. Bring on the love, of a time when we all rode happily in our ’64 Chevy wagons, or our neighbors’, or Grandpa’s. Or just imagined we once did. Or hope we once will. But before it rusted out.

Does the kid who owns this one have memories he’s preserving? Or is it just cool, because it is? Which it is, and always has been.

Isn’t the ’64 Chebbie the original low-rider? It was a natural for the role, given how those Jet-Smooth coil springs were notorious for losing about a half-inch of their ride height every year. Every ’64 Chevy was a low rider, after a couple of seasons. And why do you think low-riders have such skinny tires?

It’s a love affair, anyway you look at it. Never has a dashboard offered such a sweeping vista, yet with so little content. A fitting metaphor.

But in a sea of little Japanese cars near the campus, this wagon stands out proudly, a survivor of another epoch. An era about which this kid has heard plenty about, but can’t begin to grasp its full reality. One either lived during the time of the ’64 Chevy’s reign, or didn’t. But the allure is still there, presumably. Love transcends all. Even crappy GM starters.