(first posted 9/12/2014) At some point, everything reaches critical mass. When it comes to physical size, American car makers hit theirs in the 1970s. This event is either marked with glee or despair, depending upon perspective.
In retrospect, the hefty size of these B-bodies makes some degree of sense for the context of their introduction during the first Nixon Administration. With construction of the interstate highway system in full-swing in many places in late 1970, combined with the sheer amount of open land mass in the United States (for comparison, England is a smidgeon larger in land mass than Louisiana and New Zealand is roughly the size of Colorado), large cars seemed a natural extension of big infrastructure projects and other related endeavors. Besides, who wanted to be cramped inside a small car traveling through great expanses of land, especially when fuel was cheap and plentiful?
Owning a big car was as American as baseball, apple pie, and, well, Chevrolet. Think of these B-bodies as being the crew cab pickups of their day–big, bold, and able to do pretty much everything thrown at them. Chevrolet wheelbases reflected the optimism; up 2.5 inches for sedans and growing a whopping 6 inches to a grand total of 125 inches (3,175 mm) on the wagons like this one. Back then if you needed a big car, any budget constraints heavily influenced the trim level of your purchase; today, the same constraints tend to influence physical size. The Bel-Air wagon was an ideal choice for those in the know who watched their pennies.
Despite auspicious beginnings in 1953, the Bel-Air nameplate was the bottom-feeder of the 1975 full-size Chevrolet family, and had been since the skinflint Biscayne name was unceremoniously jettisoned in 1972. This dubious bottom rung distinction was so pronounced Chevrolet itself didn’t seem overly anxious about broadcasting its existence, with only minute recognition of the model in factory brochures. It just makes sense; don’t tell the customer about a particular model and they will be unknowingly forced to buy the higher trim model that makes you more money. Save printing costs, make better profits by up selling on the retail side, and dump the poverty model into all those government fleets.
Nobody really pays much attention to those government cars, do they? Build all the police departments and assorted agencies an el-cheapo wagon or sedan, please them with the durability and price, and net yourself some nifty tax breaks for your sales to government entities. It’s a win-win.
With all this talk of bargain basement wagons, how plentiful is this 1975 Bel-Air wagon? The answer isn’t so easy. There were just over 13,000 Bel-Air sedans produced for the 1975 model year, accounting for 4.4% of the entire production of full-sized Chevrolet sedans. There were 58,500 wagons of all trim levels manufactured, so assuming the same rate of production for Bel-Air wagons, one can imagine about 2,575 (give or take) were built. To put this in context, Chevrolet built over 8,300 Caprice convertibles in 1975.
Fleet vehicles–which most of these likely were–aren’t exactly known for having long, carefree lives. Combine forty years of use and abuse along with low production numbers, and it makes for an exciting find of a nearly extinct model.
How many saw fleet use? A bunch, and I would imagine the mailbox-quality letters used here indicate this Bel-Air was one of them, likely in a small municipal, county, or school district fleet. Appearing like it may have left the care and love of the Chevrolet factory in white, one can imagine this old girl spending her fleet days being used and passed around like facial tissue in a funeral home.
Finding this car was a prime example of the CC Effect. Back in May, Perry wrote a piece about a ’75 Bel-Air wagon he found on e-Bay. Right at ninety minutes after his piece appeared, I found this car in the small town of Fayette, Missouri. When I posted the leading picture in the comment section, there was a justifiable degree of astonishment. This car supports my personal theory that nearly any car, no matter how rare, can be found with enough luck and looking in the right place.
Besides, just a few miles away was the previous source of another good wagon find, this 1960 Plymouth two-door wagon. There are many treasures simply waiting to be found.
This car is perhaps one of the roughest I have ever captured. It is all so endearing in its bruises and callouses, much like the town mutt that always has a bald spot on its hide from some recent fight. Despite it having who knows how many maladies, you want to make sure it is receiving some degree of care and nurture.
Sadly, care and nurture are two items of unknown quantity on this old Bel-Air. Rare is the time I have any compunctions about taking pictures of cars, but this photography session was giving me some bad vibes. Was it due to the interior’s deplorable condition, looking like a rolling landfill? It had a really weird aura about it. This was one car where I didn’t dawdle in getting my pictures and getting the hell out. It’s weird how such things happen.
Maybe all was well and my imagination got the better of me. I have been by this area at least four times since and this Bel-Air was nowhere to be found. Perhaps my not seeing it again is a very good indicator this old Bel-Air is getting some small amount of attention so it can keep working hard to earn its keep.