(first posted 2/21/2013) The storied Bel Air name is mostly remembered for the glamorous 1955-1957 models. As a top line model it was dripping with flashy chrome, but the name ended its run in 1981 in Canada on something much more pedestrian, as a poverty-trim companion to the downsized Caprice/Impala.
The Bel Air name started its life affixed to a faux convertible-look hardtop in 1950. For 1953, Chevrolet changed the naming on its bread and butter sedans, starting with 150, then 210, and the Bel Air at the top. Given its stature as the aspirational model, the Bel Air had plenty of chrome loaded on inside and out. Full carpeting and wheel covers, as well as Bel Air badges made them easy to spot against its badge-less, lower priced siblings.
The famous Tri-Five Chevrolets of 1955-1957 continued with the Bel Air still being the glitzy model. Being one of the most iconic classic cars of all time, volumes have been written on them so I don’t think I need to add anymore than that.
In 1958 the Chevrolets became much bigger and lower, and the Bel Air also lost its spot as top dog to the Impala, initially available only as a hardtop coupe and convertible. The low end spots previously held by the 150 and 210 were renamed Delray and Biscayne. For 1959 Bel Air was definitely the mid line option with the Delray named dropped, and Biscayne was the new bottom rung. A full range of Impalas were firmly ensconced at the top.
Refreshed again for 1961, the Bel Air was again the mid level option but as the years moved on the Biscayne and Bel Air became closer and closer in base specification. By 1964 only a chrome strip and a hundred dollars separated them. Bel Airs generally were optioned better though.
A restyle came again in 1965 with the same pecking order; Biscayne, Bel Air, Impala. The Bel Air was differentiated by a bit more trim, lit glove box and of course a fender script. Half way through 1965 another change came with the introduction of the Caprice. Initially the Caprice was merely luxury trim package on top of the Impala hardtop but for 1966 became the top model across the B-body line. As the sixties wore on, the Biscayne was mostly sold to fleets, and the Bel Air was essentially the consumer base car offering a few more comforts than the sparsely equipped Biscayne. In 1969 Bel Airs sold in the US lost the two door body style and soldered on with four door and station wagon styles.
The 1970s brought another style makeover for the 1971 model year. The Biscayne lasted for just the first two years before being discontinued, leaving the Bel Air as the new base model. One could even buy a straight six and manual transmission equipped Bel Air up until 1974. After 1975, the Bel Air was dropped in the US, but soldiered on for tight-wallet Canadians.
For 1977 the dramatically downsized B-Body Caprice and Impala arrived. For Canada, the market for a big and basic car was still viable, so the Bel Air continued as the base model. On the Pontiac B-body side they offered the basic Pontiac Laurentian as a comparable base model to the more glitzy Parisienne (more or less equivalent to the US Bonneville). Ford still offered their low-end Custom 500 as well as the Mercury Marquis Meteor.
The venerable 250cid inline six engine was even offered again, with 305, 350 or 400 cid V8s available at additional cost. For 1980 the inline six was swapped out for a 229cid V6, or a small 267cid V8. The 305cid V8, now with a four barrel carburetor, became the top gasoline engine that preferred to burn fuel instead of rubber. An Oldsmobile 350cid V8 diesel could also be selected, at one’s peril. Sadly, for ultimate cheapskates the manual gearbox and Powerglide did not return, with the Turbo Hydramatic three speed automatic now standard. Power brakes with discs at the front were standardized as well as power steering. Small hubcaps were standard, but our car today wears optional full wheel covers.
It doesn’t get much more basic than this, in the Brougham Era. It’s hard to tell from this angle, but the instrument cluster consists of fuel gauge, speedometer/odometer and the third circle is just a blanking plate. Just out of frame on the glove-box is the Bel Air script just in case your passenger needed a reminded on how cheap you are.
Out back, someone had added dual exhausts, eliminating the possibility of inline six propulsion. I actually saw this exact car at the local swap meet over the weekend, and the sign on it advertised it was a 305cid V8 with headers and dual exhaust. No doubt that provided a much better soundtrack than the AM radio.
The same note claimed just under 100K kms, which is slightly less than 60K original miles. By the condition of the car I’d have no reason to question that. It may have been a base car when new, but it has obviously been well cared for over the years. Even the vacant front license plate holder is still there twenty-two years after being made redundant in this province.
The signature “bent glass” rear window certainly rates a mention. Offered from 1977-1979 only the window was created by bending a single piece of glass over a hot wire. This ad is for a Caprice has plenty more trim than our feature car.
The glass fast back certainly adds quite a bit of style to this Bel Air along with the two tone look provided by the padded roof. I shudder to think how much a replacement would be if it ever broke though.
Given its humble origins, it’s rather surprising that this basic, brown car still comes off more as a beauty than a beast.
That 65 looks a lot like my Vauxhall Cresta PC.Let’s have more Canadian cars please,a lot of American cars sold in the UK when i was a kid were made in Canada.Great find and a great article,thanks David.
While some people will always prefer a more basic car, I always wondered why someone felt the need to spend the money to buy a new car then an absolute bare basement model. Not that a low option Impala wasn’t already basic enough, but these days if you cannot afford a new car you just buy one that is a year old you can step up and get a much better price.
Another thing I noted on the subject car is the use of the older style steering wheel while most if not all US spec models got the new two spoke design that was ubiquitous on almost all Chevys until airbags.
I remember when the B coupes came out with the bent hot wire formed rear glass it was a big deal on relatively low end Chevrolet especially since the Toronado XSR made a big deal about it during those years. I know it was expensive to replace I remember seeing an invoice for glass back in the $80s for like $400.
Back then you would regularly find oddly optioned cars. A neighbor near my parents had a beautiful 70s era Caprice Coupe in an attractive navy blue paint white top white interior with no options except cruise control (factory).
That steering wheel was on all ’77s in both countries, at least according to the brochures.
The “drop spoke” steering wheel was new for ’78. I had a loaded ’77 Caprice, and it had the same wheel as the subject car.
That looks like the steering wheel that was in my Chevelle. The subject car’s steering wheel looks like a recycled older one maybe just for the Canadian market.
All 1977 Chevrolet B bodies had this steering wheel; the drop spoke came out in 1978.
“While some people will always prefer a more basic car, I always wondered why someone felt the need to spend the money to buy a new car then an absolute bare basement model. Not that a low option Impala wasn’t already basic enough, but these days if you cannot afford a new car you just buy one that is a year old you can step up and get a much better price. “
I can think of several reasons.
First, to ensure a proper break-in and proper care. People with money enough to buy a new car and dump it in 12 months often don’t see a need to invest in unseen maintenance – particularly oil changes.
Then…there’s road-salt exposure. Even if you intend to use the car through the winter, YOU will be hosing the car down if it’s a long-term purchase.
Finally…some folks don’t fee good about bright trim and labels announcing it’s the ASPIRATIONAL brand – and you paid X hundred dollars more for that chrome trim and different taillights.
I for one like this car. I never saw the point of spending money on bling; but I like this generation of two-doors. Had they had an American Bel Air, I might have bought one in 1978 – instead of my el cheapo Chevette.
I like a basic car too. If long term ownership is in the cards then there will be less to go wrong with it down the road. My Mazda 2 GX is Canadian only base level trim with black door handles and mirrors. I really didn’t want many if any options. The only ones I got were A/C (more for resale than anything) and a block heater. I could have done without the infernal power locks if they had even offered manual ones. Power steering and windows could have gone too as far I as I was concerned.
As a result it is one of the lightest new cars around at 1051kg/2317lbs (5spd w/AC). Reminds me of an updated version of my old Nissan Micra. Not an overwhelming amount of power but very willing and toss-able in the corners.
Years ago, when cars didn’t have today’s Japanese-style reliability, buying a used car was synonymous with “buying trouble”. So there was a definite market for a bare bones new car, guaranteeing that you’d at least get one year’s use before the problems started. Hopefully. Plus, quite frankly, new car ownership was a lot more important back then. Buying used was a public sign that you weren’t financially well off.
I remember those days well. My best freind’s father was bragging to us that he just bought a car with the biggest fins on the road. We were both about six or seven years old at the time. When it showed up in his driveway (despite my tender years) I saw that he had nothing to brag about. It was a 59 Impala and the 60’s had been out for ages. How times have changed.
Syke, you are spot on with that assessment. Our family wasn’t rich by any means, but we were, I suppose, pretty well off. My Dad was fairly frugal, and occasionally, he’d look at a late model used car if it was interesting. Case in point, in 1971, while looking for a new station wagon he test drove (and as an 11-12 year old I liked the) ’70 Buick Estate Wagon and the gold over gold ’68 Chrsyler Town and Country Wagon. Ulitmately, being the first week of October, 1971, he got a real good deal on a ’71 Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser (455 4-bbl, BTW). However, in the day, my parents had friends who bought used.
One memory I have in particular about an used car in the day concerned some good friends of theirs; the husband was the head mechanic at an independent garage. They came to our house shortly after the new Olds purchase in their newly acquired ’62 Ford Country Squire. In retrospect, I recall it was a very well cared for, cherry car, but in my young mind and that of my peers, if you bought a used car as your primary car, it meant you couldn’t afford a ‘new’ car. How times change! The used car market is the hottest market and many people, especially those of good incomes, prefer to buy used. Almost-new-car warranties and the first 1-3 years depreciation makes for big long terem savings.
Truth to that. I remember my mom’s best friend’s husband would insist on buying a new Pontiac every two years, even though that wasn’t the optimal use of the money. He just couldn’t be seen at work driving an old car.
GM killed that golden goose when they homogenized the styling down to the point where you needed an expert to tell you if it was a 1978 or a 1987, or even if it was an Olds or a Chevy.
I’d wager that very few individuals bought these “bare basement” full-sized cars, and they existed mainly for fleet sales.
Outstanding writeup! Even during my 1970s kidhood, full-sized Chevys lesser than the Impala were uncommon. My impression was that Impalas and Caprices were equally common in the early 70s but as time wore on I saw more Caprices than Impalas, until Chevy finally gave up on the Impala in the 80s.
The Biscayne and Bel Air sold in decent (though steadily declining) numbers through the end of the ’60s, but both dropped off sharply around the beginning of the ’70s and weren’t long for the world after that. I think this was a combination of two things. First, over time, Chevy placed more emphasis on the high-end models, part of the trend of broughamification that was sweeping the industry at the time. Based on prior discussion here, the Biscayne wasn’t even included in the fullsize Chevy sales brochures after 1969, as if it were fit for no one other than fleet buyers. Second, over time more and more Americans were becoming accustomed to smaller (if not necessarily “small”) cars, while fullsize cars kept getting bigger and bigger. The end result was that there few people in the early ’70s for whom a cheap car this big made any sense. Most people looking for low-priced cars in 1972 were probably looking at Novas or Vegas — or going across the street to look at VWs, Toyotas or Datsuns. Of those who still wanted a relatively large but low-priced sedan, many were shopping Chevelles, which by this time were probably closer in size to a full-size Chevy from the late ’50s or early ’60s than the then-current full-size Chevys were.
Up until the 1973-74 energy crisis, the Impala always outsold the Caprice by a wide margin. Somewhere around 1976 or 1977, the Caprice took over the lead. Similar to what had happened with the Biscayne and Bel Air, I think it was a combination of Chevy placing greater emphasis on the Caprice (“Look! It’s so broughamy!”) and the demographic who bought Impalas being more heavily affected by the rise in gas prices and quicker to abandon fullsize cars for something a little bit smaller. The Impala continued to be a pretty good seller up until 1979, if secondary to the Caprice. The second energy crisis in 1979-80 drove the vast majority of the Impala’s customer base to smaller cars and reduced it to the same kind of afterthought status that the Bel Air held in the early ’70s. The Impala managed to hang on until 1985, down to just a single sedan body style in its last few years.
That mentality didn’t stop Chevrolet from offering just about every accessory in the book to dress up a Biscayne or Bel-Air. Lots of these doo-dads were not necessarily added to/ordered from the factory, but if you look at a typical 1967-70 Chevy Accessory Brochure, many of them show Biscaynes decked out in all sorts of stuff – Caprice wire wheel covers, dual remote mirrors, bumper guards and so on.
As a kid, I did see on a dealer’s lot (Campbell-Bishop Chevrolet in Corte Madera, Cal.) a new ’73 Bel Air with a black vinyl top, whitewalls, full wheel covers, left hand remote control mirror and factory air. Of course, black steering column and wheel. This looked like a poor man’s Caprice. Could’ve been (most like was) a special order that maybe the customer crapped out on (or passed away!). Either way, I remember . . . . there it was!
Fast forward factoid to 1976. Looking at a ’76 full size Chevy brochure to the U.S., what I noticed was an Impala “S” model. I suppose this would’ve been very much like a ’76 Canadian Bel Air. It had dog dish wheel covers, less sound insultation (vinyl trunk mat, no spare tire cover, based on the illustrations); vinly seats, black seat belts, steering column and wheel and the brochure listed substitution of BSW BELTED tires, instead of radials. No tinted glass.
On your 73 Bel Air with the black steering wheel, those were in Impalas too. For some reason Chevy went with black instrument clusters, steering columns and steering wheels in everything in 1971-72. According to the brochure, a color-keyed steering wheel and column was a feature exclusive to the Caprice in 1973. To a car crazy kid in the early 70s, it struck me as an overt cheap-out to give you a black steering wheel in your Impala’s blue interior.
Black dashes and steering wheels have persisted off and on in Chevrolets up to modern times. I was always believed to be a standardized thing and a cost savings thing since Chevy was always the lowest rung vehicle. It does look a bit odd on a higher end Impala and Caprice having black with an attractive interior. My 88 Chevrolet Z24 had black dash and wheel with red paint and velour interior.
1973 Monte Carlo also had a color-keyed steering wheel and column while all Chevelles stayed with black another year before going back to interior color in 1974 as did the Impalas and Camaro LTs. By 1975, only the Vegas still had all-black wheels and columns. Chevy wasn’t the only GM division doing this – all 1969-70 Cadillacs had black steering wheels and columns as did all 1971-73 Oldsmobile Toronados
All ’70 Cadillacs had black wheels and dash panels inside their extremely deep binnacles. I assumed with the new, partly mandated emphasis on safety, they were designed to reduce glare after all the glitzy chromed interiors of previous years, but it might merely have been cost-cutting, as ubiquitous black dashes and interiors (which I hate) are now. My grandmother’s ’72 Calais continued with black dash panels where higher trims got plastiwood.
The Impala ‘S’ was more-or-less a replacement for the Bel Air. As far as I know, it was only offered that one year.
Along the same lines, when the Impala went away after ’85, it was replaced by a new “base Caprice” sedan. (For many years before this, all Caprices had been sold under the “Caprice Classic” name.) I’m not sure how long the base Caprice lasted, but I’m pretty sure it was still around circa 1988-89.
When I’d visit relatives in the mid-west, low end equipped Impalas, Bel-Airs, Biscaynes (likewise for the Fords and Plymouths) seemed quite common. Although by the late 60s/early 70s, air conditioning was seen as a commonly desired option in that part of the country, many folks, including my relatives, shunned the more expensive trim models with the extra goodies. It was the “less stuff to break” frame of mind. Exception to the rule was my Grandmother, who got fancier and fanicer Mopar products loaded as the 60s into the 70’s wore on (but did NOT want power windows!!). She typically would have a loaded Dodge Monaco or Chrysler New Yorker with everything but P/W and P/L. Biggest, hottest engine.
Jim, I had a very well-to-do Great Aunt who lived in Woodside, California (the S.F. Peninsula – a very exclusive little town – Joe Montana lives there). She had major bucks but did not want to flaunt or advertise it. This is why she (as did many of her elderly also rich friends) drove Caprices or Monte Carlos. Never Cadillacs.
See, there was a day in this country when people didn’t feel the need to flaunt their wealth. I can’t tell you how many millionaires I had as neighbors in my middle-class neighborhood in the 70s and early 80s. They drove Pontiacs and lived in homes smaller than 2,000 sq. ft.
I worked for a man who (along with his brothers) founded what became a Tier 1 automotive supplier; my mother had worked for them since before my birth.
For the entire length of the time our families knew each other, the man only had “average” cars; usually a very nice Chevy (Caprice), but nothing you wouldn’t see in other upper middle class neighborhoods. He doted on his wife and she had some flavor of Sedan deVille, depending upon which year we’re speaking of.
Same deal with the house, it was in one of the ‘better’ neighborhoods, but again, average upper middle class at best. IIRC it may not have been much over 2000 square feet, as it was a brick ranch with a full basement and finished attic. His two children had a playroom in the attic, and they stored all of their clothes up there, too. If you’d never met these people but only had seen their possessions, you’d think: average.
My great-uncles had money and owned a used-car dealer in Bedford. They were the first Subaru dealer in CLE in the ’60s. They did well, but drove tons of B-bodies until they passed away in the 2000s.
Warren Buffet still drives a DTS and lives in a modest house.
My father always told me–buy a Buick. It’s a Caddy without the drama and the glitz.
The older I get (almost 47), the more I realize I gave up on Chevrolet products the year I was born.
What a nice article! I never knew these existed. For me, a 250/powerglide would’ve been perfect. Back when this car was built, so many of the strippers were very attractive.
Our 1981 Plymouth Reliant was as bare-bones a stripper as could be, but it was still a very attractive car and we loved it.
I fell in love with the 1977 Impala coupes and really wanted one, but preparing for marriage changed my priorities considerably.
I was going to guess Leyland P76 on that Clue–glad I didn’t, I was a few continents off!
I’ve always admired these B-Bodies, though they aren’t much fun. A girlfriend’s parents’ wagon with the miserably underpowered 305 was one of the cars I learned to drive in as a teenager. Boy, was that car slow. Its tall cliff of a dash made you feel about four feet tall, and reminded you that it was a big car, and not one to take liberties with.
We had an ’85 Impala sedan: manual windows and locks, plain bench seat, air conditioning, radio with no cassette deck, power steering and brakes, and not a lot more. It was a great car. The 4bbl 305 had a surprising amount of power and would throw you back in the seat when it downshifted and the secondaries kicked in. I’ve heard bad things about the Chevrolet 305 being a weak engine but the Impala had plenty of power.
After the Impala, we had an ’86 Cutlass Supreme coupe with an Oldsmobile Rocket 307 that was completely gutless. It was like night and day. Beautiful car – but very sluggish.
The 305 had it’s issues during the 70’s mainly and was stuck with a 2BBL carb in the B-body line until 1980. 1979 was the worst year for performance at only 130 HP but that number went up to 155 for 1980 with the 4BBL carb and by 1985 was up to 165 with electronic spark control and 9.5:1 compression. Any 1980 on up 305 4BBL in these cars had plenty of power for the time, especially when hitched to the 200R-4 transmission which gave it better first and send gears and usually a numerically higher rear axle ratio.
My close friend had a 1986 Caprice Classic coupe with the 305 4BBL, 200R-4 trans which was required with that engine and the optional 2.73:1 rear gears. It DID burn rubber pretty easily and that car could scoot well and had more than enough power for him at the time. If a 305 4BBL feels slow or doesn’t break the tires loose in any A/G, B or F-body then it is simply out of tune or has a clogged cat converter. I have driven loads of cars with this LG4 engine and it is not slow and easily outperformed any Olds 307 Y , Chrylser 318 2BBL or any Ford TBI motor from similar time eras.
I agree the LG4 was the best of the small displacement V8’s for performance in the early 80’s. As someone who’s owned this and a 307, the 307 was is a slug in comparison. That said, the 1986 302 MPFI was stronger than the even the high compression 305 LG4.
I know that interior well, It’s identical to my old 79 Impala, even the same color. I see this guy has the stripper model too with manual windows and the clock delete. These were not flashy cars, but they looked much better than a lot of cars running around in the late 70s, and in my experience they were build good. I’d probably still have mine if it wasn’t for an unknown car thief.
Also similar to my ’79 Malibu, in that the plastic and vinyl, presumably all the same color when new, has faded to several different shades of tan in the sun.
The “Bel Air” nameplate on the dash was black with silver lettering on a rectangular face mounted plate. If you pop the plate off, an indentation in the shape of the word “Impala” is there. On Impalas the badge was inset into the indentation, on the Bel Air the plate has long tabs that snap into the same mounting holes.
This example is missing its exterior Bel Air emblems – they were mounted at the end of the rear quarters just above the character line.
Likely been repainted.
I’d agree, the exterior doesn’t quite seem right for the interior, my car with that color interior had a copper exterior.
Here is another shot of the interior from the other side. You can just see the badge.
I spotted a cover of the 1978 full-size Canadian Chevy brochure with the mention of the Bel Air http://www.mclellansautomotive.com/literature/items/chevrolet/b28173-chevrolet-1978-brochure.php and here a picture of a 1980 Canadian Bel Air http://www.productioncars.com/gallery.php?car=15730&make=Chevrolet&model=Bel
I notice (but am not suprised) of a lower-buck interior on the Canadian Bel Air. I am assuming the level buttons down below are slide activated for an under dash vent? I don’t know as Chevies of this vintage I came across all had factory air with their vent controls up above on the dash.
I still admire that generation of GM big cars. I wish industry would go back to that more boxy paradigm – one shouldn’t need a camera to back up safely!
The BelAir seems cheap-looking only because one knows there were higher-trim models.
BTW, about that ad, many cars have rear-seat legroom that good – when the front seats are moved all the way forward!
Wow, were these Belairs really that devoid of trim? From the side this car just looks… weird. Also, the vinyl top looks really out of place.
My best friend had a ’77 Impala Coupe with a 305 in High School that he got 1 year old. Unlikely car for a high schooler, but he kept it until 1984.
I still remember a brutally frigid Saskatchewan New Years Eve 1978 when he got stuck in front of my parents house early in the evening ( inebriation not yet a factor). He attempted to gently rock it out of a rut when the THM-200 grenaded spectacularly. In my admittedly few years on the planet, I had never seen such utter destruction. The trans emitted a horrible whir and there was no forward or reverse (car had 15,000 miles on it). Luckily he had an extended warranty. Later, the work order painted a clearer picture of the mayhem inside. Many parts were replaced, including a broken output shaft.
I remember months earlier looking at the build sticker in the glove box and seeing a
THM-200 trans listed. I expressed my doubts right then, saying something along the lines of “I think this car has the same transmission as a Chevette, but this is a V8!”.
The aforementioned warranty also came in handy when months later, the the valvetrain started clattering horrendously, courtesy of it’s wiped cam lobes.
Despite these maladys, I still felt these were well though out, reasonably well built cars.
People say the 305 was slow, but at least it could bark the tires if you punched it off the line, something many cars of the era could not do. It also handily outdragged both my dads ’78 318 LeBaron and another friend’s ’78 302 Thunderbird Torinobird.
A 305 in a bare bones Impala was not slow at all; they had very good grunt off the line. The show was over at 110 km/h as this was as fast as anyone could really comfortably drive one of these cars. The base cars were not that heavy.
…a full-size Chevy?…no good at over 110 km/h?
One hundred klicks, is 62 mph. So…you’re saying it couldn’t be driven at over 68?
Was that because of engine limits, or the car lifting from air underneath?
That floors me. Here where I’m at, the speed limit on four-lane highways is 65; and the rural cops don’t bother anyone under 75. Saying is, Eight, you’re great; nine, you’re mine! Meaning they’ll overlook anything under nine miles an hour over.
Which would make this Chevy, obviously a “modern” car, unfit in a world where the flow of traffic is anywhere from 70 mph, locally, to over 85 mph, as I saw in Dallas on a job-interview trip.
I always found the steering on B Bodies got squirrelly above 110 km/h, which is closer to 68 mph. In our mountainous terrain, I felt better at lower speeds than this and the cars cruised very nicely at this speed. This was especially true as the recirculating ball steering was hardly the most precise thing even when new. The front ends were hardly the most durable part of the B Body anyway and this got worse with wear.
It was all cheap and easy to fix, however.
The 305 in those cars will easily bury the needle of those speedos past the 85 mph “maximum”, all day and without breaking a sweat. The V6s are another story.
I had an 86 with the TBI 4.3…it would easily bury the needle past 85.
I have to say the pictured car is optioned considerably more than I would have ordered!
I always cruised at about 75 MPH in my B-bodies and never had any issues with stability. My old ’85 Delta 88 was a bare bones car, not even A/C, but it did have F41 suspension. The only reason I didn’t cruise above 75MPH was because the 307 was too weak to comfortably cruise above that (would struggle too much in the hills above that speed). I also had no issues with front end parts durability, mind you my cars were not in fleet service and were well cared for. I had several B-bodies go 200-250K kms on factory front end parts.
I was close on the clue, but late as usual. I had a ’77 Impala sedan, white with a blue cloth interior. As far as exterior and interior trim, it looked very much like the featured car, except mine had a chrome rub strip, whitewalls, and a split bench front seat. Mine was bought used with over 100K on the odo. It had the 305 V8 and dreaded THM 200 tranny.
Luckily, the original owner (I was the second) had the tranny rebuilt before I bought the car and had spent a fair amount of money on other items as well. The car was reliable for me and made a great car pool vehicle, with the ability to carry 5 people with ease. The thing the prior owner didn’t tell me about were the infernal water leaks from both the windshield and backlite. I could never seal them properly.
Good article, just a couple of points. There was no 400 offered after 1976 and the Powerglide went away after 1973. Most Bel Air’s in Canada from this vintage were fleet specials, usually were just cop cars and taxis.
One other note: although the Six was available in Bel Airs though 1974, it is my understanding that it was deleted early in the 1974 model year and that it is believed that none were actually built that year. So 1973 was the last real year for six-cylinder Bel Airs. Also, for the last several years of Bel Air production the six was only available in sedans, not wagons — I believe that the last year Bel Air wagons (or their equivalent, during the 1969-72 period when fullsize Chevy wagons had their own distinct model names) were available with sixes was 1969. From 1970 onward the six was a de facto credit option in those fullsize Chevys where it was still available. There was no longer any engine offered in between the six and the 350.
The six was also available in Biscaynes until that model was dropped at the end of the 1972 model year. As with Bel Airs, Biscayne wagons (or their equivalent) had lost the six a few years earlier — I think the last year was 1970.
Availability of sixes in Impalas was restricted to certain body styles beginning around 1968 (by the end, it was just the Sports Coupe and pillared sedan) and ceased completely after 1972. Sales of six-cylinder Impalas were already low in the late ’60s and were miniscule by 1972.
Caprices were V8-only from the time they were introduced as a distinct model in 1966 (I’m not sure about the ’65 option package on Impalas). They were never available as sixes until the 1977 downsizing.
Note: all of the above is U.S.; it’s possible Canada could have been different.
The six and 3-speed manual transmission was last offered in an Impala in very early 1972 models and then only the 4-door sedan, and in very small numbers. By January when the revised full-sized Chevy brochure came out, all Impalas came standard with the 350 V8 and Turbo Hydra-matic. This revised brochure, which included the addition of the then-new Caprice 4-door pillared sedan, deleted all references to 6-cylinder engines and 3-speed manual or Powerglide transmissions even though each of those items were still available in that year’s Bel Air (and Biscayne) sedan – making it appear that all ’72 big Chevrolets came standard with V8 and Turbo Hydra-matic to the uninitated. Biscaynes, of course, were no longer included in U.S. big Chevrolet brochures after 1969.
For 1973, the situation was little changed aside from the discontinuation of the Biscayne (in the U.S.). Bel Air sedans came standard with the 250-6 and 3-speed manual column shift tranny and now to get an automatic required a V8 engine – both items were, of course, standard on all Impala, Caprice and station wagon models. The availability of the 6 and stick in the Bel Air was noted in the 1973 full-sized Chevrolet brochure unlike the revised ’72 brochure.
For 1974, the first run full-sized Chevrolet brochure gave absolutely no mention of the 6 and stick in the Bel Air so the decision to drop that drivetrain was made prior to start of production. Now, all 1974 full-sized Chevrolets came with a V8 engine and Turbo Hydra-matic as standard equipment (power steering had been standard on all models since 1972 and power brakes since 1971).
Bel Air sedans and Impala sedans and coupes came standard with the small block 350 while Caprice Classic sedans, coupes and convertibles got the small block 400 2-barrel standard and all station wagons (Bel Air, Impala, Caprice Estate) came standard with the small block 400 4-barrel engine.
“In 1975, the Bel Air was dropped in the US, but soldiered on for tight-wallet Canadians.”
I’m not sure what you meant here, but the Bel Air was available in the US as a four-door hardtop sedan and station wagon through the 1975 model year.
I must have meant after 1975. Thanks for the correction – I’ve amended the text.
A different verison of the ’75 brochure has the same shot of the brown 4-door but as an Impala!
In addition to the comment I’m about to add below about having no idea the Bel Air name carried on in Canada until 1981, I thought for sure that ’72 or ’73 was the last year for it in the US. Since the Biscayne was gone, were all ’73+ Bel Airs essentially built as taxicabs? It seems like that’s what all ’71-’72 Biscaynes were – and they’re probably all dead now.
Michael IH is correct.
Yeah, I remembered it being round into the mid “70’s”.
Nice writeup! Give me a basic car with a V8 and enough room for 6 anytime. One question from the other side of the pond: anybody knows why, back in the 1950s, GM chose the name “Bel Air” in the first place? I guess it was meant to refer to the chic LA district so that Chevrolet buyers would feel, well, chic too. Just wondering. One thing I like about cars from that era is that so many of them were given names that actually meant something, as opposed to the sad, anonymous soundbites that came later (“Acura”, “Jetta”, “Yaris”, “Aveo”, “Catera”… pheeeeew…).
Still plenty of place names – Eldorado (El Dorado) Durango…gotta run through the list. Of course, these names were to evoke the image of places most people had never seen.
We’re better traveled today; and some of those chic places are no longer so chic. Nothing in the Los Angeles basin would be attractive in today’s sullied times, for example. And Durango’s become one big tourist trap, a parody of what it was.
So, probably the made-up names make more sense…Yaris. Aveo. Although I’d rather the practical models just appeal straight to the left-brain…Chevrolet T100. Or the Toyota しみったれ. (That’s “Cheapskate”)
With all due respect to folks from Washington state, I never understood the reasoning behind the naming of the Toyota Tacoma. And though the car-truck is an American classic, through most of the San Francisco peninsula, El Camino is an endless strip of traffic lights, taco joints, and discount mattress stores.
But it sounds better than a car/truck named a Delphos or an Akron or a Plainfield. 🙂
How about honoring that town in New York…SODOM?
Presenting…the Studebaker Sodom. Or, Studebaker Sodomite?
If that’s a bit too racy…there’s always Hell, Michigan.
In Indiana, we have French Lick. I would hate to be the car salesman asking “Would you like to see a French Lick?”
Kia/Hundai are in there pitching with Sedona, Santa Fe, Tuscon and probably some others that I am forgetting.
I like alliterative names, so if IH were still making vehicles, I’d vote for “International Intercourse”, after that PA town near Lancaster.
Using the name of some glamorous-sounding place most people had only ever seen on TV or in the movies was pretty typical. The early Buick hardtops were Rivieras, the early Pontiac hardtops were Catalinas (presumably for the island resort off the coast of Southern California), Chryslers were Newports, etc. For the average American in 1950, “Bel Air” would have conjured vague associations of the area of Los Angeles where a lot of movie stars lived.
In the ’50’s, California’s picturesque and/or chic locales were commonly used to evoque images of glamor to the various car lines.
Bel Air – Chevrolet
Catalina – Pontiac
Coronado – DeSoto
Monterey – Mercury
Belvedere for Plymouth was named after a swank hotel . . . but some advertising placing it in the Bay Area hinted at a connection to the wealthy, exclusive enclave across from Angel Island in Marin County.
So the naming of the Plymouth Belvedere had nothing to do with the Chrysler assembly plant in Belvidere, Illinois?
The Belvidere assembly plant opened in 1965, and had a slightly different spelling. The Plymouth Belvedere came out as the name of the hardtop body for the top-line Plymouth Cranbrook in mid 1951. I think the location of the assembly plant was just happy coincidence.
Like my previous B body posts say, a stripper Impala was a nice driving car. The lower weight really made for a better ride. A four door 1977 Impala stripper didn’t weigh much more than 3600 lbs. Loaded ones were easy 300 lbs more, like having two extra people on board at all times; that was in 1977. That same weight is probably one person now.
Experience told me to avoid the 305 because it came bolted to a THM200. The 350 motors went waaaaaay better and they didn’t have the reliability problems the 305’s had. Of course, I can never, ever resist booting a big motor as often as possible and a 350 in a stripped Impala could even today give many a car a run for its money. The 350 used at least 20% more fuel than the 305.
How much more base were these than a stripper US Impala? It doesn’t look that much more plain than an Impala. This one has no a/c either, not unusual for Canada, the 3 handles under the steering column are what used to be the old kick panel vents.
It wasn’t a big difference, on the order of $150 and dealers never stocked them. They were only for fleets, especially for the military and RCMP. I have only ever seen one that wasn’t a government vehicle.
One of my major complaints on these cars was that if you didn’t order a/c, you got those three ventilation handles under the steering column. These vents were not integrated into the HVAC in any way and to get air, you had to be moving as they were not fan forced. Finally, the two outboard vents were deleted. This made the cars really hot on warm summer days in traffic.
On the other hand, the non-a/c cars really did drive better as there was something on the order of 50 kg less on the front wheels.
Great car, great writeup. The last Bel Air I can remember having contact with was a 73. My mother had a job that required occasional travel with a company car. She brought home a silver-green 73 Bel Air sedan. I think it was a V8, but do not remember if it was a Glide or a THM.
My law school roomie bought a 77 Impala 2 door to replace his rapidly rusting Mustang II. The MII was a 75, but the Impala (though only 2 years newer) was a much nicer car. The Impala was the base model here in the US at the time. It was pretty plain, but it looked nice and drove nice. Wheelcovers, whitewalls, air, and that was about it for extra equipment..
With this car, I would almost break my rule and take it as a 6/Powerglide, if that combo had still been available.
Others have commented on a preference for strippos. I can tell you, however, that a strippo is not what it used to be. My Sedona has power windows, drivers seat, front/rear air, defrost, satellite radio, and still is the base model without a single option. It was the only way I could avoid the dreaded power side doors.
Absolutely agree with the last paragraph. A sneaky exception to this was the base Holden Commodore did not have standard aircon as recently as the introduction of the current generation back in 2006, I expect they have changed this but am not sure when or indeed if it still remains the case. I would be surprised if they built a single vehicle without aircon.
I can see the appeal of a stripper though, especially from 30 years ago when electric motors weighed a lot more than they do now.
VF’s Evoke is more Berlina than Executive, and A/C is standard.
My Dad’s 64 Biscayne 2 door was bare bones with the 6 cyl and 3 on the tree. But it seems it had a few options. It had carpeting, padded dash, and two speed wipers with washer. I recall it also had the back seat arm rests with ash trays. The seats were a striped cloth and vinyl.
My Dad bought it for $ 1500 cash and a 59 Biscayne in trade. In the showroom, it was a classy car. Whitewalls and full hub caps would have made it quite respectible, even when next to an Impala. Of course, Mom vetoed such frivolry.
Looking at the web site, Old Car Brochures, all the stuff I mentioned were standard even on Biscaynes.
Biscaynes by ’64 had color keyed carpeting standard. The Chevy brochure “brags” about this. Usually by this time, rubber mats in the full size cars were usually a no-cost option.
“In 1969 Bel Airs sold in the US lost the two door body style and soldered on with four door and station wagon styles.”
There was a two door Belair coupe offered in the U.S. in 1969, please note below:
I believe 1970 was the final year for the two door Belair.
The 2-door BelAir sedan was dropped when the 1970 model year beginned. However the Canadian BelAir inherited an hardtop version like this 1975 model I saw on this French site http://amateurdebeauxchars.forumactif.com/t12888-plusieurs-photos-chevrolet-bel-air-de-1961-a-1981
The last year for 2-door Bel Airs in the U.S., and Biscaynes for that matter, was 1969. For the preceding several years, all Biscayne and Bel Air 2-doors had been of a pillared style (which Chevy called a “2-door sedan”) which was not offered in the more upscale fullsize Chevrolet lines. Chevy dropped this body style after 1969. As with the discussion earlier about the Bel Air having been dropped “In 1975″, I think the intended meaning of “In 1969″ was “1969 was the last model year they were built”, but it was worded a bit inartfully.
As Stephane noted, when the 2-door pillared style was dropped after the 1969 model year, GM Canada added a 2-door hardtop coupe to at least the Bel Air line for 1970 (I’m not sure about the Biscayne). The Bel Air continued to be available as a coupe in Canada through most if not all of the remainder of its existence, which lasted until 1981 north of the border.
It’s funny that this article was posted the same day as the whitewalled Bimmer post, because whitewall tires would make the featured Bel Air look 100% better. This is coming from somebody who normally doesn’t care for whitewalls. I suppose it has to do with the size of the car, the color of the paint, and the rather plain-looking wheel covers.
Here is a distant shot of my ’78 Bel Air. 305, auto (THM 350), AM radio, no air. I had it given to me by a family friend in 1999, and have put about 30k miles on it since then. A very comfy highway cruiser that can squeeze out 22US if driven conservatively. The Bel Air nameplates at the rear of the car fell off a few years ago. Adhesive nameplates, combined with deteriorating plastic caused them to split and then ulitimately fall off. I’d love to lay my fingers on a new set before painting the car, but it looks to be a fairly tall order. When the local Firestone had it on the hoist for rear wheel cylinders a few years back, they had trouble matching the parts up, and it turns out that the axle is supposedly from a Buick. It seems the Canadian spec cars did rob the parts bins at the time.
Here’s an updated shot with new paint..
Dean how did you find the nameplates?
The short answer is that I managed to re-use the old ones. One side was complete, and the other broke into separate Bel and Air sections. The plastic was solid enough to sand and paint over using spray paint, and double side tape was used to stick them to the car. I recall the one side had fallen off or broken, and I had enough sense to pop it into the glovebox knowing that I would never find another name plate at a swap meet or NOS on the internet. I am currently looking for plates on my ’73 Chev Custom pick-up (the Custom was made only in 1973 and 1974), and have never seen one for sale. The original owner took them off because his polishing rag kept on getting snagged on the nameplate, and then he threw the out.
updated interior shot
You were very fortunate to get the Buick rear end as it actually had roller bearings on the axle shafts, which meant the axles would last the life of the cars. The cheaper alternative was the shaft was simply hardened. This was good for about 130,000 km. In addition the Buick rear end also had bigger brakes that lasted much longer and stopped better, too. I always looked for these but after 1978 they were gone. We also got THM200 and the smaller rear end.
My dad’s 1979 Impala’s interior looked almost the same, although his had split seats.
A very nice survivor, Dean. If you ever want to do a “My CC” on any of your cars, please let Paul or I know.
You have a wonderful collection!
I had no idea these ever existed… that’s pretty cool. I always liked the Bel Air name, and still think it “sounds” more upscale than Impala or Caprice. I suppose now that most people likely associate it firstly with The Fresh Prince, Will Smith, there’s very little chance of seeing that name adorn a Chevrolet decklid ever again.
If someone wanted, could they have gone into a Chevrolet dealership and ordered a Canadian Bel Air in 1981 with every single option on the list – or were some things only available on the more expensive models? Like others mentioned, by this point there wasn’t really a whole lot to differentiate Bel Air/Impala/Caprice aside from what equipment it was ordered with. I think it would be cool to have a loaded up 1981 full-size Chevy with a “Bel Air” badge on it, one that came from the factory.
Talk about a rare model of an otherwise popular car!
I knew these existed, but I don’t believe I have ever seen one in person.
There is such a refreshing honesty about these cars that is still appealing after all these years.
Does any one know about the 6 cy Caprices screwed together in Belguim? Saw one few years back at a British Banger car race >
Here in Massachusetts, Bel Airs from the ’60s or ’70s are rare sights. Most fullsize Chevys that you see from that era are collector/enthusiast cars, not daily drivers, and most of them are Impalas. In the not-too-distant past, I used to see a green ’70 Bel Air sedan around that appeared to be a daily driver, but it’s been a while since I’ve come across it (the last time I saw it was certainly within the past five years).
About a month ago, I saw a ’65 Bel Air 4-door sedan in a local WalMart parking lot. I noticed two tailights on the back as I was driving by it, and had to walk over and take a closer look — I like ’65 Chevys as much as the next guy, but I probably wouldn’t have bothered if it was an Impala. I was very surprised to see someone driving a car like that around here in the middle of January. It appeared to be somebody’s project; the body and paint were mostly solid but there was a little rust around the rocker panels, and certain areas of the car did not look as nice as the rest (the trunk lid didn’t have much of a paint job, suggesting that it may have recently been replaced). It had some kind of “sporty” wheels on it but otherwise looked basically stock. No idea what kind of an engine it had.
Back in the mid-to-late 1990s, I went on a day trip to Martha’s Vineyard, and I remember seeing a 1974 or 1975 Bel Air sedan parked along a street in Oak Bluffs. While there were more cars of this vintage on the road back then than there are today, even at the time it struck me as a unusual sight — and in an especially odd place to see one.
I had a 1977 Bel Air (Impala?) almost identical to the one in the article. It was equipped with the 6 cylinder and the only option was a rear window defogger. The engine was pretty stout however, as I drove the car with no cooling, (picked up a stone thru the radiator on 71N in Cleveland) from w25th to w150th, where I found a junkyard and a radiator to fit, changed it at the curbside, and drove back home to Sandusky.
I think that someone should do a piece on the derivation of the automotive term “stripper.” In the world that I grew up in, 1960s NYC blue-color suburb, Bel-Airs, Ford Galaxies, and Plymouth Furys (of the II and III variety), were the norm for family cars. I think that one of the reasons that people take note of these “survivors” today is that they were daily drivers that were used up and crushed after a lifespan of 7-10 years. Occasionally one of the dads in the neighborhood would make good and the family would upgrade to an Impala or an LTD. Virtually every car on my block was optioned the same way, V-8, automatic and AM Radio. The only power window that I saw before 1970 was the back window on our 1967 Bel-Air Wagon and we thought that was something.
Sometimes families might even make it to Caprice or even Caddy class. But if they did, we knew that they would be moving out of the neighborhood soon because they would be upgrading houses in another town.
What we call “strippers” today were called “commuter cars” back then. A lot of the dads were NYPD and if they got a promotion it often meant driving to an outlying precinct in Queens or Staten Island and they would get a commuter. These were often Valiants or Novas, a few brave souls had VW bugs, but they were the only cars that I saw that were totally devoid of creature comforts. Some did not even have radios, although this was understandable given the cost of a pushbutton AM Radio at the time ($60 1960s dollars) and the lack of an aftermarket audio industry.
My experience growing up in a mid-level executive neighborhood was the opposite. There would be one nice family car (a lot of full size Oldsmobiles and Pontiacs) and an inexpensive “second car” for the wife to drive. For example, Mr. Crist across the street drove to the office in a big blue 66 Bonneville 4 door, and Mrs. Crist drove the kids around in a 63 Chevy II with a 3 on the tree. Ditto down the street, where the husband had a 64 Avanti, and the Mrs. drove a 60 Lark (though with a V8 and automatic). As the 60s wore on, the “second car” became nicer. The Crists Chevy II was traded on a 69 Impala, but the Bonnie was traded on a better-equipped 72 Catalina.
Like with you, though, power windows were rare. Even air conditioning (in northeast Indiana) did not start becoming the norm until the early 70s.
Growing up in the rural south, the existence was much like “Dukes Of Hazzard” where car ownership and, more specifically, self-maintenance was the rule of the day. It was almost a rite of passage for any self-respecting southern boy to learn how to drive, fix his own car, and well fix anything else. So it was quite common to see hand me down cars of better level running around because it was a way for a guy to have something nice on the cheap. Especially since here where two flakes of snow is an event cars did not deteriorate due to rust/environment like they do up north. Since guys would do a lot of their own work, it was not particularly difficult for them to own say a Grand Prix or even a Buick other than the additional fuel costs if they drove a V8. Cars were often repainted, reupholstered, and generally kept very clean and tidy it was point of pride that your car was immaculate. Especially in the poorer communities or on farms where the housing stock was basic the car was an escape. As for the family cars, often the man drove a truck usually one that was a bit tired while a nice family car was kept in the garage or nearby for trips to church on Sunday or to the store etc. Quite often the female/wife drove the better of the two vehicles in the house especially one of the vehicles was a truck. When I was little, my father drove an older Chevy C10 pickup with 3 on the tree while mom drove mostly an intermediate Pontiac.
As can be expected, air conditioning was more popular and it was quite common to see otherwise completely basic no option cars with a/c simply for that fact. My first regular car was a Chevrolet Nova that had basically no options other than a cloth seat, radio, and a/c. It even had steel wheels with the center hubcaps. We did put whitewalls on it when we replaced the tires so it made the car look much better in its blue paint. I went to Western Auto and purchased some aftermarket door edge trim and molding and put it on the car and that really dressed the car up. Since a lot of homes were not air conditioned, it was a bit of a treat to jump in the car and take your best girl out for a ride in a cool car and maybe go to the movie theatre (which was one of earliest places to get a/c) and come home late enough in the day when the house was cooler.
The combo of no a/c at home but a/c in the car was one I experienced for awhile too. My first year out of law school, I rented a 3rd floor walkup apartment in a 1920s-era building that, of course, had no a/c. My office and my car were air conditioned, though, and that first summer I spent a lot of time either working evenings and weekends (mainly to keep cool) or driving places. A 200 mile round trip to visit my sister on a Sunday was not uncommon. Then I moved to a house with air. And for some reason, bought a 66 Plymouth Fury without air as a daily driver. I can now definitively state that it is better to have a/c at home so you can get a good night’s sleep than to have it in your car, which can be tolerable on all but the hottest days.
We had a great discussion on our early experiences with automotive a/c here last summer. https://www.curbsideclassic.com/blog/what-was-the-first-air-conditioned-car-you-ever-rode-in/
Your post made me think about my neighborhood’s car culture. At that time few of the adults had any interest in working on cars. I don’t even remember anyone routinely changing their own oil. There were really only three that I could remember actually working on cars. One was a dad who worked as a regional parts manager for Cadilliac and always had an older Caddy he was working on The second was one of my friend’s dad who was from Virginia but was working in NY as an Air National Guard plane mechanic. He pretty much did just as you described, found good used cars and fixed them up a bit and then sold them after a few months or years. He seemed to do it not as a sideline business, but just to keep better or more interesting cars in the driveway. That family definetly had the most varied selection of cars in my neighborhood. Some of the cars that I can remember are a number of plain vanilla Chevy sedans, a ’66 Riviera, a ’67 GTO Convertible, with 4 speed and a Hurst shifter, a VW bus with all of the little windows around the roof (what was that model called?) and a Triumph TR3 that he restored from the chassis up in his garage, and an early ’70s Ford LTD that also looked plain vanilla, but had a huge V8 in it that was the fastest car in town. He apparently got that last one at a government auction. The third guy was also from the south, I know that because he had the nickname “Reb” and he ran the Esso station on the corner. He built this great car in his spare time:
You know looking at that side profile shot I have to give GM credit for keeping the styling decent while keeping the interior size of the previous full sizers. You can really see it with how thick the car is in the middle. The ’77-90 cars rely a lot on the lower chrome trim to slim the car in appearance but even without it, it doesn’t look all that bad. Funky looking compared to a 60’s car with fluidic styling but not hideously ugly and chopped up either. I think these cars were such a home run for GM. I never gave them much thought before I bought mine ten years back but now I hope I always have one in the garage.
Hi ! I am looking for 2 door for 1977 two door chevy bell air .I live in Canada Thunder Bay Ontario .Let me know .Paul .Thanks ! e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org Ph: 807-623-5610 or cell.807-629-3924
The Bel Airs assembled in1963 Australia weren’t strippers They were well equiped luxury cars. 283 2bbl V8,Powerglide, heater, power steer & brakes, carpets & leather seats were standard.
And for the life of the car, you could get a free inspection every 1000 miles. I know, I’ve still got the warranty certificate from the $200 Bel Air I bought in 1981.
And for some reason, the Impala’s 6 tail light rear end & silver cove panel.
The Impala didn’t appear as the top model until 1965.
Of course you could import & convert any Chevrolet if the local version didn’t suit you.
Great article! I love reading about the Canadian-specific differences in models and brands, that we Canadians used to have. To add to this B-body coupe article, here is an example of a 1977 Pontiac (Canadian-only) Laurentian 2-door coupe. It does not have the unique “bent-glass” rear window.
Interesting pic of the flat rear window. Does anyone know if the Impala was the only 2 dr with the bent window?
Yes, Chevys only.
Neat article on what to us Yanks is a Canadian oddity. Interesting marketing decision by GM Canada to market what was basically an Impala without a couple of extremely common / popular trim packages as a model. US consumer Impalas this stripped in this era were very rare.
Brands frequently associated with fleet sales seem to struggle a bit with the question of whether to market a fleet model name, or allow mixed consumer and fleet sales combine under one name for bragging rights regarding volume. Ford is currently taking the opposite approach of GM in the late ’70s and marketing a Police Interceptor Sedan (Taurus) and Police Interceptor Utility (Explorer). I have no idea if it really helps the buyers of $55,000 USD Ford Explorer Platinum models feel better that their vehicle does not carry the name of a cop car. GM and FCA are currently on the opposite side of this issue with the Caprice / Impala SS and Charger.
I’ve always loved the styling on these Impalas/ Bel Airs/ Caprices……for that era, they were modernized enough to look clean, but IMHO, they’d brought back some sportiness that could be had back then iin the early/ mid 60’s (ie: Impala SS). Even the ’65’s have that aggressive look to them. Obviously, the ’77’s are not to that level of sportiness, but the two door coupes with some aggressive looking tires/ rims and dual exhausts really make them look badass. The stripped down/ poverty look on this example in the article works in its favour, I think, as a no frills car that you stuff a huge engine into. Certainly, it is a step above the “hand in your man card/ balls” feeling of the styling of the early 70’s Impalas, where it seemed to be more oriented towards feeling like you’re 60 years old when you’re 30, just because you have kids and need something bigger. The only thing that I’m not that thrilled about this example is the interior……I’m not sure if buckets/ console was an option, but it would have made the interior more than just a bargain basement example of what could be had in a car that was equipped for more luxury. Buckets/ console would have probably cost more, so that would have not been in keeping with the owner’s cheap motif.
No, bucket seats weren’t available. Your options in a 4-door were bench or split-bench; 2-door cars obvs all had one or another type of split bench so as to permit (sorta) access to and from the rear seats.
Console? Um, sure, run down to the local auto parts store and pick up a Rubbermaid item with sandbag weights to keep it from sliding around on the transmission tunnel. No, all of these cars had column-shift automatics, and no console was offered.
Don’t think so; I’m pretty sure that last engine (400 CID V8) doesn’t belong on this list. At least in the US, the 350 was the biggest engine offered in the Chev B-body brigade. Oldsmobile buyers could get the Olds 403 motor.
It’s actually a little wackier than that: two Chromalox heatwires (resistance wire, the kind you find in a space heater or electric oven, etc) were embedded in the glass during its manufacture. Final steps: apply electric current to the heatwires, they heated up, the glass was bent, then the ends were chopped off and the heatwires—never again to heat up—were abandoned in situ.
Anyone know production numbers for the 77-81 Bel Airs? I assume all were built in Oshawa too. Can’t find any numbers in any of my books…. Only impala and caprice are listed
“… were all ’73+ [US] Bel Airs essentially built as taxicabs?”
Not all, some were cop cars, and a small few were bargains for drivers who wanted a cheap full-size car. Grade school friend’s mom had a ’73 Bel Air for shopping, etc. ’76 Caprice wagon for dad. But was a declining market. In the 60’s, it was more common to see base model big cars, as some posted above.
Later generations of parents went to compacts for saving cash. By the 80’s, consumer big cars were well equipped models with stripped cars for fleets only. Like how these days cars are either well equipped or loaded to the gills.
I remember back in the day that Consumer Reports used to recommend that full size car buyers looking for the lowest price and the best gas economy start with the most basic trim level and add only the specific options they needed. That worked better when the options lists were a la carte rather than being grouped into a few packages.
I had a Canadian 1981 Bel Air, for a few years. It was a former sales rep car (fleet use) so it had been driven a lot in the year before I got it. I liked the car, it had some nice trim on it, A/C was on board, PS, PB, and a vinyl roof. I seem to remember some wood trim on the dash, contrary to one of the photos above, but I took no photos of the panel of that car. I seem to recall having put an AM/FM cassette deck in it, as would have been my usual practice then.
It gave me one long distance trip to the East coast, during which it refused to start a few times (it seemed to want to cool down before refiring).
After that trip it began to misbehave further, so it was divested for newer wheels.
I sold the snow tires I had to a guy who had an 84 or so Caprice.
I had ’79 similar to the final one pictured in the article, except that it had the Six, AND a rear window DEFOGGER.
That was it as an option. It was my work car. Like driving a couch.
Was in Cleveland one time, and picked up a stone through the radiator on the interstate, drove it from W 25th to W 150th, putting water in, letting it cool down, then driving it a little farther, finally finding a junkyard whose owner took pity on me and sold me a recored radiator he had in stock that someone ordered but never picked up, and I dropped my old one right in the street and dropped the new one in and drove home. (Sandusky) That old cast iron Six never even hiccupped.
Couldn’t do that today, lol.