Some cars are renowned for their speed, others for their style or technical innovations. The 1957 Chevy Bel Air convertible, on the other hand, is known for a more elusive, yet all-important trait: sheer, unadulterated coolness. In the 55 years since its release, the Bel-Air has gone from being a collection of metal parts to a symbol of the decade that gave it birth. In this sense its only rival is that other icon of all things American: Harley-Davidson. Unlike the famed motorcycle brand, the ’57 not only gave its operator an open view of the highway but an unparalleled degree of comfort. And it could take a guy and his girl to the local drive-in or malt shop, while playing “That’ll Be the Day” by Buddy Holly and the Crickets on the AM radio.
A Perfect Storm of Design Genius
Ed Cole was Chevrolet’s head of design in the mid-50s. He wanted the 1957 model year to break from the 55-56 designs entirely, but assembly line issues kept that from happening. So he decided that, if the company was stuck with the same template for one more year, then he could at least give it a style upgrade.
He added a new dashboard (with optional padding), 14-inch wheels to give the car a lower profile, an extra-wide grille, and a sealed cowl. He also put air ducts in the headlight assemblies, a seemingly minor decision at the time that gave the ‘57’s eyes their distinctive appearance. Then there were those tailfins, meant to give the car’s rear a wider look. The Bel Air, Chevy’s top of the line model, also got gold trim for the front fender chevrons, grille, and hood.
On its own, any of these changes would have improved the somewhat bland look of the 55-56 Chevies. When all of them came together, however, their combined effect was nothing short of miraculous. Something truly special was born the day that the first ’57 rolled off the assembly line. Chevy had done far more than just build a car; it had created a rolling piece of art.
A Helluva Engine Under the Hood
Ed Cole’s creation wasn’t just a pretty face, though. One of its options included the now-legendary 283 cubic inch V-8, a fuel-injected powerhouse that quickly made the ’57 hugely popular among NASCAR drivers of the time. Racing officials actually banned the engine at one point, to give other cars a chance at victory.
The Coolest of the Cool: the Convertible
The 1957 Chevy came in two-door, four-door, and station wagon versions, but the factory also built 48,068 Bel Air convertibles. Many of the two-door hardtops were converted to aftermarket open-tops as well. The ultimate statement of coolness, buying one for your garage will set you back $100,000.00 or so, and would be money well spent.