Capturing the essence of the era’s themes, the ’57 Chevrolet Bel Air represented the pinnacle of ’50s automotive styling. Today, this model remains one of the single most recognized icons of the tall tail fins and excessive chrome age—a time when bigger meant better and there was not a doubt that America built the best cars on the planet.

Under the hood, technology master and horsepower guru Ed Cole worked magic developing Chevy’s small-block V8 engine. The original edition was enlarged to 283 cubic inches, with several optional power packages available, pushing it up to a healthy 283 horsepower.

On the outside the Bel Air was distinguished from other models with a liberal use of chrome. Front bumpers were chrome and featured a golden grille set off with a heavy chrome bar holding very obvious parking lights. The car’s most important feature, rear fins, were capped with chrome moldings and highlighted with anodized aluminum side trim panels. Interestingly, the fuel-filler door was concealed in the left rear chrome fin trim, a small but convenient detail that helped clean up exterior lines.

The Matador Red Bel Air pictured here has been the subject of an exhaustive, frame-off rotisserie-type restoration. Starting with a solid rust-free southern car, the owner reports that every conceivable aspect of this automobile, including undercarriage, suspension, engine compartment and trunk has been completely renewed. All interior and exterior chrome has been replated and stainless moldings have been polished. So extensive was this restoration that power window switches that were purchased new were taken apart and re-chromed.

Restoration of this vehicle included a full rebuild of the 283 V8 engine and three-speed transmission. Other components benefiting from renewal include: starter motor, generator, heater core, radiator, brakes and even the Wonderbar radio.

Sporting a long list of options like Autronic eye, vacuum ashtray, tissue dispenser, fender skirts, Continental kit, power top, power steering and brakes, and dual exhaust, this has to be one of the finest numbers-matching Chevrolet Bel Airs in existence.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1957 Chevrolet Bel Air
Years Produced:1957
Number Produced:47,562 convertibles
Original List Price:$2,511
SCM Valuation:$37,250-$54,025
Tune Up Cost:$50/$250
Distributor Caps:$15
Chassis Number Location:Top of frame, at toe board and right front door pillar
Engine Number Location:Crankcase on right side of engine
Club Info:Classic Chevy International, Box 607188, Orlando, FL 32800, 800/456-1957
Alternatives:1957 Pontiac Bonneville, 1957 Plymouth Fury, 1957 Ford Fairlane

This vehicle sold at the RM Auto Salon Auction held at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City on September 23, 2000 for $75,020, including buyer’s premium.

The ’57 Chevy was touted as “Sweet, Smooth, and Sassy” and proved to be all that and more. Think drive-in movies, rock n’ roll, and hula hoops; the stylish and sporty 1957 Chevrolet has to be included in the memories of that era. The 1955-57 Chevrolets, completely fresh compared to the models that preceded them, have been a favorite with hot-rodders at the drag strip and with street racers. Inexpensive, strong, and reliable, the ’57 could be hopped-up and customized without spending a ton of money. That ability continues to this day as off-the-shelf add-ons are available from any number of sources.

The big news for ’57 was that Chevrolet had achieved an engineering milestone (at least for them) by producing one horsepower for every cubic inch of engine displacement. This was achieved with the fuel-injected 283-ci V8 that sported a 10.5 to 1 compression ratio. The Super Turbo-Fire 283, a $550 option, produced the advertised 283 horsepower with the help of Ramjet continuous-flow fuel injection. That Chrysler had achieved this same feat the previous year with their 354 Hemi V8 was trumped by Chevrolet’s marketing department doing a better job of promoting the achievement.

Chevrolet continued to distinguish itself at Daytona Speed Week, winning the Pure Oil Manufacturer’s Trophy for best overall performance in 1957, besting rival Ford by a margin of 574 points to 309. This, however, was the last year for manufacturer-sanctioned racing support as the National Safety Council, AAA, and AMA persuaded the automakers that they were breeding a generation of dangerous, accident-prone drivers with their emphasis on increased horsepower.

Chevrolet claimed that the ’57 Bel Air “Makes you the relaxed master of any road you travel” and 47,562 convertible buyers felt compelled to agree. Rarely does a vehicle with such a high production run obtain any sizable appreciation in the collector market, but the 1955-57 Bel Air convertibles have done just that.

The really big bucks are achieved with over-restored, heavily optioned examples that you wouldn’t dare drive if you were concerned with maintaining your investment. The car that RM offered appeared to be restored to high standards, but a few areas should have been questioned. Blue Dots on the taillights are a bit much, and the lack of air conditioning—a $430 option—normally holds down the value on these cars. The winning bid of $75,020 could have been $10,000 higher if the car had a Turboglide transmission or the 283-hp fuel injection engine, rather than being equipped with one of the smallest of the seven V8s available in the 1957 lineup. In any event, the new owner neither over- nor under-paid, and has the satisfaction of owning a memory-mobile that will look great at the drive-in.—Carl Bomstead

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