- Ground-up restoration approximately 10 years ago
- Featured in Chevy Rumble magazine, August 2008
- Original body panels and chassis
- Date-correct L72 427/425 V8 engine
- Muncie M22 Rock Crusher 4-speed transmission
- 12-bolt rear end
- Power brakes
- Rare radio delete
- F70-15 Firestone Redline bias-ply tires
|Vehicle:||1969 Chevrolet Bel Air 2-door sedan|
|Number Produced:||156,700 (all 1969 Bel Airs, approximately)|
|Original List Price:||$3,345|
|Tune Up Cost:||$120|
|Chassis Number Location:||Tag on driver’s side of dash, visible through windshield|
|Engine Number Location:||Pad forward of passenger’s side cylinder head|
|Club Info:||National Impala Association|
|Alternatives:||1969 Cadillac Eldorado, 1969 Ford LTD, 1969 Chrysler 300|
This car, Lot F206, sold for $35,200, including buyer’s premium, at Mecum’s massive Spring Classic sale in Indianapolis, IN, on May 19, 2017.
Chevrolet’s full-size lineup was the go-to buying option for many Americans during the 1960s. In 1965, with a new coke-bottle shape and curved side glass, the Bel Airs, Biscaynes, Impalas and Caprices sold over 1.7 million units total — similar numbers to what Chevrolet achieved in 1955 with the 150, 210 and Bel Air.
For 1969, unlike the fancier, better equipped Caprice and Impala, the down-market full-size Bel Airs and Biscaynes only came in three body styles — 2- and 4-door sedans, and the station wagon. The hard tops and drop top stayed reserved only for those willing to pony up just a bit more dough.
Even beyond Chevrolet’s lineup, 2-door sedans never won over American consumers the way hard tops did. That buying habit still plays out today: When automakers build a sedan, they’ll often black out the door frames between the window trim to conceal the unattractive, safety-driven chunks now making up most B-pillars.
Then again, there’s one place where those B-pillars are welcome, and that’s on the dragstrip. These cars tended to be stiffer and cheaper than their hard-top counterparts, which made them a favorite among racers back in the day — especially when fitted with the biggest engines available.
And those big engines weren’t exclusive to the higher-class B-bodies. From the 250-ci I6 all the way up to the bad-as-hell L72 427 big block, all were available across the line. Yes, that L72 was the same one Don Yenko installed in his famous Camaros. Those familiar with GM’s midsize cubic-inch limitations (400 ci or less in A-bodies before 1970) and factory availabilities that weren’t listed in the brochure had an edge: They could get that L72 fresh from the factory by ordering a stripped-down Bel Air or Biscayne, and a select few did just that. In total, 546 L72s ended up installed in full-size cars in 1969. And many of those cars were stripped-down specials like this one, ordered that way to go drag racing.
The rear quarter windows — actually the whole window profile — is practically identical to Chevy’s archetypal sleeper, the Nova. And I don’t remember hearing too many complaints about those window frames at car shows, drag races or cruises.
These cars look heavy, but that is exactly what their owners wanted you to think. Despite the full-size designation and 119-inch wheelbase, the Bel Air’s curb weight falls in near 3,800 pounds even with that 427. Contrast that with the much smaller SS 396 Nova’s weight of 3,300 pounds — the Bel Air is a 15% increase in mass over the X-body.
Here’s an even more black-and-white case between these two. The power-to-weight ratio (again based on advertised horsepower, which assumes the power is adjusted down similarly for the same model-year engines) for our profile car works out to about 0.112, and the SS Nova comes in at 0.113. That’s not much of a difference, but who among us really thought they’d even be close?
Unlikely market hero
GM pumped out thousands of these cars. Approximately 156,700 Bel Airs were built in 1969, but they rarely appear at auction. ACC’s Premium Auction Database reveals only three 1969 Bel Airs at major auctions since 2013, and this car accounts for two of those appearances. Mecum offered this car as Lot S186 this past January at their Kissimmee sale, where it didn’t sell at a $30k bid. Here it did just $2k better when it was hammered sold.
But why was this the one to garner relatively sky-high bids? For one, the 10-year-old restoration appears to still be in remarkable condition. But the bigger deal here was that L72 engine.
The “date-correct” 427, with M22 Rock Crusher and 12-bolt differential, rounds out one of the most impressive GM drivetrains of the era. The listings all carefully point out the body and chassis are original, but refrain from those claims anywhere else.
Original to the car or not, that engine makes this otherwise plain-Jane Bel Air into a total sleeper. Black vinyl is one of the most common features among these older cars; steel wheels with dog-dish caps are as interesting as the grandparents playing cribbage, and a monochromatic color scheme is easily overlooked in a parking lot. To that certain buyer who wants the element of surprise with his muscle, this is just the ticket.
Well sold, well bought
This sale price might seem reasonable for a Bel Air, if one were thinking about the fabled Tri-Fives, or even a 1961 bubble top. When the Impala knocked the Bel Air down a few pegs in the full-size hierarchy, the desirability (and the collectibility) dropped too. As it’s a late ’60s model, this is significant coin. I’m not sure anything else is required for a well-sold designation — even with a cheat-code drivetrain and restoration still holding up quite well.
Then again, two months after this sale in Indianapolis, I found the car listed on an Illinois Hyundai dealer’s website for $44,988. So perhaps there’s still room for an even better sale.
(Introductory description courtesy of Mecum Auctions.)