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The ’56 Bel Air — an American Dream worth having

June 29, 2015


The Italian word for “very beautiful” is bellissimo — itself a very beautiful word. But you only say this if you’re referring to guys. To say that a woman is very beautiful,  you say that she is — bellissima!

To say that a car is very beautiful, you could say that it is Bel Air-issimo (or –issima), depending on the gender of the vehicle.

This is to say that it looks as good as a 1950s Bel Air, which is saying something.

In the body of the Chevrolet Bel Air, I think that the post-Second World War American automobile aesthetic achieved one of its most balanced expressions, just before it fell over the edge into excess verging on parody and arguably, absurd sexualization,

While the 1956 Bel Air convertible is really swell-looking and certainly more valued by collectors, I think I prefer the 1956 two door Sports Coupe —  one of which I was lucky enough to see on Sunday afternoon, for all of the 15 minutes that it was parked on West Broadway Avenue.

Nothing ugly about this American (except its gas mileage)


The faux-convertible hardtop roof, the “speedline” styling of the slanted headlight housings and the especially graceful front and back wheel wells, not to mention the two-tone paint job, limned by thin, flashing lines of chrome.

In the 1956 Bel Air Sports Coupe, all these individual elements combine harmoniously to produce the appearance of effortless, clean-cut perfection.

Nothing seems out of place and nothing seems excessive. The car brooks no argument, only admiration.

Though it was something of a luxury model in its day, to a modern eye it could be a 1950s everycar.  We would accept seeing almost anyone step out of it: a banker, a movie star, a stenographer, or a shopkeeper. And we could imagine anyone wanting to step into it. It looks both desirable and attainable.

War is said to be diplomacy by another name and consumerism has similarly become an adjunct of Western democracy. It was in the retooling of American society after the Second World War that consumerism was really ramped up in order to satisfy, or at least blunt, the appetite for progress and positive social change denied through the war years.

But if postwar consumerism was only offering new cars and refrigerators and the like, and not new civil rights, it wasn’t entirely a con job either.

A Bel Air was a steel, glass and chromium rendition of freedom, prosperity and upwards mobility, that any one of hundreds of millions of Americans could see themselves owning — if they worked hard enough.

In that way, back in the day, a Bel Air was the American Dream made real and give its makers credit, 59 years later it still looks pretty dreamy. Click the image to enlarge it.

Model Year Curb weight Length Mileage
Cadillac Escalade 4WD 2015 2652.6 kg 5179 mm 16.6 L/100 km
Chevrolet Bel Air Sport Coupe 1956 1550 kg 5,016 mm 15.6 L/100 km
BMW M5 sports sedan 2015 1550 kg 4,910 mm 9.9 L/100 km
Honda Accord Sedan EX 2011 1550 kg 4,930 mm 9 L/100 km
Smart Fortwo hatchback coupe 2015 820 kg 2695 mm 7.8 L/100 km

From → Automobiles, Fairview

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