Chevy Bel Air: The American Dream In Two-Tone And Two Doors, But Six Seats
Images: Makarand Baokar
Though scores of Chevrolets were either assembled or imported into India during the 1950s, most were four-door saloons. The car we feature, a Chevrolet Bel Air Convertible, from 1956, is rare in being a two-door convertible.
The Bel Air model badging was used by Chevrolet from 1950 to 1981 through eight different generations. Yet the one that is the most memorable—and the most desirable—is the second generation one, from 1955 to 1957. Initially, only the two-door hardtop model in the Chevrolet range was given the Bel Air moniker, but starting 1953, Bel Air was used for other body styles too.
From 1955, all Chevrolets were given a brand-new design and markedly more power. Labelled the “The Hot One” in General Motor’s advertising campaigns, the new design was clean, yet flamboyant, incorporating a grille that was inspired by the Ferraris of the period.
With a more youthful and dynamic look, the Bel Air, which took its name from one of the chic neighbourhoods of Los Angeles, featured mechanicals that were also much improved. The rejuvenated Bel Air, of course, came with an aggressive slogan “New look, new engine, new everything”!
There were several body variants (including the famous two-door Nomad station wagon) and a wide range of brilliant colours, often in two-tone, symbolising the joy of living.
For 1956, the Bel Air received a facelift, with a wider and more conventional grille, to please customers who did not like the Ferrari-inspired look from ’55. A two-tone body treatment and elegant front and rear wheel arches completed the “Speedline restyling”. Rear lamp ensembles incorporated indicators, stop and reverse lamps, with the left one acting as fuel tank filler cap, an idea taken from Cadillac.
Ads said that the ’56 Bel Air was even hotter. And it was. Among the seven Bel Air models on sale in 1956, the most attractive as a collectible is, arguably, the two-door Bel Air convertible. And despite being the fifth most popular amongst the seven body styles, more than 41,000 of them were sold in 1956. With such impressive volumes made, it wouldn’t come as a surprise to hear that significant numbers survive across the globe.
Despite a substantial duty on imported cars—imposed in India in 1954—quite a few Bel Air convertibles seem to have been imported into India, as almost half a dozen are known to be extant today. Of these, at least four are from ’55, making the ’56 featured here a relatively rare one.
Imported new by the American Consul General in Calcutta, the car was transferred immediately to the erstwhile ‘Maharaja’ of Burdwan, Uday Chand Mahtab. His son Saday Chand Mahtab inherited the car on his death, in 1984, and the car remained with the “Burdwan family” until 1994, when it was given to the son-in-law of Saday Chand Mahtab, Rajiv Kher.
Restored to its original combination of onyx black and ivory, Kher kept the car with this colour combination for many years, before changing it to a two-tone of Sherwood and sea mist green. Entered in the Cartier concours in Delhi in 2011, the lady judges—not surprisingly—voted it as their favourite.
Sign in or become a deRivaz & Ives member to join the conversation.
Just enter your email below to get a log in link.