The Summer roadtrip season is over. You shouldn’t feel the need to pack it in completely, however. By the blessing of Dinah Shore, this cherubic sweetheart still promises to show you from sea to shining sea nearly 63 years after it was built. When most start thinking retirement plans, the sweetest Chevy for ’53 still stands as an unassuming companion to get the job done, near or far.
The Bel – Air did stand as the first solid firing shot at the Sloan Brand Hierarchy in place at General Motors since the 1920’s from the Chevrolet brand. There had been leather interiors in Convertibles, a long list of convenience options available, and the near luxury halo model Bel-Air Pillarless Hardtop that started to push Chevrolet offerings upmarket.But a full fledged proto-luxury trim line of sedans, coupes and convertibles was a new thing for the sales champ of the Low Priced Three.
It seemed a natural progression in the consumer hungry times of the early 1950’s. Had the litany of options and more vibrant trimmings not been offered, Chevrolet would have found itself trying to sell their goods on price alone.
More buyers had the resources to get a little glamour with their goods. Meanwhile more medium priced brands were willing to give them some bargain basement offers to lure them away from their rote purchases of Chevys, Fords and Plymouths.
In reality, the Bel-Air offered little more than more trim inside and out that the less costly and less glitzy One-Fifty and Two-Ten series cars. You could still order up a mid-range Two-Ten Convertible in 1953, nor was there any limits to where in the line-up you could order a Powerglide Automatic.
The glitter turned out to be pure gold for Chevrolet. More than 332,000 of these sedans alone (nevermind the other models of the range) made their ways to the Pre-Interstate highways in 1953. A number of brands wished they could have sold their infinite variety of offerings at that rate, nevermind just one body style.
Granted that sales increase didn’t happen in a vacuum. Chevrolet and Ford entered a “Price War” in 1953, with Ford overproducing its offerings, forcing dealers to deep discount their wares.
Chevrolet soon follow suit, and many a better trimmed Bel-Air went out the door for the price of a One-Fifty or Two-Ten, if not a decent used car. Although the Bel-Air overall didn’t win the sales championship in-house, it wouldn’t be long before the top drawer Chevrolet was the “in” thing to purchase for a vast number of American Citizens.
The only place was up for for the Bel-Air. In these transition years it still held on to tried and true Chevrolet bits that dated back to the depression, but the solid profits these bejeweled beasts of the byways decidedly enabled and emboldened the rise of the the most coveted Chevrolets of the 1950’s.
Although more often than not forgotten today, the impact of such a bold, colorful and celebrated transition from humble price leader should not be forgotten this far into future hindsight.
A number of the triumphs of General Motors, and the eventual undoing of the empire were planted by seed moments like the Chevrolet Bel-Air. The particular tipping point of the first year of this full range says so much in the subtle transition. Listen closely and you’ll find a wealth of clues.