DRIVEN ➤ 1956 Chevrolet Bel Air : Iconic Americana

05 May

By Wayne Gorrett, originally commissioned by V&OAK Magazine - '56 Chevrolet Bel Air 011

The romance of it all – the first dance, that nervous first kiss.
Saturday night at the drive-in movie, the line of Brylcreemed Fonz-wannabes waiting for popcorn and soda pop during the interval. Ah, happy days!

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In 1956, Marilyn Monroe married Arthur Miller, the film ‘Around the World in 80 Days’ won the Best Picture Oscar, Record of the Year went to ‘Whatever Will Be, Will Be (Que Sera, Sera) by Doris Day – and a chap called Elvis Presley made his television debut on The Dorsey Brothers’ Stage Show. - '56 Chevrolet Bel Air 016

The Chevrolet Bel Air has long been considered one of the most iconic designs ever to grace the American auto industry. After countless pop culture references, and thousands of fans, the 1955-57 (Tri-5) models were as much pop icons as they were automotive royalty – the jewels in General Motors’ historic crown. - '56 Chevrolet Bel Air 029 - '56 Chevrolet Bel Air 002

Recently, I was privileged to enjoy some time with this wonderfully original
1956 Chevrolet Bel Air.

On the road the 265 cubic inch small-block V8 pulls this handsome, dual-tone Bel Air along with little effort via its 2-speed Powerglide automatic gearbox. Fuel consumption varies from 12 to 15mpg. However, the brakes don’t brake very well and requires a strong calf muscle to achieve a confident result. But, you quickly get used to it. - '56 Chevrolet Bel Air 020 - '56 Chevrolet Bel Air 034

By modern standards, the drive is entertaining. The Chevy is softy sprung and softy upholstered which offers a ride that is luxuriously blancmange-like, cossetted in an air of regal, leather-clad charm. The absence of seat belts or even simple lap straps is oddly liberating. The steering has generous dead-ahead play, roughly eight circumferential inches of good, old-fashioned correctional swing. But, you quickly get used to it. - '56 Chevrolet Bel Air 018

At launch, test drivers criticised the appalling absence of grip or support from the seats – obliging drivers to cling desperately to the steering wheel during enthusiastic cornering. Even then, drivers were in danger of being dislodged by passengers who had nothing to grab on to and slid about ‘like peas in a drum’ on the front and rear benches – such fun! But, you quickly get used to it!

At parking speed, the unassisted steering is heavy and at nearly six turns lock-to-lock, can be hard work. Power steering was a $92 optional extra at its launch and was not fitted to the car. All windows are manually operated and the front two fanlights have their own dinky winders to open and close them. With its Jetsons-inspired curved windscreen and big, upright side windows, all-round visibility is excellent. - '56 Chevrolet Bel Air 025 - '56 Chevrolet Bel Air 012

You know, life is not always about red Italian sports cars. Sometimes, our lives are equally enriched when a hulking dollop of 1956 iconic Americana makes a house call.

Yes, I could very quickly get used to it.

Fast facts:

• Numbers built: 1.6 million.
• Engine: 265 cubic inch (4.3-litre) small-block V8.
• Power: 162bhp @ 4.400rpm.
• Torque: 348Nm @ 2.200rpm.
• Transmission: Powerglide 2-speed automatic.
• Performance: 0-62mph in 12.9secs, top speed 98mph.
• Fuel consumption: 12-15mpg.
• Suspension: Independent with coil springs, anti-roll bar and telescopic shock absorbers (front), semi-elliptic springs with telescopic shock absorbers (rear).
• Brakes: Drums all round.
• Original price: $2,025.
• Current value: Approximately £35,000.

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1956 Chevrolet Bel Air kindly shared by Paradise Road Cars – for your Special Day!
Contact: Arthur Woods, 07766 525084. Email:


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Posted by on May 5, 2014 in Driven


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