Chevrolet Bel Air
dates : 13th June 2004/17th June 2004
cars speak to people in many different tongues. But this 1956
Chevy says it loud and clear and that is: "Rock and
The 1956 Chevrolet Bel Air holds a special place in the hearts
of people into 1950s Americana.
Between 1955 and 1957 Chevrolet produced what many enthusiasts
feel was the best model line-up in the history of the brand,
and these are known as the Tri-Chevy years.
The 1955 and 1957 models are the most iconic, and it is for
this reason that the in-between model from 1956 has its own
Not as pure in line as the '55 Chevy, it has more subtle tail
fin treatment than the 1957 model
it was one of the most successful Chevrolets ever produced.
A point to note when viewing these 1950 Rock and Roll icons is
that the entire model line-up was based on a single design.
So although there were 19 different configurations of the '56
Chevy, all of them had the same basic nose and chassis.
The differences were in trim level and the fact that they came
in two-door, four-door, convertible, coupe, and station wagon
formats. But they were all unmistakably 1956 Chevies.
This particular example, loaned to us for our photo shoot by
Investment Cars in Bryanston, is a 1956 Bel Air four-door.
It is a remarkably original car and the only changes have been
the fitment of classic wire wheels with low-profile tyres,
slightly lowered suspension, and disc brakes in the front.
The engine is still the original 265 cubic inch, or 4, 3 litre
small block V8, the most famous and long-lived engine in the
history of the automobile.
This car still uses that engine and a powerglide automatic
gearbox, just as it came from the factory.
The small block V8 motor would go on to grow in size to over
400 cubic inches, or 6,5-litres.
But the original bore spacing dimensions of the lightweight V8
block were retained and today, even the engine powering the
latest Corvette Sports car can claim to be, in essence, a
small-block Chevy V8.
The numbers applicable to these cars are quite amazing. In
1956 General Motors logged a total of 1,6 million sales for
the 1956 Chevy, so this car is by no means rare.
Right-hand-drive versions were assembled here in General
Motors plant in Port Elizabeth, but left-hand-drive examples
like this one were also imported.
In 1956 a Chevy Bell Air sold for about one thousand four
hundred pounds. This was in the days before South Africa
converted to Rands and cents, but at roughly two-to-one the
Chevy Bel Air cost two thousand eight hundred rand in its
By comparison, a brand new Ford Prefect cost six hundred and
twenty pounds, or twelve hundred and forty rand, while a
Mercedes-Benz 220S cost one thousand five hundred pounds.
Performance on this car is not bad at all, even today. The
engine was rated at one hundred and sixty five horsepower, or
one twenty three kilowatts. It was good enough for a top speed
of just over one hundred and sixty kilometres per hour, which
on the roads of those days must have felt truly frightening.
There were also no speed limits outside towns in the South
Africa of those days, so it was perfectly legal to bounce
along flat out, with no seat belts, no air bags, and hardly
any brakes to speak of.
Interior trim was at a premium in those days too. It seems all
the manufacturing money was spent on chrome and even a
cigarette lighter was listed as an option back then.
But you had other options, like being able to stretch out
across the front or the back bench seat, handy for those
Friday nights at the drive-in cinema.
Today you need to treat a car like this with respect.
Get your braking done nice and early, slow down plenty before
anything that hints at being a corner, and keep a wary eye on
the water temperature and fuel gauges.
Yes, this classic will be 50 years old in a year or two.
But as they say, Rock and Roll is here to stay.
Car Torque is