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Borderlands: Chevy Bel Air Charmed 1950 Car Buyers 13 (1995)

A unique resource of faculty edited college student articles on the history and culture of the El Paso, Juárez, and Southern New Mexico regions.

Chevy Bel Air Charmed 1950 Car Buyers

Article first published in Vol. 13, 1995.

By Carlos Garcia and Rita Reynoso

In the 1950s young Americans were enjoying rock 'n' roll, drive-in movies and cars that were fast and affordable. The Chevrolet Bel Air became one of the most popular American cars ever because of its unique style, engine modifications and affordable price.

""Image caption: 1954 Bel Air with exterior sun visor. Photo by Carlos Garcia

The 1954 Bel Air was the beginning of a new, elegant look for Chevrolet. The ’54 model came with a six-cylinder engine with 115 horsepower. Local newspapers advertised a new ’54 Bel Air for between $1,095 and $1,295.

Frances Apodaca, El Paso resident and owner of a creme and green 1954 Bel Air, says, “At the time I purchased my ’54 Bel Air, my main objective was to provide transportation to and from work, but my final decision included a certain style that would be appealing.” Apodaca purchased her used ’54 model in 1960 for $500.

She recalls that she and her friends waited anxiously for the weekend to cruise around town. What she still enjoys most is the exterior sun visor, a feature of the 1954 Bel Air. She has been offered a great deal of money for the sun visor alone.

The Chevy Bel Air changed shape in 1955, ballooning up to the size of its competitors, Ford and Plymouth. Production numbers soared to 773,382. One factor contributing to this increase was the introduction of the V-8 engine, originally installed in Chevy Corvettes. By 1956, sales of the Bel Air had decreased, with only 669,281 manufactured.

""Image caption: 1955 Chevy Bel Air exhibited new shape. Photo by Leigh Smith

Chevrolet decided the car needed another change to send sales numbers up. The most obvious and fascinating change for 1957 was the introduction of rear fins above the taillights. Other exterior changes included a massive chrome bumper surrounding a concave grille and twin wind splits that dressed up the hood. The 1957 Bel Air was also longer and lower than previous models.

This Bel Air came to be known as a “muscle car” because of its powerful V-8 engine and offered a range of horsepower from 140 to 283, depending on the model. Buyers had the option of choosing a new fuel injection system with the 283 engine. Production of this model reached 702,651.

Locally, the 1957 Bel Air sold for about $2,800. Mario Garcia, an auto technician for Chevrolet in 1955, says that many of El Paso’s youth saved their money to purchase one of the popular 1957 Bel Airs and studied auto mechanics at school to learn how to work on and take care of their cars.

Andre Marques, owner of a 1957 Bel Air, admits, “The one thing that attracted me to this automobile was that everybody wanted it.” Marques still drives his faded root beer colored ’57 Chevy every Sunday to the local McDonald’s where he shows off his prized possession. He has been offered $10,000 for it but says, “I won’t sell it for all the money in the world.” He plans to pass it down to his granddaughter so it will remain in the family.

""Image caption: 1957 Bel Air added fins. Photo by Carlos Garcia

The automobiles produced by Chevrolet in the mid-fifties have become some of the most sought after collector cars in history. A completely restored ’57 Chevy Bel Air with all its o
riginal parts may be worth up to $30,000.

With each passing year, people realize the importance of preserving these cars for future generations to see, cars which will be forever remembered for their performance, design and style. 

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