Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Today I'm featuring THE automotive icon for my 300th post

I was walking near Smith Street the other day in Boerum Hill when I stumbled upon what is perhaps the most famous single model year of automobile ever produced:
Ladies and gentlemen, you know what this is already! This is a 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air in the two-tone combination of Sierra Gold with an Adobe Beige roof. I've never seen this color combination before and think it looks fantastic even in this condition.
The Model T, the VW Beetle, and the '57 Chevy are arguably the 3 most well known cars of all time. Only the Chevy hales from a single year (yes of course the '55 Chevy starred in 2 Lane Blacktop with Dennis Wilson and James Taylor and a '58 Chevy was the main car in American Graffiti but this is way more famous).
A huge part of the '57s success is the distinctive front end. The grill was meant to emphasize the width of the car, and incorporated those pointy Dagmars (named after a notoriously busty film and TV star of the era - really). The three little gills above the side trim also added a bit of jewelry along with those Jet-Age spears emerging from the hood.
One distinctive feature of the '57 is the air intakes which can be seen here above the headlights. I've always loved these hooded headlights which, to me, looked like the covers of traffic signals. Only recently did I find out that the design was functional as scoops to collect fresh air for the cabin!
Here is the classic definition of a factory hot rod. The overall look of the 2 door coupe is tall and stout with a low roof and that sweet side trim that opens up near the rear. It just looks ready to drag race.
The condition is actually excellent too. There is no rust to be found and really only flaking paint can be counted as demerits. 
The trailing wheel wells also imply movement. That little bump up in the middle of the rear side window was carried across all body styles in '57, and there were many. In addition to the coupe you could order a 2 door hardtop, 4 door coupe, 4 door hardtop (very rare in itself), convertible, 4 door wagon, and the classic 2 door Nomad station wagon.
That trunk lid is incredible! Almost straight back and then straight down. This would all look very blocky and clunky if not for those famous fins.
The fins and rear bumper mesh beautifully in 1957. If you look closely you can see a couple of horizontal lines in the chrome of the fin edge between the taillight and fin top. On the drivers side this is a flip-open door that conceals the gas cap!
The taillight is obviously that red lens. Below that is the reverse light if the car was so equipped, otherwise it's a metal blank. Below that the piece of metal mirroring the taillight shape was originally painted flat black. The Ford Thunderbird of the mid '50s had the exhaust coming out of the bumpers in openings much like these reverse lights but the Chevy never did.
*A detail for the '57 Chevy fanatic: this car is from the 2nd series of production for 1957. If it was the 1st there would be a tiny raised ridge on the chrome between the bottom of the taillight and the top edge of the reverse light opening.
I love the wrap-around rear window with that low rear roof treatment. The license plate light is just a rectangular lens set into the bumper.
There were 3 trim levels for the '57 Chevy; the 150 was the stripped-down base model which you could get as sparse as you dared. There was even a Business Coupe version which was this same body but the rear windows were fixed in place and there was no rear seat! The 150 side trim was just a single chrome spear that went from the fin to the rear wheel well before turning up to rear side window.
The next level of trim was the 210 which had most expected creature comforts such as mirrors, ashtray, and carpet. The side trim was the same as this car but the chrome on top of the fin only went from the rear edge to about a foot forward on the quarter panel.
The highest was the Bel Air which we see here. In addition to the full compliment of chrome trim the names and some of the emblems are anodized gold. You can just make this out in the Chevrolet writing above the V on the trunk.
This Bel Air has gone through a few adjustments over the years. Under the dash there are aftermarket gauges. That is a floor mounted automatic transmission, and I believe the bucket seats aren't original. The factory radio is in the dash though with its center mounted speaker above it on the dashboard.
This car offered so many firsts when it came out. This was the first domestic production car to offer tubeless tires which the public had a hard time trusting at first. While the first production auto to offer fuel injection was the '55 Mercedes Benz 300SL, Chevrolet was the first domestic company to do so in 1957. A 150 coupe from '57 with the larger V8 and fuel injection was the very first car Nascar made illegal because nothing could remotely compete with it!
This tank is wearing Rally wheels up front and some generic rims on the back. The tires on the back are Hoosiers who are famous for making racing tires. They make drag radials which you can drive daily and use on the track on the weekends (or at any red light). I think these are them.
Well that's where we'll leave this beast almost. I do have one aside though:
I first saw this thing sitting on flat tires a couple blocks from my shop!
It had the back window covered as if the top was getting touched up or chrome trim installed. The lighting and shadows were too harsh for me on this day so I made a note to return later. That night as I sat in the shop it drove by me (the license plate light works great). Damn! I missed my chance and was so frustrated. Imagine my excitement when I happened to walk by it on the street a mile away weeks later.
Thus concludes my 300th post for the NYCHoopties blog! I'll have to start looking for something for 400, 500, and hopefully 1,000 soon. Thanks for reading!

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