The 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air

Ford outsold Chevrolet in 1957, but the 1957 Bel Air has been called ‘the most popular used car in history.’ This Bel Air Sport Coupe has the iconic 1957 Chevy color combination of Sierra Gold and Adobe Beige. It is equipped with the popular ‘Power Pack’ option, which added a four-barrel carburetor and dual exhausts to the 283 cubic-inch V8. This car is not equipped with the optional heater, which is rather unusual for a Bel Air.

From 1950 through 1952 Chevrolet hardtops in the Deluxe model line were dubbed the ‘Bel Air’.  It took a few more years before it would become its own distinct series.  In 1953, the Bel Air became its own model and was applied to Chevrolet’s top-of-the-line model range.  By 1955, the cars were offered with an optional V8 engine which greatly improved the cars performance.

In 1953 Chevrolet had three new models and 17 body styles to select from.  This was the company’s widest range of offerings in its history.  The introduction of the Chevrolet was stirring press for the company, but so was the Bel Air, considered the company’s Crown Jewel.

The Bel Air Series consisted of a two and four-door sedan, sport coupe, and a convertible coupe.  Everything that was standard on the lower priced series was standard on the Bel Air, plus so much more including comfort, convenience and styling options.  There was a one-piece curved windshield which added superb visibility.  The luggage compartment was massive and the 115-inch wheelbase provided plenty of interior room for its occupants.  The 115-horsepower Blue-Flame six-cylinder engine was new and the most powerful engine in Chevrolet’s history.

In 1954, the Bel Air was launched as a 1955 model and brought with it a fresh new, elegant look for Chevrolet. With bold features that included hooded headlights, tailfins, wrap-around windshield, and rear fender skirts, the Bel Air was able to out-style the competition. The base engine was a six-cylinder, 115 horsepower power-plant. At a base price of $1095, it was a bargain. It is considered America’s first low-priced ‘hardtop coupe’. The most famous of the Bel Air engine options was the 283 cubic-inch V-8 small-block, with Ramjet Fuel injection. It delivered one horsepower per cubic inch, a first for production cars. Along with style, the Bel Air was a fast machine. Chevrolet quickly ascertained a reputation for building performance vehicles.

A full-width grill, redesigned front and rear fenders, gas cap behind the left taillight, larger rectangular parking lights, and sweeping side trim were just a few of the changes that set the 1956 Chevrolet apart from the 1955, which had taken the country by storm with its all new body re-design.

For the performance-minded public, the 1956 Chevrolet offered three 265 cubic-inch Turbo-Fire V-8 engine options: base 170 hp, 205 hp 4 bbl and the 225 hp dual 4 bbl.

Chevrolet produced 1,574,740 cars in the 1956 model year, of which 41,268 were Belair Convertibles. The 3,320 pound car cost $2,443 with the base V-8. You could literally load your new Chevy with factory options and accessories and stay under $3,000.

In 1957, the Bel Air grew in length by 2-1/2 inches and received a wider and taller grille. Additional options became available including two-tone interior, power convertible top, shoulder harnesses, tinted glass, seat belts, tissue dispenser, and ventilated seat pads.

In total, there were seven body styles to select from.  In 1957, a two-page Chevrolet magazine ad proclaimed that ‘Chevy puts the purr in performance’. This Bel Air Convertible, with the optional 245 HP 283 CID small block V-8 equipped with two four barrel carburetors, would certainly deliver on the promise made by the ad copy noted above, delivering a hearty purr from its dual exhausts.

Over the years these popular cars became an icon for the entire generation and they have gone on to become one of the most desirable and collectable post war cars of all. 47,000 Bel Air convertibles were produced in the 1957 model year.

The Chevrolet models grew in length in 1958 and increased in size.  The Chevrolet Impala became their top-of-the-line model, followed by the middle-range Bel Air.  The front end featured a broad grill with quad headlights.

By the later part of the 1960s, the Chevrolet Bel Air moved into the territory of a fleet vehicle.  It was a basic machine built on Chevrolet’s large platform and outfitted with few thrills or options.  It was a good car though it lacked the prestige of times gone by.

The 1964 Chevrolet Be Air (Series 1600) was Chevrolet’s mid-priced line between the basic Biscayne and the Impala.

The Biscayne was discontinued after 1972 and the Bel Air was moved into its place, becoming Chevrolet’s low-level model.  Production in the United States continued until 1975 though production continued in Canada until 1981.
By Daniel Vaughan  | Dec 2007

Drag Racing at Santa Ana

Before it was called “John Wayne Airport” it was called “Orange County Airport”, and during the 1950’s it was the place for drag racing.

A man named C.J. “Pappy” Hart was credited as having built the world’s first commercial drag strip, named “Santa Ana Drag Strip” or “Santa Ana Drags”, and held races there every Sunday.  The drag strip operated from 1950 to 1959, until the County of Orange forced it closed due to increasing air traffic.

“Before it was called the John Wayne airport and before it was called Orange County Airport, it was just a sleepy little landing strip used by private planes, charters and the Martin Aviation Company. When I was a teenager in 1955 the airstrip would close down on Sundays and NHRA (National Hot Rod Association) sanctioned drag races were held on the runway. I remember seeing the “Green Monster”, Art Arfons jet powered drag racer, screeming down the runway. It was probably the first jet to ever “land” at SNA. The drags moved to Lyons Speedway in Long Beach sometime in the late 1950’s. They did return later on, for a few years, as the Orange County Raceway located at the I-5 and Sand Canyon.”

By: Richard M. Cowan, 10 Aug 2002

Kim Novak

Kim Novak was born in Chicago, Illinois on February 13, 1933 with the birth name of Marilyn Pauline Novak. She was the daughter of a former teacher turned transit clerk and his wife, also a former teacher. Throughout elementary and high school, Kim did not get along well with teachers. She even admitted that she didn’t like being told what to do and when to do it. Her first job, after high school, was modeling teen fashions for a local department store. Kim, later, won a scholarship in a modeling school and continued to model part-time. Kim later worked odd jobs as an elevator operator, sales clerk, and a dental assistant. The jobs never seemed to work out so she fell back on modeling, the one job she did well. After a stint on the road as a spokesperson for an appliance company, Kim decided to go to Los Angeles and try her luck at modeling there.
Ultimately, her modeling landed her an uncredited bit part in The French Line (1953). The role encompassed nothing more than being seen on a set of stairs. Later a talent agent arranged for a screen test with Columbia Pictures and won a small six month contract. In truth, some of the studio hierarchy thought that Kim was Columbia’s answer to Marilyn Monroe. Kim, who was still going by her own name of Marilyn, was originally going to be called “Kit Marlowe”. She wanted to at least keep her family name of Novak, so the young actress and studio personnel settled on Kim Novak. After taking some acting lessons, which the studio declined to pay for, Kim appeared in her first film opposite Fred MacMurray in Pushover (1954). Though her role as “Lona McLane” wasn’t exactly a great one, it was her classic beauty that seemed to capture the eyes of the critics. Later that year, Kim appeared in the film, Phffft (1954) with Jack Lemmon and Judy Holliday. Now more and more fans were eager to see this bright new star. These two films set the tone for her career with a lot of fan mail coming her way. Her next film was as “Kay Greylek” in 5 Against the House (1955). The film was well-received, but it was her next one for that year that was her best to date.

The film was Picnic (1955). Although Kim did a superb job of acting in the film as did her costars, the film did win two Oscars for editing and set decoration. Kim’s next film was with United Artists on a loan out in the controversial Otto Preminger film The Man with the Golden Arm (1955). Her performance was flawless, but it was Kim’s beauty that carried the day. The film was a big hit. In 1957, Kim played “Linda English” in the hit movie Pal Joey (1957) with Frank Sinatra and Rita Hayworth. The film did very well at the box-office, but was condemned by the critics. Kim really didn’t seem that interested in the role. She even said she couldn’t stand people such as her character. That same year, Novak risked her career when she embarked upon an affair with singer/actor Sammy Davis Jr.. The interracial affair alarmed studio executives, most notably Harry Cohn, and they ended the relationship in January of the following year. In 1958, Kim appeared in Alfred Hitchcock‘s, now classic, Vertigo (1958) with Jimmy Stewart. This film’s plot was one that thoroughly entertained the theater patrons wherever it played. The film was one in which Stewart’s character, a detective, is hired to tail a suicidal blonde half his age (Kim). He later finds out that Kim is actually a brunette shop girl who set him up as part of a murder scheme. Her next film was Bell Book and Candle (1958) which was only a modest success.

By the early 1960s, the 20-something Novak’s star was beginning to fade. Although she was still young, she was being overpowered by the rise of new stars or stars that were remodeling their status within the film community. With a few more nondescript films between 1960 and 1964, she landed the role of “Mildred Rogers” in the remake of Of Human Bondage (1964). The film debuted to good reviews. While filming The Amorous Adventures of Moll Flanders (1965), she had a romance with co-star Richard Johnson, whom she married, but the marriage failed the following year, although they remain friends. Kim stepped away from the cameras for a while, returning in 1968 to star in The Legend of Lylah Clare (1968). It was a resounding flop, perhaps the worst of her career. However, after that, Kim, basically, was able to pick what projects she wanted. After The Great Bank Robbery (1969) in 1969, Kim was away for another four years until returning in 1973. That year she starred in the British horror film Tales That Witness Madness (1973) with Joan Collins and was seen in a television movie called The Third Girl from the Left (1973) (TV), playing a veteran Las Vegas showgirl experiencing a midlife crisis. Again she took another hiatus before appearing in The White Buffalo (1977). She followed this up with the flop “Just a Gigolo” (1978), where she starred opposite David Bowie). However she did gain some attention in the mystery/thriller The Mirror Crack’d (1980), co-starring Elizabeth Taylor, Tony Curtis, Rock Hudson and Angela Lansbury. Five years later, she appeared in her third television movie, “Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Pilot ” (1985).
From 1986 to 1987, Kim played, of all people, “Kit Marlowe”, in the fourth season of the TV series “Falcon Crest” (1981). She played the lead in the little-seen movie The Children (1990), where she starred opposite Ben Kingsley and fellow Hitchcock actress Karen Black. Kim’s last film, on the silver screen to date, was Liebestraum (1991), in which she played a terminally ill woman with a past. Since then, she has rejected many offers to appear in films and on TV.

However, unlike many of her Hollywood peers, Kim has maintained stability in her personal life. Since 1976, she has been married to Dr. Robert Malloy (b. 1940), a veterinarian. She now lives on a ranch in Oregon and is an accomplished artist who expresses herself in oil paintings and sculptures. Kim and her husband now raise lamas and horses, and frequently ski and go canoeing.

Kim began writing an autobiography in 2000, but it was lost when her house caught on fire, destroying the computer that contained her only draft. In a rare 2007 interview, the still-stunning Novak said she would consider returning to acting “if the right thing came along”.

By Denny Jackson