Photos by Daniel Strohl.
Editor’s note: This piece includes excerpts from a story that appeared in the December 2012 issue of Hemmings Motor News.
In the mid-1960s, Chevrolet’s full-size offerings were the brand’s mainstay, selling over 1.57 million examples in 1964 alone. A redesign for 1965 was a big roll of the dice, then, but the gamble paid off with sales of 1.65 million units, carrying Chevrolet to a new single-year sales record.
Although the Impala had ousted the Bel Air as the range-topping model years prior, the latter was no less an important part of Chevy’s full-size lineup, offering the same spacious accommodations, power, comfort and handling as its platform siblings, yet in a more affordable mid-range ($2,400-$3,000) price bracket. Available in two- and four-door sedan form – and a station wagon – it received the same off-season exterior restyling as other full-size models, including kickups to the rear flanks and a beltline crease that provided both a forward rake to the front end and rear panel. That restyling extended the body length to 213 inches, or roughly four inches more than 1964 editions.
The new body was bolted to a 119-inch-wheelbase frame that included five crossmembers and box-sectioned side rails for added structural stiffness. A coil-spring suspension in all four corners helped to deliver a smooth ride, while an industry-standard four-wheel drum-brake system was employed for reducing speed.
As was typical of the era, Chevy offered buyers a number of engines, beginning with the economical 140-hp, 230-cu.in. Turbo-Thrift straight-six. The economy V-8 was the 195-hp Turbo-Fire 283; however, a pair of 327 and 409 cubic-inchers were on the option chart at the start of the sales season. By February, the 409s were dropped in favor of the new 396-cu.in. Mark IV big-block, an expanded 250 six-cylinder joined the fray, and a 220-hp version of the 283 became available. In all, up to five engines in eight different horsepower ranges were available at any one time.
Transmissions included a three-speed manual, three-speed manual with overdrive (with the 230 six-cylinder and 283 V-8), four-speed manual, Turbo Hydra-Matic (with 396 V-8) and Powerglide.
At the end of the 1965 model year, Chevy had assembled approximately 379,200 Bel Airs, though an exact body-style breakout is not available. Of these, roughly 80 to 85-percent came with V-8s beneath the hood, which makes the 230-cu.in. inline-six-powered sedan seen here a rather uncommon choice.