This Spotter’s Guide features some of the unique exterior design details for Tri-Five Bel Airs. The illustrated graphic shows the evolution in design of Chevy’s Bel Air from 1955 through 1957 and provides at-a-glance reference points to help anyone identify the correct model year.
“Chevy made enough changes to the Bel Air during this time that you could identify the year whether the car’s coming or going,” says Tray Smith, vice president of H&H Classic. “Tail lights, fins, so many things we could’ve included but the chart just got too busy. This one’s focused on the front end. Maybe we’ll do a guide for the Bel Air’s rear end another time.”
For those who aren’t well-versed in Tri-Five Chevys, here are some quick identifiers shared in the graphic:
The slight “brow” above the 1955 Bel Air headlights is subtle, compared to the next two model years’ “headlight fenders.” As the spotter’s guide shows, each iteration became a bit more heavy-lidded.
The parking lights on the ’55 are teardrop shaped and integrated into the car, sitting on each side of the centered grille.
The 1956 Bel Air gained some embellishments – a V front and center on the hood and a side trim that ran almost the length of the car. That trim is chrome but has a distinctive, painted center.
Unlike the ’55, the ’56 has a grille that runs the entire length of the front end. That grille is flanked by two rectangular parking lights.
The 1957 Bel Air doubled its hood ornamentation – this year’s model had two ornaments jetting ahead of the Chevy’s driver.
The ’57 has round signal lights integrated into each side of the grille guard and a new bowtie emblem was added to the center.
Additional Tri-Five facts to enhance a Bel Air spotter’s knowledge:
The 1955 has more prominent vertical lines on its grille – the other two model years have grilles with a more horizontal design.
The wraparound bumpers were new in 1955. Accessory bumper tips were added to the 1955 and 1956 models.
The Nomad, a 2-door Bel Air wagon, was introduced in 1955.
The ’56 hardtop, pillar-less Bel Air sedan offered an unobstructed view.
The 1957 grille is the most elaborate – lots of chrome and anodized gold finish.
The ’57 is the only Tri-Five with side scallops on the front end.