Cleans Up Well: 1953 Chevrolet BelAir

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I have a tendency to lump the ’53 and ’54 Chevy together because they’re similar and so so different from the ’55, the first leg of the iconic Tri-Five stool. And ’53s, like this top-drawer BelAir, get short shrift so that’s all the more reason to check one out when it shows. This Huntsville, Alabama resident was surfaced by T.J. and is available, here on craigslist for $5,000.

Chevrolet had a good year in ’53 knocking out 1.3 M cars, putting them in first place in the domestic production race. The BelAir two-door sedan, such as our subject car, was good for 144K of that total. Regardless, they don’t surface that often, at least not with the regularity that a ’55 will turn up. Then again, there were 400K more ’55s assembled.

The story here is that this BelAir magically turned up in a barn where it has been slumbering for the last 30 years – an oft-told tale. The seller mentions that other than some trim, and its rear bumper, it’s a complete car and is very solid. He has the fender skirts but I think this one looks better without them. The weak spot seems to be the front bumper and grille – no shine, just corrosion – not that surprising, really. I question the claim, “Been in the dry for over 30 years”, especially noting that moss growing on the rear half of the car – that dry storage seems to be missing its roof.

There are no images of the engine! (Again, I keep picking subjects that could be construed to be engineless.) The seller tells us, “3speed 6 cylinder not running but not tried“. Ok, so this one’s a flip, no surprise there, and the non-tried engine should be a 108-gross HP, 235 CI, in-line six-cylinder unit. The odometer reads 12K miles so I’d put that at 120K miles (at least) so the engine may or may not be salvageable. This one’s likely a V8 candidate.

I like the green interior (and exterior too) but that front bench seat is gonna have to go. No – not as in getting rid of it but it’s pretty growdy – it looks like something (or someone) ate through the center of it. There’s only one image of the insides of this BelAir and it appears to be in reasonable shape. A good cleaning would probably be of the first order and then based on the results, one can make a judgment as to what else needs to be done.

Back to the title, once washed, blasted, scrubbed, etc. this old Chevy doesn’t look half bad. And that begs the question, what would you do with it? A restore to stock, a V8 modification, or…?

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  1. Kenneth Carney

    I’d swap in a 250 cube 6 banger backed by a Powerglide tranny. Along with those, I’d also swap the
    rear end with a ’55-57 unit as it opens
    up the driveline to make changing the
    U-joints a whole lot easier than stock.
    On a stock ’53 Chevy, you had to yank
    the rear axle, remove it from the torque tube, pull the U-joints at both
    ends of the drive shaft, (if you were
    smart you changed ’em both at the
    same time) and then put the whole
    thing back together again. By swapping the rear end, you give yourself easy access to the U-joints
    to either change ’em or lube ’em. That’s why a lot of guys did that. I’d
    also convert it to 12 volts using an
    alternator to bypass the stock voltage
    regulator which can be a real bear
    when you go to polarize it. All that said, the rest of the car would be put
    back stock. Good find though.

    Like 12
  2. Mike

    I like these early 50’s cars more and more. Not like liking the tail lights though.

    Like 5
  3. bobhess bobhessMember

    Having owned a ’54 I can say that both years were very nice cars, with the ’54s having the subtle changes that I think cleaned up the appearance very nicely, including the mentioned taillights. Had a big Olds engine and transmission all ready to put in mine when it got severely shortened by an old Plymouth four door. Tough cars in those days.

    Like 6
    • Solosolo UK Solosolo UKMember

      Would the ’54 Chev tail lights fit this ’53? The ’54 look so much better with the oval reflector going around the outer edge.

      Like 4
      • Jack Quantrill

        They screw right in. I put them on my ‘53 Belair convertible.

        Like 9
      • bobhess bobhessMember

        Went one step further and glued two red lenses together for each taillight to fill up the bezel with one color on my ’54. Jack… the cars in convertible form are just plain beautiful in my book. Love to see a picture of yours. Lost the pictures of mine in the ’17 hurricane down here.

        Like 3
  4. Tom71MustangsMember

    No surprise that I’m a hard core Ford guy, but this is the coolest Chevy article I’ve seen in quite a while- interesting body/trim level, great “as found” grungy pics, and wrapped up with the “freshly sprayed off and on the trailer” pic that many of us get all uptight over if not shown. Great job, Jim!

    Like 7
  5. CadmanlsMember

    LS swap auto and modernize the brakes AC and drive the wheels off. By the way it’s gone!!

    Like 3
    • Daniel W Grubbs

      You mean it’s SOLD?

      Like 2
      • CadmanlsMember

        Yes sold.

        Like 0
      • RSparks

        Great car sold at a realistic price. I always liked these. Had a 54 gasser model I built when I was a kid. One of my coolest looking models. I hope this trend catches on. I’m getting to the age where I can afford to purchase more and have more time to work on and enjoy them, as I’m sure a lot of you are.

        Like 0
  6. Johnmloghry johnmloghry

    I’m the youngest of ten siblings and I’m 75 now. From 1956 until 1959 one of my older brothers served in the Army, when he came home he bought a 53 Chevy like this one but in blue and grey. He worked the swing shift for an oil company and was driving home one night when he fell asleep at the wheel, the car veered off the road and hit an oak tree. The tree lost some bark but the car was totaled. Our dad had a 54 Chevy pickup that needed a new engine so the a swap was made. My brother wasn’t hurt in the accident accept maybe his pride and the loss of his Chevy. He bought a 55 Ford pickup and life went on. He’s one of two of my siblings still alive today, if I could I would buy this car have it fully restored and gift it to him. He’s 84 now but he still drives and gets about quite well.

    God Bless America

    Like 20
  7. gaspumpchas

    Did a swap on a 53 where we put a 348 in one of these. Went the mustang 2 route for the front end, you buy a kit where you drop the whole front end out and install the crossmenber for mustang2 front end, disc brakes, rack and pinnion, plus is has the v8 mounts already installed. Got a 5 speed out of a well worn S10, installed a 57 chev rear, and the s10 driveshaft fit! We even got a power steering rack. Stock ps pump and brackets I believe. This woud be a shoe in for a swap like that no matter which way u decided to to. or, put a 5 speed with said open driveline. IIRC, the 53 with a powerglide had insert bearings, and all after had insert bearings. Good luck!!

    Like 3
  8. Jack Quantrill

    Switched those bulbous ‘53 taillights for the ‘54 version. Looked much better.

    Like 3
  9. Tom Marshburn

    I bought an identical ’53 in 1967 for $15.00. That is what the wrecker was going to charge to haul it off. A little tune up, new points etc. and I drove it for several years as a “fishing car”. Sold it to a friend of mine for $50.00 and he drove it several more years. A very dependable car. Wind up clock even worked.

    Like 7
  10. Daniel W Grubbs

    How do I contact seller of green ’53?

    Like 0
    • tadah23Member

      Posting has been deleted.

      Like 0
    • bobhess bobhessMember

      The BF guys give you a link in the first paragraph of the write up. Just went on it and the posting is gone, probably sold.

      Like 1
      • Daniel W Grubbs

        Thank You.
        I was so excited I missed that, looks like I missed the car also. I’m still gonna try.
        I’m born in 1953: that’s why I’ve been looking for one.

        Like 1
  11. TheOldRanger

    I liked the 54 better than the 53, but they were solid cars… I remember a couple of guys back around 1957 saying the 53 and 54 were built like tanks… they were extremely durable cars, even tough…

    Like 2
  12. Chris

    292 six, made up to resemble the Stovebolt as much as possible. Three on three with O/D and an open driveshaft.

    Like 0
    • John S Dressler

      Definitely agree with the 292 Chris. They produced a lot of torque which is why they were a popular engine in Chevy trucks and with a little engineering, you could produce some substantial horsepower to go along with it.

      Like 0

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