Lean-To Find: 1953 Chevrolet Bel Air Two-Door Sedan

What a difference a couple of years make! The history of the Tri-Five, ’55, ‘56 and ’57 Chevrolets is well known and oft-told – a major automotive success story. But what about their predecessors, what were they like and how much different were they? Well, the ’53 and ’54 were very similar to each other and today, I would like to take a look at this ’53 Bel Air two-door sedan. Located in Grant, Alabama, it is available here on eBay for a BIN price of $5,000.

The 1953 Chevrolet came in three trim levels; Bel Air, 210 and 150. Within the trim levels were multiple body styles. This Bel Air is a two-door sedan but additional body style included a two-door hardtop, a two-door club coupe, a convertible, a four-door sedan, and a station wagon. What separated this Chevrolet from its arch-rival Ford was its lack of a V8 engine (though Chevrolet outsold Ford by about 98,000 units in ’53). Ford developed its flat-head V8 and first deployed it in 1932. The year after this ’53 Bel Air was constructed, Ford had moved on to its first OHV V8 but Chevrolet still clung to its old reliable, inline six-cylinder engine. It took the completely revolutionary ’55 Chevrolet to finally make the jump to V8 power.

So, what is under the hood of this Chevy? It is a 235 CI in-line six-cylinder engine. There were two versions available in ’53, a 108 and 115 HP varieties. Which version resides in this ’53 has not been disclosed. This Bel Air comes with the common disclaimer, “it did run” but it hasn’t been started in 20 years so I’ll make the big leap and assume it’s not running. While the venerable Powerglide automatic transmission was available as an option in ’53, this Chevy is equipped with the standard three-speed manual gearbox.

The seller tells us that this Belair is 95% complete but certain parts are off of the car like the front bumper and rear seat, though the supplied images show the front bumper being present with the rear one missing. I’d like to know what comprises the missing 5%. The body appears pretty straight and intact though there is a lot of trim that is missing. The original finish is still present, for the most part, but it is pretty faded away. There are quite a few images of this Bel Air included in the listing but none are very revealing. The seller states that this Chevy has been sitting in a lean-to for 20 years and it looks it.

Structurally speaking, the listing informs us that “the floors are good”; there are no accompanying images. The catch-all disclaimer reads, “There are unforeseen problems that are associated with a car in this shape and can be discussed during negotiation”. I don’t get warm and fuzzy from that statement, I would prefer to know more upfront.

The interior? Well, judge for yourself. The seller tells us the back seat is out of the car and one of the images shows what looks like a back-seat cushion turned up on its side. The rest of it is littered with debris and the front seat is pretty well trashed. The carpet is intact but worn, and to the seller’s claim, there is no evidence of floor damage visible. It’s hard to say beyond that, it will need a thorough inspection to get a complete idea of what’s what.

As I mentioned at the outset, the ’53 and ’54 Chevrolets get lost in the shuffle because of their overshadowing by the ’55-’57 models. I get the “no V8 engine” discrimination and their “older” looking body style but they are still due their old car respect – and this being the top-drawer Bel Air model makes it more desirable still. But, and it’s a big but, there are a lot of unknowns and clearly a lot of work that will be necessary for a car that will never have the cachet of the ’55-’57. I do, however, think this ’53 would make a great candidate for a resto-mod. So, what would you do with it, restore, make it a daily driver or hot-rod it?

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Comments

  1. Ken Kittleson

    Bought a baby blue and white ’53 Bel Air two door for $500 in ’76 and it was my daily driver for two years. It was one solid tank that really taught me how to parallel park, if I missed it on the first attempt I would be getting a Jack Armstrong workout cranking that big steering wheel trying to recover. This one would have the lower horsepower number, the higher one had hydraulic lifters and was available with the Powerglide only. All the grilles suffered from Korean War chrome, as I recall, and I painted mine with silver paint way back in ’76. Hope someone saves it, they’re great cars!

    Like 7
  2. Will Irby

    Our first family car that I remember was a light blue and white ’53 Chevy; we called it Blue Betsy. Following that was a green ’55 with a 265 and Powerglide; that one was known as Green Dragon.

    Like 3
  3. FordGuy1972 FordGuy1972 Member

    Another lazy seller who couldn’t be bothered to pull the car out from the lean-to, clean out the crap from the interior, wash it and take better pictures. Not enough info on the state of the car either as the seller wants you to call because he thinks he can talk you into buying this poorly presented classic. It looks like there is quite a bit of trim missing which may be difficult and expensive to replace for a car over 65 years old. Given all of that, I wonder if the interest in pre-’55 Chevys is dying out and his price is too high, even if the car is a better one than it looks.

    Like 10
    • Steve R

      You are right, there are better examples that aren’t much more expensive. It’s better to hold out for one of those to pop up.

      Steve R

      Like 8
  4. Little_Cars

    Amazing. I had to rub my eyes and look twice. This Barn Find is a dead ringer for a 53 I looked at and hoped to buy around 1991. Right down to the two tone color scheme, window visors, skirts, condition of the interior, engine and condition of the vehicle’s holding area! My example was a “ran when parked” but its resting place was a building near the college campus in Murfreesboro, TN. Elderly woman owner was also exorbitant in her asking price, as is this seller today. Maybe a $2-3000 car in its current condition. My brother-in-law claims to have used a 53 Chevy hood upside down to sled down hills in his youth. So there is a use for this car…..

    Like 5
  5. Jim B Clark

    My parent’s friends had a 51 2 door at their lake home with the 3 on the tree. Us kids would spend hours all piled into this going up and down their 1/2 mile driveway. Pretty cheap pre-video entertainment for sure!

    Like 3
  6. Del

    Nice bird poo-patina.

    If it was washed off and running this price may be okay.

    The way it sits its about what a wrecker would pay for it. 295 bucks

    Like 1
  7. Bob C.

    The stickshift would have the lower horsepower engine. If I can remember correctly, that version had solid lifters.

  8. Bob McK Member

    Price is way to high for what it is. It will be very expensive to just replace the trim.

    Like 1
  9. Angel_Cadillac_Diva Angel Cadillac Diva Member

    As for mentioned in the comments of the ’52 Chevy presented a few days ago, my father bought a brand new ’53 Chevy in ’52. It was a strip model, 150, with no options of any kind. Blackwall tires, dogdish hubcaps, no radio, oh it did have a heater and directional signals. The blinkers were now standard in ’53. It was black, very little chrome. All in all, a pretty cool car.
    His next new car was a ’64 Ford Fairlane. Again, strip model, with a Falcon engine, 3 on the tree, no power anything. This time we did get a AM radio.

    Like 1
  10. Tort Member

    I’m sure it ran at one time! Have had many 55 Chevys and two 56’s over the years and one I drive and occasionally show sitting in my shop. Saying that with all the tri fives still around and at the shows a 53 or 54 are out there but fairly rare. In the mid sixties a high school friend had a real nice 54 butterscotch colored BelAir. Still think of that car when I see a 53 or 54. Love to have this one but too pricey for all that it needs.

    Like 1
  11. TimM

    How cool is this car??? Get it running do the necessary mechanicals and drive the tires off it!!!

  12. canadainmarkseh Member

    As said above very lazy seller. These earlier cars are my Favorite at the car shows there are alway plenty of the tri fives so one of these might stand out in the line up. This looks very restorable and a good project for a DIY guy but the price would have to be no more then $2500.00. All that said your in for a long project and there hard to get through without stalling out.

  13. deak stevens

    Hate to bust your bubble but thats not a 235 in that 53

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