Rough and Ready: 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air Wagon

Bel Air 1

In the fifties and sixties, when I was a kid, wagons were everywhere. Most families we knew had kids, usually a few of them, and wagons were needed to haul us around, not to mention trips to the hardware store or lumber yard on weekends. And then there were those long car rides to wherever, vacations, camp, hunting, fishing, visits to the relatives. In these days before safety features we take for granted today, kids frequently rode in what was called the “way back” or the “far back,” depending on what your family called it, even in those six passenger wagons where we simply sat or lay on the floor.

Bel Air Side View

When I saw the craigslist ad for this Bel Air wagon I was reminded of my youth, even though my family never owned Chevys. ’57s are still for most of us the iconic car of the decade. They were very popular and even more expensive nowadays. I expect that a top of the line Bel Air wagon will be of interest to someone out there, even this one that has lots of issues and open questions.

Bel Air Rear View

First the good, which is pretty much all the seller has to say about the car. The Bel Air was the top end wagon for Chevy this year, so it’s probably the most desirable wagon. This car was put away in a barn in 1968 with only 28,000 miles. The interior is claimed original, and pretty much looks it. The car has a rebuilt engine with a new starter, fuel pump, and water pump. It also has almost new white wall tires on it and a very nice original roof rack on top. The owner says it “runs and drives.” I always wonder what that means. How well does it run and how far can it drive?

The owner here definitely thinks it is in very good condition, and the asking price of $7,850 reflects the owner’s optimism. Personally, I think that’s crazy money when you consider the problems you will be faced with if you do purchase this car. I looked up prices for 57 Bel Air wagons though and was stunned to see that the guide said $15K for a car in fair condition.

Bel Air Dash

I sure do wish this seller knew how to take and post decent pictures. Some of the pics on the craigslist ad are sideways and most of them don’t really show off the car’s strengths or weaknesses very well.

Bel Air engine

My concerns about this car abound. Which engine does it actually have? The one engine compartment picture shows the generator, but not the engine. It could even be the low end six cylinder for all we know. Coming from Minnesota, we know the car is going to have a lot of rust and even these poor pictures suggest the body work is going to be significant. The interior is original, but except for the headliner, it’s in poor condition and needs plenty of work. We can assume the brakes, exhaust, and everything electrical is going to need replacing or rebuilding.

Maybe all of this is worthwhile, but it’s not like this is a one of a kind car that can’t be found in better condition and needing less work for reasonable money. So this is for the project lover. It’s not a car you can haul out of storage, clean up, and drive home.

Bel Air 3 quarter view

Still, this car is a flat out memory machine for many of us. Plus, wagons are just plain fun! I hope someone really ambitious does rescue this low mileage Chevy and that they have many more years of pleasurable motoring ahead of them!

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Comments

  1. randy

    If I were to ever own a ’57 Chevy, it would be a wagon. The way things seem to be going, this seems cheap to me.

  2. Vince Habel

    It is not a 6 cylinder. If it is the original engine it should be a 283.

  3. GarWood

    The “V” on the 1957 Hood indicates it was born with a V8 engine. I would have been a 283.

  4. Mark E

    Nice but not the top of the line which would be a Bel Air Deluxe which would have back-up lights in the pods below the tail lights, the pods on the front have rubber tips, there are chrome stripes over the white part of the rear fender and the three scallops on the front fender are gold also. I grew up riding in a Bel Air Deluxe wagon which my Dad ordered with the power pak engine and this brings back memories of family vacations when I was in grade school. My uncle had the Chevrolet dealership so it was always Chevys in my childhood.

    Like 1
  5. leiniedude leiniedude Member

    I do not know if I have ever seen a roof rack on one of these. I understand why, the designers of the car were right on but missed the mark on the rack. Racks are very handy but this one looks out of place. I do like the reflector on the back of it though. Can some one confirm it is factory or a J.C. Whitney add on?

    • Brad

      I agree, this rack looks awkward here, seems more of a 60s style to me (thinner and jet age, rather than chunky chrome 50s). I’d think Whitney is a good guess.

      The best aftermarket rack of the era – in my opinion – was the wood and chrome Carter CarPac… and the best factory rack was on the late 40’s Desoto Suburbans.

  6. Rando

    I can’t help it – that is beautiful just the way it is. Would love to find something like this and just enjoy it as it is. Make it safe and reliable. Looks pretty orginal and as the old thing goes, they are only original once. just my take on it.

  7. Tim

    Top of the line bel air wagon was the Nomad.

  8. Jim

    57′ is THE year. It looks like a nice original car, except for the question about the engine. I would believe the story, especially since it still has a generator. I wonder about rot on the chassis being it’s in Vermont.

  9. Rando

    If you look closely at the generator, you can see what looks (to my eyes) a Ram;s horn exhaust manifold. 6 cylinder would have intake/carb setup back there – the exh and intake maniflods were intertwined. . I’m not sure which side the generator would be on a 6 either. a 6 wouldn’t have parts over that far. Plus the V on the hood as mentioned earlier.

    Like 1
  10. Tyler

    The gen is on the same side on a 235, but I think you can see the valve cover of a V8 in the pic of the generator here, so probably a 283? I do love a warmed-up 235, though!

    Like 1
    • Rando

      I worked on a local race car in the late 80s that ran a straight 6. They sound good when hopped up.

  11. L.M.K. Member

    Hope it doesn’t suffer the same fate as this one :

    http://barnfinds.com/1957-chevy-bel-air-wagon-shorty-style/

  12. 64 bonneville

    it does have the correct width whitewalls for 1957 vehicles. I would have some reservations as to the frame and body mounts after looking at some of the rust thru n the CL pictures. IMO around $4500-5k would be a fair offer for it. ad states engine has been rebuilt (when?) as typically somebody rebuilding an engine will also clean it up, also the lack of any pictures of the engine. we had a neighbor bought a 57 Bel Aire deluxe wagon back in 1959. fully loaded including windows, seats and air conditioning. don’t know what he had give but when I t into the Army back in 67 they were still driving it.

  13. dave

    some serious rocker area rot, probably 128 thou miles

  14. Steve

    Probably be turned into a dime-a-dozen over-chromed resto-mod. I really like wagons, but the only challenge here is the damage to your credit card balance.

  15. piper62j

    No way it has that low mileage.. And again, I would not pay the extra money for those cob webs.. Overall, nice project to get into.. There appears to be rotted out left rear quarter panel behind the rear wheel.. Very questionable..

  16. Chuck Foster Chuck F 55chevy

    Definitely a V8 Bel Air, definitely not 28k miles with all that rust and wear on interior, as well as why the engine was rebuilt, but still a cool car, I don’t remember seeing one with a roof rack, but I never paid attention to wagons back in the day unless it was a Nomad.

  17. Robert Mc.

    Some early 57’s had a 265, but it’s more than likely a 283. Doesn’t look like a highly optioned car (no back-up lights, no front bumper bullets, no power brakes). Also looks like the owner liked after market stuff: Motorola radio, dual mirrors on the bumpers, roof rack. The car does have dual exhaust, could be a Power Pack car or could have been added later. The rocker panels need to be replaced, but the tail gate looks great (both typical rust areas). Overall looks like a very solid wagon, but better pics would help. $5k would be a fair price!

  18. Chuck Foster Chuck F 55chevy

    Look at the CL map, it’s still in Minnesota.

  19. ROB Chevy

    I have bought this nice car and ship it to the Netherlands.
    It’s nice to read the comments about this car.

    We started for a complete body-off restoration.

    There is missing one tail light from the roof rack, and I have looked for a company who might have these. If You have any suggestions please send me a email rob4533@hotmail.com. Thanks anyway.

    • Jamie Palmer Jamie Staff

      Thanks for the update, ROB!!!

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