Last of the Finned Bowties: 1960 Chevrolet Bel Air Street Machine

If you have a soft spot for 1960 Chevy full-size cars, you might be surprised to learn that our beloved Bowtie division owes quite a bit of its sleek and low design to its Highland Park rival, Chrysler Corporation. Let’s take a look at how the 1960 Chevrolet was influenced by the “Forward Look” Mopars of Virgil Exner, the chief designer of Chrysler in the 1950s. I know this is sacrilegious for some but stay with me here.

1957 Plymouth Photo - Chrysler Corporation

When talking about Chevys, praising Mopars may be verboten, but Chrysler’s 1957 models really did send automakers back to the drawing board.

The Forward Look was a radical departure from the conventional styling of the mid-century cars. It featured long, low, and wide bodies, with sweeping fins and minimal chrome. The 1957 Chrysler models stunned the automotive world with their futuristic and elegant appearance, and they made GM cars of the same year look outdated and bulky.

1957 Chrysler Saratoga Photo – Sotheby’s

Harley Earl’s Swan Song Of Chrome And Fins

The biggest auto company in the world was caught off guard and had to scramble to catch up. Harley Earl, the legendary GM designer who created the Corvette and many other iconic post-war GM cars, was nearing retirement and Chrysler’s styling coup would help push him out as chief stylist, ushering in replacement, protege Bill Mitchell. The Forward Look caused a last-minute, three-alarm pivot at GM, as Earl had to rethink 1959 models in order to leapfrog its crosstown Pentastar rivals.

Photo – GM Archives

The results were some of the wildest cars GM had ever produced. Each division sported winged appendages bordering on the bizarre. Of the five divisions, Cadillac and Chevy were the wildest, and internally, the General knew they were controversial and already had a toned-down revision waiting in the wings for 1960. Although sharing very little sheet metal, any review of a 1960 Chevy has to begin with the all-new 1959 model.

1959 Bel Air  Photo – GM

The 1959 Chevy had a lower roofline, a wider body, a longer wheelbase, and wild curved tail fins. The taillights were teardrop-shaped and placed on each side of the rear fenders. The front grille had two slim air scoops above it. The Impala became a separate series, with four-door hardtops, sedans, convertibles, and station wagons.  The new design used a new X-frame chassis, making the roofline three inches lower, the bodies two inches wider, and the wheelbase almost two inches longer. The flattened tail fins protruded outward rather than upward.

Standard equipment included front and rear armrests, an electric clock, dual sliding sun visors, and crank-operated front vent windows. A contoured, hooded instrument panel held deep-set gauges. A six-way power seat was a new option, as was “Speedminder”, which allowed the driver to set a needle at a specific speed, which triggered a buzzer when exceeded.

1960 Chevy Bel Air  Photo – GM

The 1960 Chevy models retained most of the features of the 1959 models but with major styling changes that look very similar to the ’59 cars but are completely different. Round taillights were reinstated, the Batmobile fins were creased and nipped, and the eyebrows over the headlights were removed. Our favorite 1960 design cue is the style line running under the rear fender beltline capped off by a jet plane ornament.

1960 Chev models   Photo – GM

Seven versions of the 283-cu in and 348-cu in V8s were offered: the carbureted Turbo-Fire 283 V8 could have either 170 or 230 hp. The 348 cu in was available in 250 to 320 hp with a 350 Special Super Turbo-Thrust with triple two-barrel carburetors, 11.25:1 compression ratio, and dual exhausts. Fuel injection was no longer an option on full-size Chevrolets. New to the options list was cruise control. Production was 490,000 units.

The 1960 Chevy was a successful car, selling almost half a million units. It was also a beautiful car, with graceful lines and proportions. It was the last of the Harley Earl-era, wrap-around windshields, and the end of the line for finned Chevys.

Tim Powell’s Timeless 1960 Bel Air

Fast forward to today and let’s take a look at this fantastic 1960 Bel Air two-door post owned by Tim and Cathy Powell from Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Tim recounts how he found the old Bel Air, “I saw the car for sale in Ocean City while attending the Endless Summer Cruise in 2017.  I decided to sell my ’55 Chevy Pro Street truck and take on a new project, and the rest is history.”

The goal of the build was to distill the old Chevy down to its purest form. Powell retained most of the cool exterior jewelry but very tastefully shaved the rest. It was mostly rust-free, except for a bit of tin worm in the lower front fenders, but that’s common in this era of GM cars and easily fixed. After massaging the body and lining everything up just right, the car was sprayed out in a silver hue from a Toyota OEM colorway.

From there, Tim got the car sitting right without the complexity or fuss of an aftermarket chassis or an air system. He simply cleaned up the old X-frame, cut down the springs, and topped it all off with a very restrained set of 15×7 and 15×8 Center Line Qualifiers with big BF Goodrich rubber all the way around, (215/65/15s up front and 295/50/15s out back. Getting a car to sit right is an art form and Powell hits the bullseye here, with not only the right ride height but the rake as well.

Under the hood beats the Heartbeat of America in the form of a breathed-on 350 feeding a four-speed manual mated to a rare-as-hens-teeth, Hurst V-gate manual shifter. The mill is running an Edelbrock Performer intake, a Holley 750 carb, and a Lunati cam with Dart Iron Eagle heads. This healthy little small block exhales through Hooker headers and FlowMaster exhaust.

Inside the cockpit, the no-frills angle continues.  A smaller diameter repro steering wheel compliments Moon gauges and reupholstered seats.  The black and gray/white color combo works well with the silver exterior and retains a vintage look.

Our favorite part of this build? Powell was wise enough to mostly leave it alone. A 1960 Bel Air is timeless and every mod was thoughtful and warranted. When customizing a car, it’s easy to default to broad, heavy brush strokes and Powell understood this implicitly and used restraint. For now, it looks like Tim and Cathy are enjoying and showing the car. If you’re up in the Northeast area of the country, be sure and keep your eye out for this finned, street warrior Chevy. We’re sure you’ll love it as much as we do!

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Dave Cruikshank

Dave Cruikshank is a lifelong car enthusiast and an editor at Power Automedia. He digs all flavors of automobiles, from classic cars to modern EVs. Dave loves music, design, tech, current events, and fitness.
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