Ok Boomer: The Chevy Bel Air Concept was GM's Turbocharged Retro Cruiser (From 2002)
Not long ago we took a look back at the Chevy SSR, a vehicle that was basically a concept car for the road and will go down as one of the most interesting car designs of the 2000s.
What you may have forgotten is that Chevy built a couple more heavily retro flavored concepts during the early 2000s, but unlike the SSR these cars were never realized in production form.
That’s what brings us to the 2002 Chevrolet Bel Air Concept—which takes both its name and inspiration from the iconic Chevy model of the 1950s and 60s.
One look at this car though, and it’s clear that it was built chiefly as a response to Ford's Thunderbird, the retro-styled convertible that Chevy’s main rival brought to the market for the 2002 model year.
Interestingly, the Bel Air Concept was actually a pretty “complete” concept car. It had a full interior with a heavy 1950s retro touch, and even included a bench seat and an old school column mounted shifter for its 4L60E automatic transmission.
The concept also used body on frame construction, with what at the time was advanced hydroforming technology in the frame rails for increased chassis rigidity.
The most interesting aspect of the Bel Air Concept has to be its engine, though. While you’d expect a variant of the classic small block V8, it was actually powered by a turbocharged version of GM’s then-new 3.5 liter five-cylinder engine.
The "Atlas" five-cylinder was sourced from the company’s midsize SUV and pickup line and in boosted form it gave the Bel Air a claimed output of 315hp and 315 pound/feet of torque.
While it’s hard to say how close a new Bel Air ever got to production, GM eventually decided to realize its retro convertible idea in the form of the SSR. Looking back at it now, a lot of the Bel Air Concept actually still looks pretty fresh thanks to its ‘50s inspired touches.
Finally, I can't be the only one who sees a bit of the fifth generation Camaro and even the Dodge Challenger in the Bel Air's side profile. Both of those cars would of course appear in concept form in the later 2000s before becoming very successful production models.
Given the current state of the auto market and the age of this car’s baby boomer target, it’s highly unlikely that GM will ever try to bring back the Bel Air again, but as always, it’s fun to think about what could have been.
More From Driving Line
- Want to read more about the retro project that actually happened? Check out our look back at the Chevy SSR.