The big-block Chevy: 1959 Chevrolet Bel Air

Big-block, 3x2s and a 4-speed

The 1964 Pontiac GTO is generally acknowledged as the first muscle car, but it would be unfair to say performance cars built before 1964 were not muscle cars. One of the more interesting early muscle cars is our Pick of the Day, this 1959 Chevrolet Bel Air listed for sale on by a dealer in Volo, Ill.

The big-block Chevy had its genesis in the mid-1950s, as Chevrolet wanted to develop an engine to handle the increasing weight of its passenger cars, not to mention have a torquier engine for its trucks. Known as the “W” engine (an internal name, not due to the shape of the heads), it found fame in 1962 with 409 by the Beach Boys. But it was the 348 from 1958-61 that spearheaded big-block Chevrolet performance. In normal tune, the Turbo-Thrust 348 was rated at 250 horsepower with a 4bbl. and 280 horses with three two-barrel carburetors, but high-performance fans could buy solid-lifter versions with 305 or 320 horses depending on carburetion.

In 1959, those numbers were bumped up to 320 and 335 horsepower. In addition, Chevrolet made a factory 4-speed available for the first time after being a factory-sanctioned dealer-installed item the year before. This particular Bel Air 2-door Sedan has the latter combination: Super Turbo-Thrust Special with 335 horses with tri-carb induction and a 4-speed, plus Positraction rear axle with 4.11 gears.

Anyone could build a car like this and make a claim it’s real, but the seller says, “We have a notarized affidavit of authenticity stating this car is genuine from three people including the original owner! We also have original finance contract when the first owner bought the car new,” including registrations in the original owner’s name up to 1991. That year, he sold it to Ennis Lund, who spent the next 10 years making this Bel Air better than new.

Look around and you’ll see pristine treatment everywhere, from the panel gaps to the way the hood, trunk and doors close. Inside, the upholstery, door panels, carpet and headliner were replaced, and all the gauges and switch gear work as they should. Engine is restored to factory specs or better: “Every component is rebuilt. Correct hoses and clamps. Every painted surface is smooth. This is as nice as they get.”

For 1959 Chevrolets, it may not get better than this … unless you’re pining for a Fuelie. If you’re a fan of 409s and 427 big cars, then this is the Granddaddy of the bunch. The seller is asking $159,998, which ain’t peanuts but it’s a fine vehicle to show your friends in your garage and beyond.