Thursday, June 10, 2010

Whatever happened to Chevy's "Belchfire Eight?"

The headline on today's New York Times front page came almost like heresy: General Motors is directing its employees and dealers to stop saying "Chevy" as part of an effort to promote consistency in the Chevrolet brand.

I know, it didn't make any sense to me either, but there it was, quoting Chevy's vice present for sales and service, Alan Batey, asking the company's workers and associates to "communicate our brand as Chevrolet moving forward."

This might not be the dumbest thing I've ever heard, but it's surely the dumbest thing since Coke decided it was a good idea to change the formula for the iconic soft drink. While Louis Chevrolet may have been a fine race car driver and Chevrolet made a mighty good car (we Bettses were Chevrolet people for most of the post-World War II era), the notion that it makes sense to ask folks not to call the company's products a Chevy is downright puzzling. It made me think there's a Chevy official somewhere who just does not have enough to do.

3:25 pm update: Just read that Chevrolet has backed off on its "poorly worded" memo and says folks can call a Chevy a Chevy.

I say this as an old Chevy fan. My first car was a Chevy, a 1956 Chevrolet Bel Aire 4-door with the small block V-8 engine that revolutionized the car business in the 1950s. Mine had a snazzy blue and white paint job similar to the photo of the 2-door model taken by John Filiss, president of Serious Wheels Inc., and posted on its website at

I bought mine from my father for $50 when I was a sophomore in college and I wish I still had it. The Bel Aire was loaded: It had an AM radio, a heater and wing windows port and starboard that directed cooling breezes on a hot day. And it had bench seats big enough to take nap on or remove in the back to carry serious cargo if the spacious trunk was full. When I was a cheerleader at Carolina, I left the back seat at the Beta House and drove out to Bob Hogan's farm to pick up Rameses, the Tar Heel mascot, for mid-week pep rallies. (The Hogans delivered Rameses to and picked him up after football games, but for mid-week pep rallies they were busy running the family dairy farm, so I volunteered to chauffeur Rameses around.) I would lead Rameses into the back through the right rear door, drive him down to Y-court or the old baseball field for the pep rally, and lead him out the other side. Ramses liked the '56 Chevy. He never messed it up but that one time when we had a near-miss near the corner of Franklin and Columbia. At least that's when I figured it happened.

The small-block V-8 was a marvelous engine that was fairly easy to tune up, and you didn't have to be able to do hot Yoga just to get at the spark plugs when they needed replacing. It had some quirky design features. Back in those days, gas stations had attendants who would come out and fill your gas tank and wash the front windshield; I always waited to see whether they knew where the fill pipe was, located within the signal and brake-light housing next to the trunk. You turned a vertical piece of chrome to open it up and the whole assembly plopped back on a hinge to reveal the gas cap.

Chevy was selling the car with a pair of four-barrel carburetors for a bit of extra money and calling it the Super Turbo Fire V-8. My '56 didn't have the Super Turbo Fire, so we just called it the Belchfire Eight, after a cartoon somebody saw in one of the Greensboro newspapers. That car lasted me though college and well into my first year in newspapering. It ran well in snow and particularly liked running in the rain, for some reason. It made more beach trips than the Embers and it was still running just fine when I sold it to a Burlington accountant for $65 the week before I went off to the Army in the spring of 1969. I saw an online ad somewhere pegging the price of a really nice restored '56 at about $29,500. For a car that sold in 1956 for about $2,200, that wasn't bad. Boy, I miss that Chevy.

1 comment:

StvMcQueen1 said...

"Belchfire V-8" first appeared in the late-50s or early-60s, in a Mad Magazine cartoon.