OK; I know cars (like people) have been trending bigger over the decades. And I know the MINI is a perfect example of that, but it’s still just about the smallest car one can buy, except for a Smart. But when I ran into this lineup in a parking lot on a walk last night, I couldn’t help thinking that the ’57 Chevy looked slightly shrunken. It just looks a bit smaller than it should, and the longer I looked at it, the more that was reinforced. Or was it something I ate?
CC Outtake: 15/16th Scale ’57 Chevy?
– Posted on September 10, 2012
It does look smaller but it’s probably something you ate. I don’t know of anyone selling a scaled down 57 and the reality of it is that things are getting bigger. The SUV looks right but the Mini looks bigger than I thought. You got me.
A 57 Chevy is around 200″ overall length and 73″ wide, so it’s a shade smaller than my 77 Chevelle, and it dwarfs a Mini — but then again its a nimitz class mid sized sedan.
this looks small to me as well.
The fact that it is a convertible helps it appear smaller too. The taller is better is definitely in full effect these days – I blame the raised SUV seating position loved by a lot of females myself. Mostly gone are the days when you fell into a seat like on a second generation Camaro.
So called “small” SUVs/CUVs are getting larger . . . also, for ’57, Chevy switched to 14″ for a lower profile.
This is a reminder that whenever we hear someone waxing on and on abut how huge their 195x Whatchamacallit was, their memories have (for the most part) been played with by time. I recently saw a Corvair in front of a Toyota 4 Runner and — Wow, was that Corvair tiny. The 57 Chevy was just not really all that big.
The ’57 Chevy was 200 inches (5,080 mm) long on a 115-inch (2,921 mm) wheelbase, which is somewhat longer than most modern D-segment (Accord/Camry/Altima) sedans. Overall width is 73.9 inches (1,877 mm), which right in the ballpark.
The Corvair is not tiny by modern standards, but it was fully 20 inches shorter overall than the ’57 Chevy.
Been there done that — I have a ’64 Corvair. It can be a little scary on the road, how low I am compared to ordinary modern cars. I have had a number of drivers make turns into my path a bit closer than they should; I think they are looking higher and do not see me right away.
In 2003 I saw two then-new Mini Coopers flanking a pre-’74 BMW 2002. They made it look like a little toy. Even more extreme was something I saw in Symbolic Motor Car’s showroom. They had some classic 911s like the ’73 Carrera RS and a 911R inside with a couple current 997 wide bodies. The new cars looked like parade float caricatures of the real thing.
“In 2003 I saw two then-new Mini Coopers flanking a pre-’74 BMW 2002. They made it look like a little toy”
That’s interesting considering the R50 Mini hatch (1st generation: 2002-2006) is 143 inches long and a BMW 2002 is 166 inches long.
Both cars stand about 55 inches high. The Mini is 2 inches wider (66 inches vs 64 inches), and both weigh within 200 pounds of each other.
Styling has a subtle but compelling effect here too. Even though the Chevy and Mini are the same height and the Mini is narrower, modern cars are styled to look chunky, upright and substantial. By the late fifties Space Age stylists pulled some remarkable tricks to make their cars look low, sleek and streamlined.
For example, look at the grille heights on these three.
The Honda really is taller, and look at all that space between the front tire and its wheel well.
Old Mini, new Mini.
The new Mini is also twice the weight of the old Mini!
It is all those pesky crash protection crumple zones, interior space requirements, and modern seats that doubled the size of the mini.
Old american cars look really huge against old european cars but right now we’ve got cars so bloated (in width and height most of all) that the impact it’s somehow less strong…the growth in size and weight that we had in the last 10 years really it’s shocking: my mother’s car it’s a 2007 Peugeot 207 wagon, a small, utilitarian car that’s wide as a 20 year old BMW 5-series, weighs as a late ’70s Citroen CX, it’s tall like a Checker cab and it’s powered by a 90hp 1,6L diesel…small hatches used to be something like the half of this car ! And don’t let me start on how the proportions have changed…I like(d) low cars with well defined volumes and adequate wheels…well, goodbye to all that 🙁 ! I’ve forgot the most important thing: that Chevy left me speechless, what a beauty !
My lord, I want that ’57!
Interestingly, when I was car shopping in spring 1970, I came across a small car lot on Fulton St. in Sacramento and they had a ’57 Chevy just like the one pictured. The car had factory air and just about every option then available. I assumed it ran, too. Asking price? I hope you’re sitting down: $350.00.
I passed, suspicious of the car, but man, was it beautiful.
5 weeks later I found my avatar and was happy thereafter.
Convertible for $350?
I remember my dad talking about his ’55, the car he had in college in the late ’50s/early ’60s, and asking him why he didn’t still have it, since those were such classics–he had to explain to me that at the time, a ’55 6-cylinder sedan was just a used car, not a classic, and that keeping it wasn’t practical (he’d dated my mom in it, and by the time they got married, she wanted air conditioning and an automatic, and to have something other than a now-aging car in the driveway).
Yes, a convertible, loaded. I should have checked it out more, but I was real suspicious of the price even then and moved on. I bought my avatar from a sergeant on base where I was stationed.
You sound like your dad gave you the same talk that my father did (one of our last conversations as he lay dying in the hospital), as he patiently explained to me that, as a dealer, he was dealing with units to be sold. And the floor planning paid off. Nothing more, nothing less. My dad sold cars because he had a talent to sell and back then selling cars was one of the more profitable outlets for a good salesman.
Love of cars? Not a chance. They were to be sold, not adored.
Something else most of us forget is that the whole concept of collecting old cars is a pretty recent phenomenon. Back in the 50’s and 60’s there was a small but vocal hot rodding contingent, but those guys who actually saved old, used, cars in factory stock condition were looked at as awfully weird. As a result, vintage car prices were rather cheap.
When I was a child (50’s, 60’s) car collecting, as it was, primarily consisted of the A-C-D cars, Packards, some fascination with Model T’s and A’s, and not a whole lot beyond that. When I was 18 (1968), the interest had finally grown enough that Johnstown (only 150 miles west of Hershey) finally had a AACA chapter – 13 guys, 11 old cars, only two of which were classic ground up restorations. Fully half the cars in the club had been passed down thru the member’s families and finally resided with them. Fifteen years later that chapter was about 50 guys and around 200 cars – and nearly half of them were ground up restorations.
The antique car hobby really took off with the boomers, once they started reaching their late 20’s and early 30’s and could afford a ‘toy’ car.
That also pretty much explains that when I sold my avatar – a 1964 Chevy Impala SS convertible in July, 1973 for $625.00 shortly before I left the service, that same car could hardly be touched for two, three times that amount in two short years.
You’re all of a year older than me and hot rods when we were kids were just as you said.
Something happened around 1973-74…that seems to be the years that changed things.
Maybe the movie American Graffiti? I bought my 2 door hardtop ’57 Chevy in 1975 for $750. The car was less than 20 years old, but attracted attention everywhere.
According to Wikipedia the 1957 Bel Air was 196″ long on a wheelbase of 115″. According to Edmunds.com, the regular Mini Hatchback is 147″ long on a 97″ Wheelbase.
I think some of your reaction is a trick of perspective, and a response to design cues. On careful study, the Chevy looks longer than the Mini.
The modern Mini is more than 2 feet longer than the original Mini, but is still a sub-compact. The original was a city car a/k/a kei car. The ’57 Chevy is a medium sized car like the current Impala.
Very interesting article….My dad had a ’57 Bel Air that he sold to his father in law in the early 60s, who promptly dropped a lit cigarette on the front seat! I still hear that story today..
In 1972, a ’57 Chevy was small.
In 1982, it was a boat. Same in 1992 and 2002.
Today’s pic points up just how bloated today’s cars have become. Poor space utilization in many of them plus the added weight takes a toll on fuel economy.
BTW plenty of room in that Tri-Five. And weighs all of 3,500 soaking wet. My old 150 2-door with the 283 and a 4-speed was registered in NY at under 3200 lbs.
Yeah, but that lightweight ’57 has exactly NO safety features. Antilock brake, sound deadening, anti-intrusion bars, crush zones, airbags, they all add weight.
Cue the Crash test video.
The three cars in the picture look like 50s Matchbox toys — when they were made to widely differing scales so they could all fit in the same-size boxes!
Coincidentally, I was in traffic last night behind side-by-side Benzes…an early-80s SL and a current model S-Class.The SL may as well have been a Miata.
In fact, this week, I’m driving an Abarth, and I was up a lot higher than the guy in the SL.
The power of suggestion! At first I was taken in by the idea that this was some strange miniature ’57, but then looking more carefully it is clearly a good deal wider than the CRV. The contrast with the Mini is more tricky, as the cars being parked on different angles provides an optical illusion. The Chev faces away from the camera, minimising its width, while the Mini faces the camera more directly, emphasizing its width. Length is not really a factor, while on the height front the Chevy appears to be lowered slightly (even via smaller tires).
I suspect there are some tricks of perspective in the picture, but still…
I’ve had the same impression when seeing early-60’s Lincolns and T-birds. There are a fair number of them around here that come out of the garages in summer (they’re especially prolific around the time of the Woodward Dream Cruise), and I’m always struck by how small and fragile they look.
Not too long ago I saw a ’50 Plymouth. These were infamously tall and stodgy for the day; designed that way at K.T. Keller’s insistence so a man could keep his hat on when he drove. Funny thing though; my reaction was that except for the width (too narrow), it wasn’t too far off the proportions of a lot of newer vehicles!
I saw a ’57 four door near a current model Holden Caprice a few days ago, and was struck by how compact it really was. However the ’59s still look huge!
I have a 1991 Peugeot 405 Mi16. Back in 1991 when I bought this car, it was similar in size to the Honda Accord, the Ford Contour, the BMW 3 series, and the Toyota Camry. All were considered “mid-size” family cars capable of seating 5 passengers in a pinch. today, when I drive this 21 year old car on the road, I am constantly struck by how small and especially how low the car is compared to nearly every car found on the road. 2012 Corollas, Civics, Minis are all significantly larger than my 405. I searched through my pics of my 405 near contemporary cars of today to demonstrate this and the best comparison photo I can come up with is the one I attach, it shows my car with a 2010 Toyota Camry parked across the street.
For safety and the driver of today’s wishes to have a more commanding view of the road (reasons that are understandable) and also for the rapidly increasing waist lines of Americans (which is deplorable), cars have become increasingly taller, larger and heavier. The Camry of today has got to displace at least twice the volume of the Camry of 1991. Indeed, the 405 is significantly smaller than the 407.
However I believe this will trend back into the other direction with increasingly smaller and lighter cars as gas mileage needs dictate smaller cars. Safety systems are being made to require less space and use of high strength steel and composite materials will help significantly. Already engine displacement is falling and 3 cylinder cars will become the “new normal” and 6 and 8 cylinder cars the domain of luxury marques. The just introduced Peugeot 208 is marginally smaller than the 207 and hundreds of pounds lighter still. It is however still bigger than the 205.
To say I drive my 405 in traffic and on the freeway defensively perhaps goes without saying; I am a convinced lover of life and don’t like my odds for survival if I ever have the misfortune of being involved in an accident.
(knock on wood)