What If: The 1955 Belvedere Goes Shopping for a Makeover at the Competition

(first posted 2/22/2017)    By 1955, mainstream American auto design was committed to the envelope body. Although vestigial saddle bags remained on some cars, and small dips in the belt line on others (particularly at GM) whispered goodbye to the hips of early postwar designs, the new Plymouths displayed an unbroken fender line from head to tail lamp. Searching for novel places to screw color breaks onto smooth flanks, mid century stylists turned to swoops and check marks of brightwork that often had little visual connection to the shapes they floated on. None more so than at Plymouth.

Time to take the Belvedere shopping at some other studios for a makeover.

The top ‘o the line, Plymouth Belvedere is often cited as the sterling example of The School of Contrived Chrome Trim. The little blazer crest under a buddhist temple of stainless that crowed, “Oh, Belvedere!” to class-conscious middle income buyers remains a conundrum to tastemakers many decades later. Collectible Automobile held a reader contest to design a “new improved version” of the ’56 Belvedere in 1991, and our own J. P. Cavanaugh collected some ideas for the ’55 some twenty years later. I parodied the Belvedere’s side trim in an early piece which imagined dead (Dali, Calder, Warhol…) and living (Banksy, Watterson) ghost artists’ styles applied to “fix” the Plymouth.

But, then I thought, why not offer the same challenge to designers of the day who didn’t work for Chrysler Corporation?

Let’s look at the 1955 Plymouth, reconfigured with trim from some of its contemporaries. I won’t comment on the success or lack of it in these treatments; that’s what forums are for…

First, we check out a model from the “Ford Agency”.

Plymouth had 3 tiers of trim in its lineup for ’55: Plaza, Savoy and Belvedere. In honor of Dearborn’s contribution to our project, We will add another top model, the Furilane. Note that the stylists might feel mandated to retain the Plymouth Crest in the car’s chrome dip. To our relief, Plymouth didn’t have separate headlamp doors as Ford did, so we don’t have to decide whether to carry the outside color around to the inside of the ring.

Then, well go to the number one seller. Step right up and meet the new 1955 Plymouth Bel Vedaire.

Now, a quick side trip to South Bend, Indiana where we get to look over a Plazadent Speedster.

Just for fun, let’s cheat a bit to imagine the Plazadent with a C pillar similar to Studebaker’s. Though an expensive stamping change would be required, the reverse curve echoes the hooded lamps at each end of the car.

Our next stop is Kenosha, Wisconsin where American Motors stylists apply the ’55 Nash’s “Colorforms” clamshell side treatment to the Ambellssador.

This last, fading independent, Kaiser suggests relatively simple adornment: a wide chrome band. The Manhatteer lends itself best to simple two toning, using just the roof.

Then, it’s on to Flint, Michigan to rejoin GM, where Buick designers give their version the Full Porthole. This is a Roadrunster V-8.

Buick didn’t make a 6 cylinder car, but Plymouth did. Here’s a study for a Roadrunster “6”, showing its fitting, asymmetrical, porthole treatment.

Had it been produced in series, the experimental 1955 Plymouth Gasturbine might sport a “monoport”.

Oldsmobile donates it’s Starfire ornamentation, more easily grafted onto the straight sides of the Plymouth than the premier Holiday 98 series. What we get is the new Starvoye Sport Coupe.

If it seems we missed FoMoCo’s division named for the wing footed god of speed, there’s a reason. To make the Moperrey, we really do have to cheat; the only way for Mercury stylists to graft their trim on to the Plymouth would be to completely change the door and rear fender stampings.

It’s better that we should get back to the original, smooth sided design that Plymouth stylists had to work with. That way we can put the Pontiac guys on it for the new Savoy Chief. Looks as though they grabbed the chance to leave the silver streaks off of the hood.

Someone already customized their real life 1955 Plymouth with a motif that’s not too far off. Searching the web showed no evidence that this chrome swoop is a factory design. Maybe it was taken off of a Pontiac. Anyone know differently?