The Chevrolet “Tri-Fives”, the 1955 – ’57 models, seem to have been, for as long as I can remember, widely recognizable as classic Chevys by people with seemingly no special interest in cars, in general. Even in the mid-’80s when I was an adolescent, I can still remember images of the ’57s in particular being present on everything from TV commercials for 3 Musketeers candy bars to designer Trapper Keeper binders used by me and my fellow grade school students.
Even though I had been gifted by my parents with my first copy of the “Encyclopedia Of American Cars” from the editors of Consumer Guide by middle school, I can’t say that it was my increased interest in these Chevys that made them suddenly seem back in vogue in the public consciousness. There had seemed to be a genuine revival in interest in all things ’50s in the second half of the ’80s, citing movies like “La Bamba” and Pee Wee Herman’s bicycle as just a couple of admittedly random examples.
That three-year generation of Chevrolet seemed ubiquitous in the mid-/late-’80s, and still does today, to some degree. So, on the day I beheld it, why did I view our featured car, the Chevy’s corporate cousin, as such a curio? This was probably because for every ’57 Pontiac of any stripe that I’ve ever seen, I’ve seen probably ten non-Corvette Chevys from the same model year. In 1957, total Pontiac output was around 334,00 units, versus 1,506,000 at Chevrolet. (Coincidentally, ’57 was one of those rare years when Ford outsold Chevy, by about 11%.) Even the model name of this aqua-and-white beauty was something I had to look up, being mislabeled as a longer-wheelbase “Star Chief” on the sign tucked under its windshield.
Our example is one of about 21,300 Chieftain two-doors produced for the model year, with its base price starting around $2,500. Both Pontiac and Chevrolet had a three-tiered model range that year, and the Chieftain was at the bottom. A comparable Chevy 150 two-door would have a base price that started at just under $2,000. A whopping 25% premium over the price of the Chevy might have made the seven-inch wheelbase stretch (122″ vs. 115″) for the Pontiac a challenging sell, though I’m sure there were other differences in content between the two cars.
Memorial Day Weekend in Chicago kicks off what is normally a season filled with a non-stop parade of street festivals and concerts. The village of Skokie, Illinois, which is about fifteen miles north of downtown Chicago’s Loop district, has hosted a street festival called Skokie’s Backlot Bash since 2007, which is where I saw and photographed this beautiful Pontiac. The Backlot Bash is a family-friendly event that includes live music concerts, rides, food and snack vendors, a classic car show, a couple of beer tents, and many other attractions.
I had never been to Skokie before and thought this fest would be a fun way to spend a Sunday afternoon. I was feeling particularly down after having returned from a big, fun, week-long car festival and visit with friends and loved ones back home in Flint, Michigan, just a couple of weeks before. To complicate things slightly, my ex of five years and I had recently begun to exchange olive branches, months after our split. I thought that going to a street festival in a wide-open, public place as an afternoon activity would be a safe bet as a venue to minimize any undue potential weirdness, so we rode the CTA Yellow Line elevated train and deboarded at the Skokie station that was within just a few blocks of the event.
It was one of the hottest days of the year, with temperatures above ninety degrees Fahrenheit in the shade. I felt bad for the ’80s rock cover band that was performing when we arrived, as they sounded great, but there were only so many seats under the shade trees around the perimeter of the general seating area for the people who stayed to listen. Listen we did, for a while, anyway, before I made a beeline to the small corral of classic cars parked in the lot of a bank situated at the entrance to the event.
Nineteen Fifty-Seven was the year that Semon “Bunkie” Knudsen joined Pontiac and was basically tasked with rejuvenating the division. He was only in his mid-40s when he became the youngest General Manager in GM history, at this time. Mr. Knudsen recruited talented engineers from both within the organization (John Estes, from Oldsmobile) and outside (John DeLorean, from Packard), and Pontiac’s reinvention was underway. Those baby steps started in ’57 with minor cosmetic upgrades including removal of the silver hood streaks from the ’56 model (which looked, in my opinion, like suspender straps) and introduction of the expensive, limited-production Bonneville convertible, of which only 630 were made.
It’s truly odd for me to think of Pontiac as having possessed an image as an “old man’s car” at any post-war point, which is exactly what it was before Knudsen and crew went to work. To someone roughly in my own mid-40s age bracket (the same as Mr. Knudsen’s at the time this car was new), contemporary Pontiacs had meant any number of things throughout the years: fast, flashy, funky, futuristic, or any combination thereof. By the time I was correctly identifying makes and models of cars starting around age five or six, I saw Pontiacs as more nicely trimmed, more soulful editions of the cars built on the same GM platform. The restyled ’81 Monte Carlo was an attractive car, but that year’s Grand Prix was the midsize personal luxury coupe I envisioned driving to the disco in the future when I was finally a grownup.
Image goes a long way, though, and the aesthetic difference between this Pontiac Chieftain and a comparable Chevy 150 is all in the details. I’m not talking about what’s under the skin, as the different GM divisions had their own engineers at the time, but just in how the cars from each division look and their visual appeal. On the surface, the Chevrolet and the Pontiac really don’t look that significantly different from one another.
Before anyone suggest I have my eyes checked, I’m not stating that these two cars were the 1950s’ version of so-called badge engineering. It’s just my opinion that I find the ’57 Pontiac almost as attractive as the ’57 Chevy. Which leads me to this question: Do I find the Chevy more attractive because of the inherent “rightness” of its lines, or is my preference for it a partial byproduct of positive associations formed with it over the years through exposure? To ask this question another way, if nobody had told me the ’57 Chevy looks cool, would I still think it looks cooler than a ’57 Pontiac?
There’s nothing really wrong with the way this Pontiac looks. It’s in a great, period color combo, isn’t overly dripping with chrome (relative to other cars of its era), and I like the tri-star motif that adorns much of its external trim like little dingbats. To me, its sheetmetal reminds me of a nice, stylish pair of well-made, off-brand jeans that lost out to the Chevrolet in popularity simply because Chevy was the “Levis denim” of GM divisions.
Like a few of the better rides at Skokie’s Backlot Bash, Pontiac Division had its share of dizzying directional changes. From the start of its modern reinvention in the late ’50s, through the heights of being a technological and style leader in the ’60s, through its luxurious ’70s dominated by the success of the Grand Prix and Firebird / Trans Am, its loss of engineering autonomy in the plastic-clad ’80s, through its sad, subsequent decline and eventual demise in the ’00s, Pontiac had been spun around like whole blood through a centrifuge. Its brand equity had been sucked out of the middle like plasma, and the platelets that were left simply weren’t enough to sustain this brand’s survival once GM got sick and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2009.
I went home that Sunday night and thought about this Chieftain and its relative lack of popularity compared to its Chevrolet counterpart. I thought about the demise of both Pontiac and my long-term relationship. I thought about the midday heat that had prevented a decent rock band from reaching the audience that it might have, otherwise. Lastly, I envisioned the crew dismantling the rides, tents, bandstand, and other attractions at the street festival in Skokie that was, by then, over. I chose to think of these pictures of this ’57 Chieftain as a souvenir and token of when Pontiac’s reborn future seemed limitless, and the best was yet still to come.
(Chicago suburb) Skokie, Illinois.
Sunday, August 26, 2018.
Before ’57 Pontiac had an odd split personality. Old ladies definitely drove them. My first memories of Pontiacs are associated with great-aunts and fussy spinsters. But the actual car was flashy and assertive inside and out. The Streaks stood out instantly, and you could see the orange Chief at night from a long distance. The dashboards and steering wheels were superflashy. So Pontiacs also appealed to salesmen who wore loud checkered jackets, and to professional gamblers.
The orange Chief! I knew I had a picture of one of those somewhere. This one is from a ’53 Pontiac Chieftain. Thanks for reminding me of that cool detail.
I still remember pa$$ing on a new, boxed leftover ’57 Pontiac model in 1958, because….who wanted a Pontiac???
A bit over a decade later I bought a hulk of a 1956 Chevy 150. After time, money and effort that ’56 was my more or less daily driver for 20 years. Then, like a DUMMY, I sold her…….:( One of my major DUMB moves………DFO
You raise a great question – does everyone love the 57 Chevy so much because it is so great looking or because we have seen them our whole lives and they imprinted on us before so many other cars of their era? I have read that the stylists who created the 57 Chevy hated it. The Pontiac is certainly not a clean design in the details, especially the front and rear, but it was bold and chromey, as any good GM car of the 50s was.
$500 was a big difference in price then. But again you got a lot too in a much larger V8 (347 cid) and the same 4 speed HydraMatic transmission you got in an Olds or a Cadillac. I remain endlessly fascinated by the multiple rises and falls of those 3 “middle child” Divisions within GM that endlessly duked it out in the open field between Chevrolet and Cadillac.
Goodness, that would make a great scientific experiment to figure out if the love of the 1957 Chevy design is a product of nurture or nature. My money would be on nurture. The fact that is is almost universally pictured when one is shown 1950s iconography makes it second nature for people to visually see it as superior. Mention Leonardo da Vinci paintings of a lady, and you see the Mona Lisa. But Lady with an Ermine is just as good, really, just not so well known. Do we prefer Mona Lisa due to it being familiar, and the other not so much?
And for the record, I like the styling of the Pontiac over the Chevy. It’s just a preference, not saying one is better than the other.
A brilliant analogy. Where is the Ermine presently, in the Met?
The ermine probably died in the 1500s.
Oh, but the painting is on display in Poland. The painting is currently located at the Czartoryski Museum in Kraków.
There’s no doubt that it’s not because if its intrinsic beauty, since it’s quite obviously missing. The ’57 Chevy was a gaudy makeover, with no organic vision.
But then who says that the appeal of the ’57 Chevy was because of its beauty? Does a car have to have mass appeal only because of beauty?
As I’ve said on these page many times, the appeal of the ’57 was that it was simply a better car objectively than the creaky and leaky ’57 Fords and Plymouths. Given that it was in its third year of production, its build quality was stellar, and it was lighter, peppier and easier to navigate and park, due to its smaller dimensions. All of that made it (and the ’55 and ’56) a very desirable used car in the ’58 -’60 time period, when a lot of consumers were unhappy with the bloated new cars of that period. The ’57 Chevy was the last rational sized Big 3 car, and objectively a very good one.
And then of course the hot rodders were mad about tri-fives from day one. And the ’57 had the 283, so it was the most desirable. The ’57 simply represents the pinnacle of the tri-fives, but not because it’s the most beautiful, which is of course subjective. Frankly, the hot rodders really didn’t care that much what it looked like; given their love for stripped 150 series sedans. It was all about the performance.
The ’57 became the iconic equivalent to one generation as the Model A had been to another: held up for their intrinsic goodness, and representing the end of an era, which always tends to hold a lot of emotional power.
Is the VW Beetle beautiful? Is a Big Mac beautiful? Is Pamela Anderson actually beautiful? It’s not about beauty, actually. It’s simply about the cultural emotional investment in an object. That’s what icons are.
I should have chosen my words more carefully, but I suspect that if you ran a poll among the general population the 57 Chevy would vastly outpoll the 57 Pontiac if the question was “which is the most attractive”. So I am willing to assume that most people consider the Chevy more attractive. I know I do.
My question is whether this is because of an objective superiority in the Chevy’s styling or is it because the 57 Chevy has been so ubiquitous in our lives for precisely the reasons you say. It sold in huge numbers new, it outlasted the competition as good used cars and became the object of teenagers and hot rodders after that. No question it’s an icon, but I wonder if the styling studios had swapped Divisions if everyone would consider the 57 Pontiac design as “normal” today and the Chevy’s as unusual.
I have been trying to ask myself that question recently when it comes to why I like one model year of something better than another. Is it purely because of the styling or details? Or is it because the version I like is the one I became familiar with first?
I suspect that if you ran a poll among the general population the 57 Chevy would vastly outpoll the 57 Pontiac if the question was “which is the most attractive”
That’s impossible to do, because the jury is highly tainted. You know all about that. 🙂
FWIW, i think the Chevy is better looking than the Pontiac, because the Pontiac’s whole front end is too long, and the bumper is way too heavy in relation to the body. The Pontiac looks like what it is: they gave it a Chevy body and told them to slather on extra length and lots of chrome. Very unorganic. The only organic one of the bunch was the original: the ’55 Chevy. Everything else on that A Body generation is just lots of make up.
Neither is beautiful. It’s just a matter of degrees.
But instant recognition is something altogether different.
This is always the problem with any consumer product or restaurant or whatever: everyone wants to like a winner, or the popular one. Would anyone look twice at Pamela Anderson if she hadn’t been put in front of a camera? (I use her as a random example).
The ’57 is the prom queen (or porn star), even if she’s far from the best looking girl in the class.
I legitimately think the 55 is beautiful, with beauty measured against contemporaries(IE mainstream cars, not exotic sports cars and one offs). So I do think the 57 benefits from that and to lesser degree the Pontiac does as well. The 57 looks like a natural beauty that got carried away with lip injections and implants.
I think the jury could be less tainted if they’re shown a 57 150, most people who think 57 are thinking of the Bel Air. Without that sweeping trim to accentuate the fins(or actual lack of them) the effect is pretty jarring.
But we are not really talking about beauty, we are talking about how an item becomes the recognized icon when other items from the same era and similar in form and function do not reach icon status.
All of your points are true and correct. The 57 Chevy did not win the sales war of 1957, but the quality of it versus the Ford and Chrysler products made it more popular as a used car, and better received by those who did buy them new versus the Ford or Chrysler products which suffered from poor quality.
But is that what makes it iconic? Why is the 57 Chevy the “go-to” car for representation of the era? That, along with the 59 Cadillac, are what is presented when one is shown something representing the 1950s, or American collector cars, above any other choice. And there are a ton of great and well styled cars of the 1950s, but the 1957 Chevy is that “go-to” car. Nurture? Or Nature? I say the popularity it gained among boomers as their favorite used (and thus, probably first) car has more influence on its popularity than anything. If it was based on ubiquity, the Beetle, or the Model T, or similar would be the enduring idea of a car, but the 1957 Chevy as recognizable and probably used more as a reference than either of those 2 models which sold in greater number.
If you consider the custom-car aesthetics of the era, removing large amounts of factory chrome was considered an improvement. Perhaps the Chevys are considered more attractive because there’s less brightwork to jettison.
I’ve never understood the love for the ’57 Chevrolet as a design. I’ll throw in the provocative proposition that in the tri-five period Chevrolet styling actually deteriorated each year – from fresh clarity in 1955, to arbitrary disfigurement in 1956, to ‘who-cares’ desperation in 1957. 🙂
The debate between the beauty versus status as an icon is a good one. For the record, I do think the Big Mac is beautiful. Unquestionably. Especially since I read these comments on my lunch break and right before I ate today.
Seriously, though, this reminds me of the later model years of the Fox-body Mustang. Was it gorgeous? Not necessarily by 1990 standards, especially when parked next to a concurrent Firebird or Camaro.
However, its functionality, affordable price, speed, and ability to upgrade made it a winner. And because it was a winner, guess what? A 1990 Mustang actually looks physically better to me than a same-year Camaro – abetted by all of these other positive associations.
Looks aren’t everything. But I’d say that something’s / somebody’s other winning characteristics can change what is thought of as beautiful. I was partially wondering if this wasn’t also the case with the ’57 Chevy.
Also, cars are different than other types of objects. We want a car to look good to us in a way we couldn’t care less about on a washing machine. That’s me, anyway.
my dad bought a 1957 Chieftain Safari new when the local Ford dealer in CT refused to honor a deal on a 1957 Country Squire
the Chieftain was the better car and dad bought a new Safari every three years to the 1970’s’
the Ford dealer failed
I think the Chieftain has a much better engine and transmission over the Chevy
347 cu in (5.7 L), with horsepower of 290 for the Chieftain model
I think the Chevy Two-Ten would be a better comparison. The One-Fifty had a level of extreme austerity not found in even the most basic Pontiac.
This is a point well taken. Thank you. I was on my last final run-through of this draft last night and as I checked my source / encyclopedia, this thought did occur to me.
I was hoping that some with firsthand experience with both Pontiacs and Chevrolets could weigh-in, and many did.
If you look at the sales figures for the pre-Bunkie Pontiacs, they actually don’t seem that bad, certainly not bad enough to support the implication that Pontiacs were a disaster. They always sold better than Mercury, then having its best days, and after 1947 they always outsold Dodge, even in 1954 when Pontiac was in the last year of the L-head straight eight.
It is true that starting in 1954 they fell behind Olds and no doubt GM felt something had to be done, but Studebaker-Packard, American Motors, or Kaiser-Willys would have been over the moon if they could have sold as many cars as Pontiac in 1954. So would Dodge, much less DeSoto. But it makes a better hero journey story for Bunkie and De Lorean to make the older cars seem worse than they actually were.
It’s my understanding that GM expected big things from the 1955 Pontiac with its all-new body and new V-8. The 1955 models were supposed to dramatically change Pontiac’s image, and really didn’t do much in that regard. They sold well enough, but it was a record year for the industry as a whole.
Interesting about the timing. I’m not doubting GM wanted improvement and they got it. And lots of credit to the usual suspects for that. I just object to the rather lazy implication of some writers (not Joseph) that Pontiac was a corpse that needed to be reanimated.
I think the 50’s nostalgia craze (including the tri-fives) was kicked off by American Graffiti and Harrison Ford’s 55 and really driven home with Happy Days. Then Grease kick started it again later in the 70’s
I remember ‘57 Chevies, if not all tri-fives, being cool well before American Graffitti. I remember my friend building a model kit if one in 1964-65; and there weren’t kits available then for other 7 or 8 year old cars except maybe Corvettes and 2 seater TBirds. Aside form anything else, the smaller size of those cars versus the 1958 and later Chevies but still available with OEM V8, made them “just right” and desirable, if not quite yet “classic”. And I’ll admit bias, but the ‘57 Chevy with cleaner fins/taillights and grille doesn’t have that foot in the past that the Pontiac has. Advantage: Chevrolet.
I agree with you. Having grown up in the 60s, it was very clear the Tri-Fives were quite popular as used car buys, both for the reasons you mentioned as well as the poor build quality of the 57-58 Fords and Mopars.
My mother had a 55 2-door sedan; sadly she sold it in 1961 for a new Bel Air (the 61s were nicely styled as well, but the 55 only had 30K miles on it and had always been garaged).
One thing I recall is that with the new car, my brother and I could no longer stand on the floor behind the front seats, because there wasn’t enough headroom to do so (obviously before seat belts were common).
Interesting that you refer to the “Silver Streaks” as “suspenders.” Supposedly Bunkie Knudsen told his staff to “get rid of those awful silver suspenders” right before the 1957 models were scheduled to begin production. That was literally a last-minute change.
(Incidentally, the stylist who came up with the idea in the 1930s was none other than Virgil Exner, whose 1957 Mopars made the Pontiac look old-fashioned.)
I think one problem with the Pontiac, versus the Chevrolet, is that they shared the same basic corporate “A” body, but the Pontiac was longer without being correspondingly wider or even lower. That throws off the proportions somewhat.
The extra gingerbread – deemed vital during the days when “more chrome=more money” was the guiding light at GM – on the Pontiac also really doesn’t enhance the basic A body.
The suspenders reference reminds me to that brief period in the late ’90s when swing jazz had come back into vogue, as did (also briefly) suspenders.
This chrome strips may have been the style in the ’30s, but like any style that hangs around too long, they were probably as passe as Generra Hypercolor shirts would be today. (Though I would still wear one. Maybe.)
The “silver streaks” on the hood had become a Pontiac trademark, much like the portholes on Buicks and tailfins on Cadillacs. But, as you note, they had become a tired idea by the mid-1950s.
Interestingly, Knudsen would introduce a new Pontiac styling trademark with the 1959 models – the split grille.
The Chevy 210 would be a better comparison with the ‘57 Chieftain. The 150 was a fleet stripper that didn’t even have carpeting or rear armrests.
The interesting ‘57 Pontiac was the rare and short-lived Super Chief, which featured the Star Chief 270 h.p. engine on the smaller Chieftain body. Sort of a Buick Century. All Pontiac’s in 1957 had 347 c.i. engines, with the Chieftains rated at 252 h.p. As the article states, the Bonneville for this year was a very limited production convertible with fuel injection. Only 600 or so were built and it was a sub-series of the Star Chief. The Bonneville did not become a separate series until 1958.
IIRC, ALL the extra wheelbase length in the Pontiac was ahead of the cowl.
Back then, Fisher bodies were draped over whatever each division engineered for itself. Paul got into this exquisitely when he presented a study of the X-frame years 1957-64. Cadillac’s X-frame in 1957 had reinforcements missing from Chevy’s in ’58, while Pontiac avoided the X-frame until ’61 or thereabouts.
Therefore I’m sure there are some other differences besides length between Chevy’s and Pontiac’s ladder frames during the Tri-Five years.
I learned from experience that Pontiac and Chevy front doors interchange. It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that, at least on the two-door sedans, that you could change rear quarters and dashboard and swap a Chevy body onto the Pontiac and vice versa.
However I don’t believe that carries across the line, as the wagon bodies were definitely a but longer in back of the doors.
From what I can gather, a 1957 210 ‘Del Ray’ Chevy with a ‘Super Turbo-Fire’ 283 V8 and Powerglide would have an MSRP of $2413.
For a measely $50 more, the same year Pontiac Chieftain would be $2463 (which came with the 347 V8 and Hydramatic). For that slight disparity (even in 1957 dollars), seems like the Pontiac would have been the better buy if one were specifically looking for V8 power in a lower-tier 1957 A-body GM car.
This is an interesting discussion, as 57 Chevy imagery and 50s nostalgia bled well into the mid 90s when I was a kid, I had toys and I even remember going to a restaraunt at woodfield mall that had car booths like pulp fiction, so I have a hard time separating the iconic status of the Chevy from the actual perceived beauty to a degree. The best case I could make is that among finned cars, the fins are about as unintrusive as they get, they don’t stand a mile above the deck and don’t look quite as much as period pieces as say a 59 Cadillac(which is probably tied with the 57 Chevy as 50s nostalgia pieces) as a result – ditching the original wide whites and wheel covers on a Belair for Cragar SS and RWL tires and it visually fits right in with mid 60s musclecars.
What it has going for it is that it’s really not that busy of a design relatively speaking for a car of the era. Look at the side trim compared to the Pontiac, look at the taillight/fin trim, look at the whole front end. Yes the Chevy is expressive and borderline gaudy, but it’s fairly cohesive. The Pontiac has lumps and bumps literally on top of lumps and bumps. If you showed pictures of a 57 Chevy and Pontiac to a kid who had never seen either car before and told them to draw them on paper from memory, I’d wager the Chevy would be the easier of the two to get the details right.
One important distinction is that I think the 55-56 Chevys are better looking, I have since I first saw them, but is that because I really think they are? Or is it because they’re not 57s and I tend to be a contrarian(consciously and subconsciously)? Whatever it is it’s for the same reason I give the 57 Chevy an edge over the Pontiac, less clutter more cohesive, more timeless in effect. The real question I think is is the core body shape all it’s cracked up to be? They’re identical 55-57 and Pontiac is exactly the same other than the longer nose. 55-56 Ford’s greenhouse was quite similar looking in sedan and hardtop form to tri-fives, yet I give the Chevy and Pontiac an edge, why?
All the debate about icon status and beauty aside though, this example looks great. The later Pontiac Rally II wheels are fire and serve as a great compliment to the many tri-5 Chevys with 60s Chevy Rally wheels. I might favor the Chevy design, but this would capture more of my attention at the car show.
Where the attractiveness and appeal of vintage cars comes from is a good question. Is it just nostalgia or is it the appreciation of good design? While there are always personal preferences of design, I think that most appeal is based upon subjective factors. The car’s are a bridge to the our memories of our past. They can be a shortcut to our feelings about a certain period of time. Either when they were new, or when they were popular used cars for high school kids, and enthusiasts. Sometimes they just remind us of pleasant memories of car shows, parades, or fairs and the special people that we attended them with. For example, I have really good memories of the disco era and cars of the 70’s and 80’s. Maybe some will call this the malaise era, but for me it was the best time of my life. I was in my twenties, working, going to college,hitting the clubs, riding my Harley, and finishing up the decade by graduating from college and meeting my future Wife. When I listen to disco hits while driving, and see a Trans Am, Camaro, Datsun Z or Grand Prix, it brings back some great memories. I know that there are those that gag when they hear that music and see those same cars but that’s not my reality. To each their own.
I think you nailed it.
Jose, I also agree.
To add, I think the cars we think of as beautiful fall somewhere between the intersection of what we naturally find attractive and of positive associations.
One thing that Pontiac lacked at this time was the street cred of the 283. That was already legendary by 1957. Who modifies a 347? No one I ever heard about.
I recall the 1956 Chev being, to my 13 year old eyes, better looking than the ’55. I did not like the ’57. At the time, I liked the ’57 Fairlanes. Now, with 20-20 hindsight: I love the ’55 Chevs; even the chromeless 150s. I love looking at pics of 1957 Pontiac NASCAR racers. The Fords, I only like the Customs and above all 1957 cars, the Ford Country Squire. The Fords and Plymouths of ’57 rusted faster than the monthly payments.
Comparing the appearance of the ’57 Pontiac and the ’57 Chevy, I’m stuck by the similarity of the two. The Mercury was frequently referred to as a Ford with more Chrome, and I think the same thing could be said about the Pontiac and Chevrolet until about 1958 or so until Bunkie Knudsen took over control of the Pontiac division and began developing a separate identity for Pontiac. I recall reading in Brock Yate’s book “The Decline and Fall of Detroit” that in 1955 GM management was considering eliminating the division, Pontiac’s foundry at the time was the only part of the division turning a profit.
From my point of view I feel the Chevy is less fussy than the Olds and Pontiac.
Great find, Dennis.
I agree with Paul that the 1955 Chevy was the purest expression of the tri-fives, and beyond that had some of the purest proportions of any full-size car, ever.
That said, if the 1957 Chevy was not so ingrained in our collective gestalt of the 50’s (either remembered or imagined), I think this pontiac would be a better 50’s commemorative, down to the 3 jet-like “shock waves” in the side trim, and the Mansfield bullet-bumper, which I’ve always associated with Buicks. To top it off, I think that it also predicted the future, with its longer hood/shorter deck proportions, which, again, if not for the Chevy, might seem just right rather than too long.
Whoops – I meant Joseph!
Haha! Alan, I have long since learned to answer to both. 🙂
Upon reflection, I think the ’57 Pontiac and the ’57 Chevy are equally appealing to me. The Pontiac was a descendant of the ’55 which appeared in I Love Lucy which I watched as a youth, and was glad to watch them “drive” that car to California, so to speak.
I managed to recall later last night that I had some seat time in a ’56 Buick, with some of my parents’ friends. I enjoyed watching the portholes on the sides as I got in, and looking at the nice looking dash. Somehow Buick managed to keep their cars with a more consistent look all the way through the tri-five years.
What is being said about the Chevy, can also be said about the Thunderbird. Both cars were in their original forms in 1955, and by 1957 had tail fins and gew-gaws bolted to them in order to stay in style.
Yet those 57 T-Birds and Chevies are considered superior to the originals.
Someone here wrote a great piece in which he posited that the 1957 T-Bird and not the 1957 Chevy was the car that best captured the essence of that year. He also argued quite convincingly that the one-year 1957 design fixed everything that was wrong with the original. He convinced me.