(first posted 8/23/2011) Your task: imagine and design the hottest consumer good of the day, one that will have folks lined up at the store to get their first glance of it. And creates a national buzz about its new power and speed, not to mention its fab new looks unlike anything seen before. And smashes all sales records for any comparable device before or after it. And makes your company the most profitable and highly valued in the world. And one so capable and durable, folks will still prefer to buy it used instead of the newer competition. And becomes a timeless product, an icon of the whole industry, one that folks are still talking about and lusting after a half century later. Who would want to have that job given to them, with all of sixteen weeks to execute it?
Luck is really about being at the right time and right place with the right set of abilities. For Ed Cole and a few of his cohorts, that was Chevrolet in 1954.
It was the dream job of a lifetime, for the right person: to design the first really new Chevy in way too long. And not just a totally new car, but a totally new engine too. Ed Cole and his band of engineers and designers had the ball of their lives. How do I know? Just look at the ’55 Chevy’s face. Has a car ever exuded more self confidence, optimism, and all-round competence? “We released our (new V8) engine for tooling direct from the drawing boards. That’s how wild and crazy we were” (Ed Cole). Wild and crazy indeed; that’s what it takes to make the best American car ever, and Apples, and other legendary stuff: inspiration, brilliance, and hard work. And the freedom to bring them to fruition. And did it ever pay off: 1.7 million times.
That’s how many 1955 Chevys were built. That’s more than five times what the Camry sells in a good year and a quarter million more than the ’55 Ford. No wonder GM was the first corporation in the world to post a profit of over $1 billion in 1955 ($10 billion adjusted), as well as the first to pay over a billion in taxes. What was good for GM was good for the country. And what exactly made the ’55 Chevy so good?
Except for the six cylinder engine, transmissions, and some bolts, the 1955 Chevrolet was a clean-sheet car. That doesn’t exactly happen often in Detroit. And as Ed Cole’s next baby, the Corvair, and so many other all-new cars have made all-too clear, it’s a risky undertaking to pull off. Well, the new Chevy wasn’t exactly revolutionary, in terms of its technology and configuration. But it was…just right.
How right? The best American full-sized car, period. Of course, cars got “better” in a number of specific respects, but none were ever as “just right” again, except perhaps the 1977 Impala/Caprice (GM B-Body). I’ve said it before, and I’ll probably say it again, but GM’s cars of the early-mid fifties achieved a pinnacle. Their size and packaging was “just right”, offering a level of sit-tall comfort that would not be rediscovered until light trucks and SUVs proved that sitting high and tall is the preferred way to go. Why do you think I drive an Xbox?
No unnecessary overhangs and bulging waist-lines here. And in what was a repudiation of everything Detroit had ever done, and would do for the next two decades, the ’55 was actually shorter, narrower and lighter than its predecessor. Heresy! (’54 Chevy CC here)
Wheelbase was a tidy 115″, and over-all length was 195.6″; that’s six inches longer than a new Camry, and a foot and a half shorter than the ’77 B-Body. Open the rear door, and step into a living room, not down into a crowded mosh-pit. The Checker Marathon looks a bit like a ’55 Chevy for a reason.
How many times I stepped into one of these as a kid. In the early sixties, every smart family that came from distant lands to study at the University of Iowa bought a used ’55-’57 Chevy. My Egyptian friend Adel’s dad drove a green ’55 sedan that would always stop to pick me up on really cold winter days on the way to school. It might have been—and smelled— like a crowded bazaar back there, but there was always room for one more.
And why was I trudging through the crunchy frozen snow for a mile in minus 10 degrees? Because the Niedermeyer 1954 Ford Y-block V8 refused to start, once again. But I could always count on the already-elderly green ’55 Chevy V8 sedan burbling along in the snow, trailing a huge cloud of white condensation. Prejudices are formed lots of ways, but that was a particularly effective one.
Much of what I’ve said so far regarding the Chevy’s packaging applies to most cars of the time, and they all quickly followed each other into bulging, drooping, big-hipped, wide-winged wonders of packaging hell. Never mind build quality, which the ’55-’57 Chevy had in spades, compared to the crap everyone was building starting in ’57, and Chevy in ’58. That’s the real reason the Tri-Fives became so legendary, at least initially. By 1958 on, they were the only used Big Three car worth buying or owning, as everything else was creaking, leaking, clattering and rusting away.
That’s what created the legend. But what made the Chevy the cream of the crop in 1955? Let’s do what most buyers did, and start with its surface qualities: clean and classy. Actually, too clean, for most Americans. Although they snapped them right up, the Chevy’s Pininfarina-cribbed front end was too continental, and dealers complained about it from the get-go.
Chevy listened, and gave them the bling they wanted in ’56 and even more for ’57. Meanwhile, the dealers did brisk business selling all sorts of big bright chrome accessories for the naked-looking front end of the Chevy. This one sports one of them. And the Bel Air in the first picture shows another. Combine them for full-on effect.
Ironic, too, in that the most expensive Cadillacs of the time, the Eldorados, had almost no chrome on their clean flanks. On some level everyone knew that less was more when it came to chrome, but like fried food, just couldn’t resist its allure. Speaking of Cadillac, there was no doubt that the styling of the 1955 Chevy was meant to convey a distinct junior Caddy feel. That would be a recurring theme, for better or for worse.
Like most final designs, the ’55 Chevy didn’t end up as radically different as some of the early concepts might have suggested. Early styling work on the ’55 began in 1952, and the main credit goes to Chevy Studio head Clare MacKichan and staff designer Carl Renner, who is responsible for the Nomad version. GM Styling Chief Harley Earl was supposedly adamant about the Ferrari-esque eggcrate grille. And he got his way. And I’m eternal grateful to him for that. No wonder it was revived for the 1970 Camaro.
But under the surface, it was 100% Ed Cole, who was Chevrolet Chief Engineer. A sturdy new frame, completely new ball-joint front suspension, better steering and bigger brakes were all on the to-do list, and finally, the torque tube rear end was replaced by a more conventional Hotchkiss axle suspended on leaf springs. Drag racers will forever thank Ed for that. As well as the thrifty: finally Chevy could offer overdrive, which this Bel Air six sedan has.
The result was a decidedly good handling car for the times; even from a global perspective. It rode comfortably, without being marshmallow soft. The trim size and lack of long overhangs meant it was easy to park as well as hustle down a windy road. Most European cars in the mid-fifties were still quite conventional, especially the larger sedans. The ’55 Chevy were right up there with the best of them, a genuine object of trans-Atlantic admiration, not ridicule. And that’s before we even get to the Chevy’s new V8.
What can one say in praise of the new small block that hasn’t been said 90 million times (that’s how many were built)? Ed Cole had this engine running in his head for several years, just waiting for the green light. Its real breakthrough was the use of new green-sand casting techniques that allowed for a drastically more compact and lighter block and heads. That alone was revolutionary.
But the Chevy engine was also a runner, with much better breathing than anything else in its size and price category. Even though the first year 265 CID (4.3L) version had a 162 (gross) hp rating for the two-barrel carb version, and 180 hp for the four-barrel dual exhaust “Power-Pack”, it was instantly recognized by the go-fast crowd for its potential. And even stock, the ’55 Chevy was no slouch: Road & Track got their 180 hp tester from 0-60 in 9.7 seconds, and through the quarter in 17.4. For the times, and the Chevy’s low cost, that instantly made the ’55 “The Hot One”.
In the spring of 1955, the Corvette’s 195 hp “Super Power Pack” version was also available. That made the Chevy even hotter. Of course, the famous Duntov 30-30 cam that came along with dual four-barrel carbs in 1956 upped the ante to 240 hp. That cam, available for some $30 at the Chevy parts counter, soon found its way into so many Tri-Fives, awakening the potential that was inherent in the Chevy small block.
The 265 was of course just the point of departure for the small block Chevy. And the 1955 version had its share of teething issues, including the lack of a standard oil filter. By 1957, 283 fuel-injected hp were on tap, and the world would never be the same. That’s more than most Ferrari V12s made at the time. The Chevy V8 would soon find its way into a number of exotic sports cars (like this Iso Grifo) as well as racing cars of every kind, because there was simply no way to make more horsepower for the money, even with the very punitive dollar exchange rate at the time.
Ironically, both of the ’55s I’ve found on the street are sixes. I’m not sure what the take rate for the V8 was; maybe 50-60%? But the Blue Flame six was reworked a bit too, and would soldier on for the thrifty set through 1962. My brother’s best friend had a hand-me-down ’55 stripper two-door with the six, and all their efforts to kill it were in vain. And they really tried hard; I know, because I was in it during some of their more heroic efforts to kill it. It was rightfully called The Tank.
Later, I had the pleasure to drive a couple of these cars. One was a cream puff Bel Air sedan owned by an old couple, for whom I worked for a few months doing household chores. This always-garaged V8 and Powerglide car was then almost twenty years old then, but in perfect shape. It was like stepping back in time, and experiencing a new Tri-Five. It ran ever so fine; the motor was as smooth as; well let’s just say it made Ford’s Y-blocks sound and feel like the truck engines they mostly ended up being.
In 1955, the two-speed Powerglide was still state of the art. And it worked better with the Chevy motor than the comparable two-speeds from Ford and Chrysler, precisely because the Chevy V8 wasn’t shy about revving, and didn’t sound like it was about to defragment if you took it to 5000 rpm or more. That meant first gear would take you to 60 or 70, depending on the axle ratio. Reasonably briskly too, in a 3300 lb ’55. Not so much so, in a much heavier 1967 wagon piled full of kids. There was a reason Chevy scrambled to keep installing ever-larger versions of the small lack in the late 60s and early 70s.
I loved tooling around in the Bel Air; it just fit me like a well-cut trim suit. Nice upright seating position, super visibility, and the side window was right there, with a big flat spot to rest your elbow, not like the heavily curved windows to come.
The dash in the ’55 was a thing of joy too; what a contrast from the dreary early-seventies mobiles. Guaranteed to cheer me up every time.
Just that band of Chevy bow-ties that the Bel Air sported was enough to make me feel like I was sitting in something a bit special on a cold gray Iowa winter day.
And the fact that it’s held in place by some exposed Phillips head screws is just the icing on the cake.
We all know how these trim Chevys took the hot-rod world by storm. The engines were yanked out of crashed ones the second they showed up at the junkyard. And used Tri-Fives with rear shackle extensions and gray primer became the sought after first car for every high school kid with high-octane in his blood.
Sadly, the lessons of the ’55 Chevy were lost on GM, although they endlessly played up on its legendary status. A trim, handsome, tight, lean and solidly built conventional American car; how hard could it be? The popularity of the ’77 and on B-Body attests to that winning formula, despite having been debased to one extant or another.
If GM wants to be like Apple, now the richest corporation in the land; well, good luck. A huge part of it is being at the right time with the right product. Chevy was there in 1955, with its version of the hot consumer good of the day, and history was made. But all the wishing in the world isn’t going to make that happen again. Contrary to the popular saying, history doesn’t repeat itself.
1955 Chevrolet Nomad: Stealing The Thunder From The High Priced Cars
The Joys of Planetary Overdrive
I have no idea of what else I could add to this, Professor Paul, this is just brilliant! Yes, Chevy did it right, and for the next, oh, 30 years or so, Ford was too often an also-ran with Chrysler in the foggy distance. No one else mattered. After the 1977 B-body years, the next revolutionary car was, in my opinion, the K-car. Then the Chrysler minivan, then the Taurus.
A kid I knew in high school had a ’55 two door flesh-and-gray sedan like the photos. It had power seats, too!
I always wanted one of the tri-fives, specifically a 1957 – which I attained, but never got on the road and sold it in boxes in 1979! A dream unfulfilled.
A nice article to meet me after a short vacation! Thank you!
Racing grey with extended shackles WTF were we thinking, a lot of really good cars got wrecked by butchering the suspension that way talk about loose cornering I can remember California rake being introduced onto all sorts of unsuitable candidates and the near uncontrolable results of severly altered castor and camber angles luckily cars of this era were bodily strong and when you speared off a corner thanks to the fashionable jacked rear end the survival rates were good just beat the worst dents out some bog and a blat of grey all good again These were good tough well built cars something GM?US hasnt bothered doing again.
A few years ago I had a primered, 327, rock-crusher 4-speed, 4:10 geared hot rod ’55.
Sold it to a friend later on, but it was fun to play with. Another buddy in high school
had a super nice ’56 that had blue metalflake paint, cragars, etc, and at that time my girlfriends’ brother had a 4 door 6 cyl, ’57 that he drove to school. Paid $150.00 for it,
sounds insane now what cars cost then, my first one was purchased for $350.00
When I was at high skool there was a wrecking yard opposite with many unwanted tri5 Chevs in it they were just another old American car worth nothing much, how times have changed
My dad had a ’55 6-cylinder sedan in college (’59-’63) and immediately thereafter; he and my mother dated in it. It was followed by some good cars (a ’65 LeMans for starters) but it’s still the car he wishes he still had, much as I sort of wish I still had my ’87 “Box” Caprice wagon.
Wow, you’ve outdone yourself Paul! Thanks for the fond memories. The first family car that I clearly remember was a ’55 210 2-door, just like the yellow one in your photos minus the front bumper overrider bar and whitewalls. Ours was sky blue but with the same white roof, and we had the Delray trim package, which provided full carpeting and neat blue and white “waffle pattern” all-vinyl upholstery.
Ours had the Stovebolt six and 3-on-the-tree. We kept it for 6 years and a mere 30,000 miles. I don’t recall that there was anything wrong with it when it was sold — it’s just that people didn’t hold onto cars for very long back then. At least we went 6 years; it was quite common to trade every 2 years.
By the time I was in middle school (1962-64), I distinctly remember that the tri-fives were already considered classics.
Paul, I’ve been waiting for this one. On the heels of GM’s Apple pronouncement, now is the perfect time.
Joe Hrudka of Mr. Gasket fame once pronounced the entire performance aftermarket world revolved around the ’57 Chevy. The president of Air-Ride Technologies declared the ’55-’57 front suspension a high point for full-size Chevies – a point they wouldn’t top for many years after.
I too remember the Tri-Fives as being classic back in the 60’s. My first issue of Hot Rod was April ’67 – with a red ’55 Gasser on the cover. The cars are ridiculously easy to modify to current standards if desired and it doesn’t have to be expensive to own one. Yet you can get well into six figures restoring or rodding one if that’s what you want to do.
Maybe the best part of the Tri-Five story revolves around the ’57. They knew they had to do the facelift…Carl Renner, Clare McKichan…they’ve all been interviewed and profiled extensively like rock stars. And in its day the ’57 took a stylistic back seat to the lower, longer, wider Ford and “Suddenly it’s 1960” Plymouth. Ford beat Chevrolet in model year sales in ’57, but neither Ford nor Plymouth had the quality that year to last and both marques suffered for years afterward as a result. Meanwhile that sexy “poor man’s Cadillac” ’57 Chevy smile grew on the public. Within five years it was an icon.
People today laugh at GM’s “wanting to be like Apple”…but really it was Apple who took the page from GM, circa 1955. Society has moved on to new fascinations beyond the automobile, so the chances of any car company generating Apple-like hype are probably zero. But your description of the ’55 Chevy as “iCar” for its day is spot-on, and GM is certainly capable of building “iVehicles” today.
I picked up a 55 convertible, minus engine and front fenders for 50 bucks from a junkyard in 1976. My father was not impressed, and didn’t buy into my argument that it was a future classic and when complete could be worth as much as four to five thousand dollars. I rebuilt the car to somewhat original condition, as far as a college student budget would allow. Found a 327 four barrel engine and threw on a set of Cragar SS mags. I had four great summers cruising that Chevy. I eventually sold it to a guy who worked in a body shop whose intention was to do a full restoration. When I last saw it, he was well on the way to completing that task. I have regretted selling the car only once, I started regretting as the new owner drove off in it and still regret selling it today!
Apt comparison to the ’77 Caprice. Both clean, symmetrical, timeless designs. I recently saw a ’56 Nomad in West LA…beautiful! The tri 5 Nomad’s must be one of the more striking wagons ever produced.
On a somewhat related note, I am currently visiting Dad in southern NJ and seeing quite a few new Hyundai Sonata’s…that everyone lauded on their recent redesign.
In my opinion, a look of tortured metal, already dated and overwrought.
It is always the simple blueprints, like this ’55 that endure.
I was sitting beside a new Hyundai Sonata in traffic yesterday, and I wondered just how long this design would stay fresh. I thought to myself that the Sonata may end up being the 1957 Plymouth of 2011…
What a timely article. So much has been written about this Chevrolet that it’s hard to find a fresh angle for a story, but you’ve done it! Normally I shy away from articles about 1955-57 Chevrolets, as the subject has been done to death, but I’ve come back to this one several times.
I remember reading that, in the 1970s, Ed Cole said, “If you wanted to take the same sort of risk at Chevrolet today, you’d promptly be fired.” Which said something about GM’s corporate culture by the 1970s.
It is interesting to note that the 1956 Rambler was followed the same basic layout – but on with a shorter overall length – as the 1955-57 Chevrolets. Many AMC executives wondered why Romney didn’t just make the Rambler longer to match Chevrolet-Ford-Plymouth in overall length, and thus be more “competitive.”
But as Ford and Plymouth went to the longer, lower, wider look in 1957, and Chevrolet followed in 1958, Rambler sales skyrocketed. This shows the basic “rightness” of the 1955 Chevrolet package.
“What a timely article. So much has been written about this Chevrolet that it’s hard to find a fresh angle for a story, but you’ve done it!”
Agreed, this article is a rare fresh take on a subject that’s been done from many angles. Brilliant work, bravo!
I was thinking that about the Rambler too.
What a wonderful article! SO much to learn and appreciate about these cars. Never having had the pleasure of driving or riding in one, I never noticed the bowtie-perforated dash. How cool is that. Proof these guys knew they were designing a brilliant car and they were having a ball doing it.
Chevy went back to the elegant and honest ’55 front end for the Vega too.
PS: Your iPod analogy is spot on.
I remember these as the only 1950s cars that you saw with any frequency at all by the late 60s. Kids drove the ratty ones and there were a lot of nice ones still in the gargaes of older people. Although I have always considered the ’56 Ford better looking, I have to admit that Chevrolet was better in virtually every other metric, particularly as the cars aged. Chevy really hit this one out of the park.
My favorite detail of the ’55 is the dash trim with the repeating bow ties stamped in them.
Proof that Australia is a parallel universe after all, JP. Here it was the ’55-56 Fords (and the lightly facelifted local ’57 and ’58s) that were all over town. The tri-five Chevy’s were sort of “Huh?”. Not a common sight at all when I was growing up in the sixties, but Customlines were everywhere.
It’s only been the last ten-fifteen years or so that Chevys have started to become recognised by the general public the way they are in the US – but they were always popular with the hot-rodding crowd. Until the recent used imports of more desirable body styles from America (we only got four door sedans with the six), Fords were always much more commonly seen.
Tri five Chevys were all sixes in Aussie you guys had to wait until 1960 to get Ed Coles little wonder, NZ had local assembly Chevy V8s in 56 and were very popular with the farming set, lots of reorders, the 57 didnt sell well at all once the initial orders were filled nobody else wanted one, 58s sold well finally a new model after threes years of same same NZ got real 57 Fords which sold well too.
Truth be told, Chevy had some catching up to do for 1955. Ford already had a V8, and its 1952-54 body already used the more modern, “square-shoulders” look. So whereas the 1955 Chevy was all new, the Ford only needed a mid-cycle reskinning.
Would GM have pumped so much money into the 1955 Chevy if Ford hadn’t been aggressively trying to take first place in sales?
Contrary to the popular saying, history doesn’t repeat itself.
Perhaps an even more apt quote as it pertains to GM is thus:
There are no second acts in American life
You can’t go to a car show without seeing a row of these.
I like this owner’s take on the two-tone paint.
Almost the same color as my newly purchased 55.
I’m still hoping to do a CC on my neighbor’s 55 Pontiac, but he seems a bit hesitant.
Love the Bel Air interior shots. Is/was it for sale?
Yes, $11,500. It sat for one day.
I sold my ’57 for that much money in not near as nice shape, but a V-8/PG two door.
Interesting analogy relating the 1955 Chevy to Apple, Paul. Apple got it right with the iPhone 3G and then rested on its laurels too long. They made a good product and then proceeded to destroy it by adding “updates” to it, basically rendering it useless. I know, because Apple sabotaged my iPhone 3G. I will never buy an Apple product again.
So much like GM. They had a stellar product in the ’55 and sold ONE MILLION SEVEN HUNDRED THOUSAND of them. Can we repeat that? ONE MILLION SEVEN HUNDRED THOUSAND. My Daddy used to tell me that the human race cannot stand success and GM and Apple are prime examples of this. I mean, who in Buddha’s name would mess around with a product that sold ONE MILLION SEVEN HUNDRED THOUSAND examples?
Apple is still making fits full of dollars but I doubt it will last. I have left the fold because there really is a better, more reliable and open alternative, not to mention cheaper. I have often thought that Apple was a classic American company, get a good product, add tail fins and chrome, put in a major dollop of planned obsolescence and watch the money roll in while not really improving it. The iPhone 4 was a prime example and the iPhone 4 White totally cynical. Chevy did the same thing with the ’55.
Plus de change, c’est le meme chose, n’est pas?
The car business is a funny thing as are the buff mags. The huge majority of the car buying public, the ones with the real money to pay cash for cars,wants a comfortable, reliable, roomy car that handles well, gets reasonable economy and looks good, while not costing the farm to buy. Toyota has that nailed with products like the Carmy and the Corolla which sell in huge volumes. Yet the buff books pan them like crazy. What is even more crazy is the auto makers actually seem to listen to said rag mags and come out with stuff that the vast majority of 40 somethings (the people who have real money to buy stuff) will never buy. This is why you never see a Turbo Yaris or a Supercharged Corolla. It seems like making money is secondary to buff mag writers. Want proof? Go over to TTAC and read the comments about the 2012 Camry. I think it is a handsome car and I would consider buying one.
I don’t expect any one car will ever sell in that kind of volume again in North America. In the mid 50’s, Chevy basically sold ONE CAR. The different models (150, 210, Bel Air, regular wagon, Nomad) were just variations on the same car. (Yes, they also sold the Corvette, but in miniscule numbers by comparison.)
The market is too fragmented today, and autos are not a growth market as they were then, to see those kind of sales numbers. Just about every brand is expected to have a smaller sedan, a larger sedan, and an SUV/CUV (often 2 sizes of SUV/CUV), plus something unique to differentiate their lineup. Sloan’s brand hierarchy is dead.
+1 on that. You beat me to it…the market today is just too fragmented to gauge success on one single model.
The best illustration to be had…was the Chevy Nomad. Obviously for the swinger with a lot of toys…skis; surfboard; whatever turns ya on, man. Yet it was built on the exact same chassis, with the same below-the-beltline sheetmetal, as was Grandma’s two-door 150 sedan.
Only the Corvette and Thunderbird risked an entirely different platform; those were rich boys’ playthings, they didn’t perform well on the bottom line, at least at first; and they were constantly under fire from top management.
It took time, shifting expectations, the foreign assault and other factors…to bring us the 29-Flavors approach. And it was about that time that quality and inspirational design both suffered…not coincidentally, IMHO.
“Apple is still making fits full of dollars but I doubt it will last.”
Apple DOUBLED their profits after your prediction, and has stayed at that level three years since.
Interesting take on the tri-5s. I never thought of the 55 as having European influenced styling, but then I’ve probably learned more about European car styling from CC than anywhere else.
I am a fan of chrome and fins, but I always thought that the 55 looked better than the 56 Chevy. The big, flat chrome grille with plain rectangular parking lights didn’t seem like an improvement over the 55. I still prefer the 57, but the 55 is a close second to me.
When I was a kid, one of the first Hot Rod magazines I bought featured a 55 Chevy sedan painted a light orange color. Whenever I see a 55 Chevy sedan that isn’t painted in a two-tone, I think of that car, and get a craving for Cheez Whiz. 🙂
Beautiful examples. When I was growing up, the ’55 was about ten years old, to about twenty…yet even in the Rust Belt there were plenty of examples about. Two were in my high-school parking lot. Many more were beat to crap. But they were there; they were, at that time, a kid’s car…but a kid’s car a kid could be proud of.
For my taste, the ’57 had a much more appealing look about it…the grille and front quarters seem “happier” than does the more severe egg-crate of the 1955. With those down-in-the-mouth turn-signal housings, it seemed somehow severe. Good lines; but refinement came with the 1957 – never mind those over-the-top fins.
One more point: On the 1955 and 1956, the dash was set up symmetrically…as if planning for an easy shift, in production, from left-hand to right hand drive. The radio-speaker face occupies the same size hole as the instrument cluster. On the 1957, and ever car thereafter, it was no more.
Did Chevrolet plan to import this car to British territories, or want universal tooling or the ability to ship CKD kits there?
THese Chevs were built RHD in NZ and OZ New Zealand got V8 motors OZ only had the 6 but they were sold upmarket with full leather interior Holden-Vauxhall Chevrolet were the stepping stones for Aussie assembly.
Wasn’t the Holden FJ Special basically a version of the ’57 Chevy? My grandparents used to have one, kept it well into the 1980s. Too bad it was sold. It would’ve nice to have it today.
The FJ was earlier, 1953. The 1956 FC Holden looks a lot like a mini 55 Chev except for the lack of wraparound windscreen and roofline more like the previous generation cars (Chevs that is). The 1960 FB & 61 EK had the windscreen and roofline and 57 Chev inspiration. My great-grandmother had one for over 35 years until she stopped driving aged 90, I only ever saw it inside her garage when we visited.
Another tri-5 Chev clone is the 57-65 Humber Super Snipe.
One more thing, for what it’s worth: I for one am GLAD that the practice of smearing a car’s name and model name all over the thing, has come to an end. Was there anything more tasteless than having the Cadillac crest, complete with a V (as if there was going to be anything other than a V8 in it) jammed into the middle of the rear seatback? Or, having Bel Air screwed onto the dash? Just in case you forgot the model name of your car?
The floor mats with the Chevrolet crest on them is beyond gauche. How are you going to keep them clean, and not show wear? After a couple of scrubs, the color starts peeling or fading out…and, gee, is anyone impressed to look down and see that, anyway?
The more restrained way we’ve come to do it is one change I welcome. I know; those things take us back…me also. And it’s good that in some examples, they’re preserved. But not all change is bad change.
Well, the modern equivalent is the almost dinner-plate sized logos that a lot of cars are sporting now. The only reason they don’t stand out more is the grills are also so large.
I would say a more restrained time might be the 80’s and into the 90’s, with perhaps Cadillac excepted.
Is that a Dodge Rampage in the background of the sixth picture?
My Dad, may he rest in peace, bought his first new car in 1955 — a red and ivory Bel-Air convertible with a V8. I was 8 at the time, and I was so jazzed. On summer evenings he would put the top down and we would go for a drive (an unthinkable thing in the modern world).
Sadly, he did not keep it more than a few years. Nobody did back then. Salted roads would kill cars pretty quickly. By the time I learned to drive, the Chevy had been replaced by a couple of late model Pontiacs. A Bonneville for Dad and a Tempest for Dad.
The 55-57 Chevs were very popular here in NZ too – although being sold here in right-hand-drive form only meant we stayed with the easy-to-convert ’55/6 dashboard for the ’57 too. There are still a lot around – my favourite local one being a 56 210 sedan, blue-flame, skinny tyres, manual transmission, faded white and yellow paint; it just oozes history and longevity. My cousin had a 57 Bel Air sedan in the mid-1980s. He got married and swapped it for a near-new Mitsubishis Mirage…oh dear…
I love the colours Chev painted the 55-57s too – that salmon/grey example above is divine!
I did my first US driving test in a ’55 in the suburbs of Dallas Texas back in 1989. The person testing me was a tall black woman Texas Ranger wearing a big hat, cowboy boots and a big revolver. She asked me how old the car was, and I told her. She asked me where I was from, and I told her I was from Australia. She asked me if I had driven the car from Australia, and I told her no, the car was from Dallas, but it had spent most of its time in Nebraska. She passed me on my driving test, perhaps out of gratitude that she survived a driving test in a car without seat belts.
I spent about a year driving that car on and off. I dove it across the USA. The handling was soft – I used to say it was like driving a waterbed. The straight 6 was adequate, barely. The exhaust note was almost identical to any Holden (through to about 1986 when the engines changed). It sounded so much like my Dad’s 73 HQ Holden. The 3 speed column shift sometimes jammed between 2nd and 3rd. It also had a lot of under-steer, particularly with those non-radial bias ply tires. Did I mention the massive body roll? This was a car that drove best in a straight line. In heavy rain the vacuum-powered wipers were next to worthless, unless you continuously accelerated and backed off: the backing off released the barely moving wipers into a flurry of activity. And that steering wheel was so large that it wouldn’t have been out of place on a ship. It was also thin making it hard to grip. You also had to turn it a lot. The one I drove had no power steering and there were a lot of turns going lock-to-lock. Reverse parking these up a hill was a bit tricky. In 1989, these were old and a challenge to drive. Today, who drives a column shift and knows how (or why) to double clutch? For most of us today, its a car best looked at rather than driven.
It sure looked good back in 1989, and we attracted a lot of attention. Here we are, somewhere in Wyoming, or was it Utah?
Jammed gearshift and copious understeer WOW exactly like a HQ Holden.
Bryce, Leo Pruneau was the American engineer responsible for the suspension of the HQ Holden.HQs wallowed from side to side,fine for a straight USA freeway,though on a smooth straight road they still were like a barge in a swell.Finally in 1978/9 GMH got a couple of Opel engineers from Germany to try to ameliorate its sub standard handling,called RTS,Radial Tuned Suspension.The modifications made them barely reasonable,starting from a very low ebb!Radial tyres were new to Holden,unlike Alfa,Peugeot,Citroen,Renault etc.My neighbours friend gave me a lift to the supermarket today in his 1997 Peugeot 306 XT,I had forgotten what a fine handling and luxurious riding car they are.
My favourite HQs were vans no worn trailing arm wobble with the leaf sprung rear axle, yeah sedans followed the road camber I know they were tough not perfect, I have as my daily drive a Citroen Xsara which is based on the 306 a fine driving and handling car no doubt, as my father once noted let anyone drive a Peugeot you cant sell them anything else.
Leo was the stylist, not the chassis engineer. George Roberts ( from memory)
was responsible for the chassis engineering.
I’ve owned plenty of HQs. never found them wallowing, but plenty of understeer, yes.
Nothing that a Saturday’s worth of suspension upgrades won’t fix.
If you go back to the first road tests of the RTS Holdens, you’ll see the handling was not classed as ‘barely reasonable’. The testers raved about it.
And radials were optional on the HK series of 1968, and standard on the HQ GTS from 1971.
We can agree on the Peugeot 306. Anne has a ’99 XSI & loves it. Fantastic ride & handling, if a bit of a slug off the mark.
Ive got a 56 2 door 210, factory RHD that I found in Thailand. Any one have any clues as to the origin of this?
Canada?A lot of RHD cars came from there.As a kid in 60s Britain I saw a lot of RHD Ford and GM cars that came from Canada due to import taxes
Heres another picture of the inside
Wow Even the steering wheel is upside down. Where’s the engine located?
Even in the early 70’s, Tri-5’s were still fairly common and a popular cheap used car/hot rod.
A neighbor lady put her recently deceased husband’s 57 4-door Bel-Air for sale, asking $200 in fall 1972. My dad bought it that same day. I told him about it when he got home from work. I still remember him saying “it runs like a top” on test drive. Was a 3 on tree l6, baby blue two tone with white.
Kept it for a few months, and put it up for sale in March 1973, asking $300. Our phone rang off the hook, and we had a line out the door, But most of the then teens were kicking tires. But one collage kid offered $400 cash on the spot and it was sold. For the time that was a good ‘flip’.
Great post! My dad still tells the story about how he sold his ’57 Bel Air to his alcoholic father in law in the early 60s, who proceeded to drop a lite ciggie on the front seat…a sin in my dad’s eyes! Thanks for the great site!!!
You’re welcome. And tell a friend! 🙂
I prefer the 55 to the more popular 57 and I love that pink and grey colour scheme.
Gem in 1973 as a young man working in new car sales for the Leyland,Rolls Royce,Bentley,Daimler,Rover,Range Rover,Mini etc dealership,the head of the office was a smiling ultra friendly woman named June.I often think of her as a white Aretha Franklin.One day I caught the bus into work and she asked me where was my car,a black 1950 Vauxhall Velox and she asked me how I was getting home,on the bus.She lived down the road from us and said she would give me a lift home.I hadn’t seen her car before,it was an FB/EK series Holden Special,just like a 55/57 Chevrolet.Two speed automatic,that same salmon pink with black flares towards the rear fins and an amazing interior,black and white with stars on the seat upholstery.Wasn’t as smooth to ride in as dad’s Buick but was a rare and visually stunning car.
Thanks Roderick,I’ve just looked it up.Like a 55 Chevy and a PA Cresta,very nice.
EK was the first Holden with auto trans they had a 4 speed Hydramatic powerslide was offered on HDs till HG models hers likely didnt shift properly like most of then making it seem like a 2 speed. A friend in Huonville has a 96.000 mile original EK wagon its like new sold by motors in Hobart she is the second owner.
Not quite. Hydramatic was replaced by Powerglide for the HD series in 1965. Lasted until the Trimatic was released for the HG series in 1970.
I believe that some very late HTs had Trimatics installed.
Truly an American Icon. I could recognize these cars even from age 3, which is saying something, as ending production 36-years before I was born, I never saw many on the road.
I’m not sure if anyone in my family ever owned one, but it’s likely that either my grandfather or great-uncle purchased a used one, as they were driving used cars at this point in time. Would have been a sensible choice.
Great article and right on the money. I remember my dad buying a brand new 1956 Bel Air because he thought it was “prettier” than the ’55. I guess that simply meant more chrome, but chrome went a long ways in those days, as did whitewalls, in conveying luxury and success. I’m 62 years old and, in my mind, 1955 has been the dividing line between modern cars and what I considered to be frumpy older models. I guess, even as a kid, I understood how great this car was.
Beautiful looking car. Although I prefer the 1956 and 57 Chevy’s grille, I love the whole car overall. It’s not often you see a Chevy with a six cylinder engine and a column mounted manual shifting gearbox. Unless you’re towing a trailer, or racing at NASCAR, who really needs a V8 engine?
I owned a ’57 150 sedan from 1979-1985 as daily transportation.
Having owned several 235-6’s way back when, I can think of multiple reasons from personal experience for running a V8.
1) Most Blue-Flame 6’s were oil burners. A quart every 500 miles was a reasonable expectation. In contrast, the V8s were tighter and burned less oil.
2) The V8 was within a few pounds of the six. Very little weight difference.
3) I actually got better gas mileage with the V8. That’s my experience anyway.
When I get my ’57 Handyman together it will have Gen 3-4-5 (LS) power. Hauling around 3300 lbs it should have more than enough get-up-and-go without draining my wallet. And it will be driven and enjoyed daily.
Those are good reasons. I would think that proper maintenance and service would prevent excessive oil burning.
I often hear this, especially in the context of slamming Americans for not maintaining cars. The six was an updated 1930’s design, probably with some old tooling still being used, while the V-8 was state of the art in ’55. That alone could easily explain the difference in oil consumption. In the ’30’s, that kind of oil consumption was common and not considered a particularly bad thing by customers. Today, a car needs a top-off between 7,500 mile changes and younger owners scream bloody murder.
I remember when all my cars, as you say, used a quart of oil every 1000 miles and were considered to be in good shape. People whose opinions I trust have commented that the oil and the filtration systems probably had more to do with that than the metallurgy. My tractor still calls for non-detergent oil.
My 1961 Impala with the 235 and PG didn’t even have an oil filter! Although my 1954 “210” with PG did have what was called a partial-flow job, mounted up on the intake manifold. Both had a full pressure system. I think the Powerglide’s all had full pressure and by 1953 the syncro-mesh did as well. I think ’62 was the last year for the 235. If you wanted a filter, it was extra even then. V-8’s are a different story. I remember having to be sure to pry out the gasket that would sometimes stick to the block when changing out the drop in filter for the permanent canister on the earlier ones.
When we lived in Turkey, we rode to school every day in a 57 Chevy taxi, 3 speed 6cyl. It rode on those bumpy cobble stone streets smoothly. It was a 2 tone turquoise and white, very appropriate for Turkey. If I were to buy a 50s Chevy, that’s the color I’d want, with matching interior.
What a great counterpoint to the 1980 Citation. These two cars highlight the beginning of the best and worst of GM with a scant quarter century between them. Looked at a different way, someone in their twenties could have bought a ’55 Chevy, become a GM-loyalist based on that experience, only to end that loyalty 25 years later by buying a Citation.
Ironically, GM had an opportunity to relive those halcyon days by building a production version of the retro 2002 Bel Air concept. Unfortunately, Lutz and Company decided to go with the lame SSR, instead.
Sigh, the one that got away! We had a ’55 Chevy as our family car back in the day. Not a V8, not a Bel Air, but oh so nice! Wish I had convinced my mom not to sell it when I was 9 years old; would love to have it in my garage today.
Photo is not of our actual car, but pretty close in color and body style.
Here’s one of my favorite photos from the annual Sully Plantation Father’s Day car show in Chantilly, VA, taken in 1997. Note the ’55 Bel Air convertible (blue and white) just behind the red ’57 in front.
Dad owned a 55 four door with 265 and PG. Very tough car. I shifted to reverse by mistake at over 50mph and it killed the engine. Started right back up and was unfazed. Of course I did a lot of stuff to that car.
Brother owned a 56 that he used as a taxi. PG and 235. Also tough.
I have a 57 210 Handyman Special that fell victim to $4/gal gas prices. I must say that I liked the 55 and 56 models better than the 57 but they changed so little that mattered that I need to nitpick to come to that conclusion. Hard to pick a loser and still don’t understand why Ford reportedly outsold chev in 57. Experience later on reaffirmed that you can hardly go wrong with a sbc and automatic in a model prior to mid 90s. Today’s version I suppose is made by Toyota. They just go and go and……
April 1955 ad, seems pretty perceptive today:
Now, here’s a car I have a lot of history with, even if it’s all before age 6.
When my Dad was recognized by his employers as a potential asset in sales, they plucked him from his job as a machinery mechanic and sent him, with family, to Pensacola, FL for training in the Spring of 1955. For the new position, he was presented one of the first ’55 Chevrolets in their fleet, and was he ever excited. I was too. As a kindergartener, I was already showing signs that his motor loving genetics had been passed along intact. If Harley Earl hadn’t insisted that the new car have that Ferrari-like grille, a Famous Family Story would have never been written.
I was crazy about that front end, and couldn’t wait to experience the thrill of meeting it face to face, eye to eye as only a 5 year old could. Home from school with some bug, I could not be contained. With the shout, “I want to see the SCREEM!”, I escaped our little brick duplex and tore across the front yard to bask in its brilliance. At age 89, Dad still smiles telling of my kid’s mispronunciation of “screen”, which was the descriptive I had invented for the Chevy’s intake.
The ’55 became part of the legendary outing to Florida. After a recall to replace loose rocker arm nuts with castellated replacements, the V-8 was ready for the the 3000 mile round trip. Dad worked vacation time into the journey, so his four boys could gambol at every family attraction along the way. This was before the interstate highway system was realized, and much of the trip was on two-lane routes, where the Chevy’s V-8 could shine. The extra power was wonderful for passing Sunday drivers, slow pokes and farm trucks. For Dad, every driver we came upon fit into one of those categories. Not that he was reckless, but he was just 29 years old, and still had a bit of stop light dragging left in him. He would prepare for a pass with the same controlled fury that he showed addressing a golf ball before winning the longest drive award at a company outing. When he threw the Chevy’s shifter down to second and hit the gas, it was like being in a slingshot. In those days before seat belts were common, there was no better place for a kid than standing behind the front seat of a car at speed. The rear floor was flat on either side of the hump, as were the tops of the seats. So, you got a great view of the road and Dad, and it was exhilarating to watch and feel the rush when he punched the clutch and gambled his knowledge of closing speed and distance against oncoming cars (though Mom, who silently grit her teeth in the shotgun seat, might have disagreed). You really had to hold on to prevent a tumble backwards.
Naturally, there came a moment when Dad felt the opportunity to “find out what she’ll do”, and he still judges himself harshly for taking the Chevy to its limit on a lonely strip of road with full complement on board.
“Imagine. Going a hundred miles per hour on a two lane road in a family sedan in 1955… with an 18-month-old’s crib strapped to a roof! STUPID!”
One thing about cars is that guys so often use them as centerpieces in our stories. Perhaps we are less inclined to open up about our social relationships, but we somehow manage to preserve family history, anyway, when we encapsulate it in car talk. That’s a good thing.
Great story, car, and pictures. I was right there with you, in more ways than one.
Thanks, Paul. One story always leads to another on this terrific blog.
Spoke to Dad on the phone today and told him about my comment. He corrected me:
“It was a hundred and SEVEN miles per hour!”
This sort of thing is what *makes* this site. And I cracked up at your dad’s response!
Ha! My kind of guy. And the crib managed to hang on; impressive.
The pattern of wide rectangles filling the 55’s “eggcrate” grille became a Chevy style-mark.
” My brother’s best friend had a hand-me-down ’55 stripper two-door with the six, and all their efforts to kill it were in vain. And they really tried hard; I know, because I was in it during some of their more heroic efforts to kill it. It was rightfully called The Tank.”
My dad bought a ’55 Bel Air shortly after he bought his ’65 Impala in 1966. He wanted a winter beater to save the Impala. He ended up with a ’55 Bel Air four door with a 235 six and a PG transmission. That old Chev was one tough bird that never did die, but rust did finish it off eventually. The 235 did start burning oil pretty badly near the end of it’s life (it had well over 100K miles). Dad used to have to top up the gas and the oil. At one gas station when the attendant topped up the oil, he didn’t latch the hood properly. Shortly afterwards while on the highway there as a loud “bang” and suddenly the hood was gone! In any case the old Chevy got a junkyard hood with non-matching paint.
Great old article, on one of my all time favourite Chevrolets. Funny when I was younger I used to favour the ’56 over the 1955 Chevrolet. As I have aged though, I much prefer the cleaner and less fussy style of the ’55 Chev. Although, my favourite Tri-Five is still the ’57 (yes, I know it’s cliché).
A great car, indeed. Personally I cant call myself a huge fan of the tri-5’s, at least not from the “I have to own one” perspective. But theres no denying that the formula works. They had all the bodystyles covered and in a package that could appeal to multiple demographics all at once. Chrysler’s LX platform is probably a closer comparision if you think about it. Those cars are solidly built, they all look good, drive well, and are distinctly American. From luxury sedan, family car, wagon, to muscle car, all bases are covered and they can be as economical and practical as needed or appeal to the hardcore hotrodder. OR, anything in between.
It still completely confounds me why all of the Big 3 don’t get back to this formula. Its working for Chrysler and I hope they don’t screw it up. Like these Tri-5’s the LX has made waves that wont soon fizzle. I don’t see either of these platforms ever fading away from the minds of car people anything soon and I think that’s what builds true loyalty and repeat customers. The comparson to Apple really is a fresh angle on this. Great write-up!
Just remember, all of the original design was done in 1949! It took the next 5 years to get the tooling ordered and built. My dad was a wood model maker at Fisher Body at the Tech Center. He was working 4 years ahead of introduction on the models used to make the stamping dies. It’s not like all these ideas were from the mid 50’s, once they got back from WW2, things really moved in Detroit.
One little correction: ’55 Fords had three-speed automatics. About the only thing in which Ford beat Chevy.
Depends on how you define “automatic”. The Fordomatic only used 2nd and third automatically. One had to engage Low manually, and it wasn’t recommended to do that too often. So really it was more like a two-speed automatic with a manual third gear.
I am author of ,swiss made, . were updating book and i wanted to ask Mr niedermeyer if he’s interested to write a piece about Mr Chevrolet, a Swiss.
Another great post, Paul–I have to agree that the 1955 Chevrolet (and along with the amazing v8 engine) transformed Chevrolet- the division was no longer the Cinderella of General Motors. Just look at the 1954 Chevy compared to the ’55 to see what Chevrolet’s designers had created.
However, I have to respectfully disagree with l you and state that in my opinion it is tied for GM’s greatest hit with the Electro-Motive FT diesel locomotive that appeared in 1939. It became the world’s first mass-produced, standardized line of diesel locomotives that showed they could pull record tonnage in record time, using half the fuel of a steam locomotive and with minimal maintenance along with excellent reliability. After that steam had no where to go but away. And what other creation of General Motors rendered the competition’s products obsolete virtually overnight?
I can’t really disagree. I actually meant to write “A GM Greatest Hit”, or with a question mark at the end, but this is how it came out. I’ve done a number of “GM’s Greatest Hits”, so maybe someday we can rank them.
Not as earth shaking as the intro of the ’55 Chevy, perhaps, but the first Chevelle for the 1964 model year was a return to the simple, elegant, mid-sized Chevy powered by an I-6 or a small block V-8. Followed by the ’77 Caprice, which again returned to a similar theme. Nothing comparable or really special since then from the marque.
Especially today when all the new Chevies-except the Cruise-all look plug ugly and overdone, Corvette included.
I’ve always loved the ’55 Chevy over the rest , since I first saw one .
Oddly , I’ve never owned one and now prolly won’t ~ they’re too $pendy and prone to theft to boot .
Great article and photos ~ I really like the Coral and black one .
The comments too are terrific as usual .
I too, rank the ’55 as the best looking of the Tri-Fives. I well recall riding with a high school friend who was driving his dad’s Bel Air. The V-8 was a revelation, since I had taken driver’s ed in a 1954 — yes, yes, it was new — with 6 and 3 on the tree. (The 6s were comforting in a way with the little friendly click of the tappets.)
By the way, Paul, I have nothing at hand but somehow that airplane picture with the fin at left kind of reminds me of a Packard or Studie.
Turns out there were two tri-5s in my life. My dad had a 56 (probably a 150 – i can’t imagine him at that point upgrading to the 210 or the Bel Air) in pale blue (there’s a picture of me posed on my sled on our driveway in back of the car so i can identify the color), most likely 6 cyl 3 on the tree, and my then future brother-in-law had a 55 Bel Air bought when he was 19 that kept him going til he felt secure enough in his profession to buy a 62 Impala. Dad must not have liked the 56, because he bought a 58 Ford (ordinarily he was a strict trade every three years kind of guy). This summer when my sister and brother-in-law were visiting we were walking around an exhibit in Birmingham that was part of the Woodward Dream Cruise. When we saw a 55, b-i-l said he wished he still had his.
I believe the 56 was the car that occasioned my first attempt at driving, at age 3. I’m told that one Saturday when we were going to the shore I was plopped in the front seat while the car was being loaded (no child seats in those days), and I pulled down the shift lever, imitating Dad. The car rolled down the driveway, went across the street, and stopped inches from a tree that still stands there. I suppose I thought it was great fun that I could get the car to move, but I was still in a bit of trouble for that one.
there was the 32 Ford…then the 55 Chevy….then the 77 B bodies…and nothing at that level since. and so far at least, the 77s are not held at such a level of reverence by the general public.
When you americans did (and does) it right, nobody does it better. There are many examples, but this 55 Chevy was maybe the best. The later downsized B/C -body, the Taurus, The Pantherplatform, the Jeep Grand Cherokee (93-98), the Jeep Cherokee (original), the Suburbans and the Tahoes (90s), the Voyager, the K-cars, Taurus, H-body GM (86-91) are all examples of great cars from the US. Some of them extremely reliable also.
FWIW, I just now came across this Jam Handy film about the 1955 Chevy (“confidential” for its dealers), with the “Torque Talk” message–lots of GM Proving Ground footage of acceleration vs. the ’55 Ford and Plymouth (all w/V8’s), with NASCAR drivers and everything:
Having owned and driven a ’56 model 150 2 door for 20 years, I must agree with all of the above. Great car, given its age: I had her from Feb., ’70 to Feb,. ’90.
To bad I didn’t keep her; she was a car I could work on myself. My new Honda Accord-NOT at all! DFO
One more 1955 assembly-line film ( = culmination of raw materials and parts production), in color:
THANK YOU George for this wonderful old film .
Quite the Chevy commercial ! I remember being shown these films in grade school long ago and not realizing what terrific propaganda they were .
Lotta pre 1955 footage in there, I especially love the i6 235 bits .
What a sea change from the boated and stodgy looking ‘54!
A new-to-me “Engineering Features” guidebook–174 images!
No 55 Chev in my history – dad had a 53 which was replaced by a 57 Canadian “Plodge” of all things – but I remember those 55-57 very well growing up in 60s Israel. Just like any US-made car, they were luxury vehicles over there but also appreciated for their reliability back when South Korea was a third world backwoods and the Japanese were only starting to make world class cars (and not that reliable at that stage). Here’s one doing escort duty sometime in the late 60s early 70s (pic: Max Alony). For those who wonder, the truck is an Israeli-assembled Leyland Contractor.
Although not a fan of the awkwardly face lifted ’56 model and the vastly over-rated ’57 model; the ’55 Chevrolet has always been a lithe, graceful “clean slate” model to my eyes.
I would option “my” late in the year (to avoid the infamous early V8 oil burning issues) 1955 Chevy this way: Bel-Air 2 door post sedan (those early hardtops rattled and leaked air/water!), 265 4-BBL carb “Power Pack” engine, three-on-the-tree with overdrive, generator driven power steering, heater & seat belts (if available, if not off to Western Auto or OTASCO), in dash factory air conditioning, that awesome bluish color tinted glass, wide whitewall tires with wheel covers, the Cadillac-copy cloth and vinyl seats, signal seeking AM push button radio, bumper guards, two-tone turquoise and white exterior paint (or perhaps that new coral pink and grey paint).
Interesting….your take on the 56. The 56 has always been my favorite Tri-5 Chevy!
. . . . and windshield visor and a Continental kit, twin A-post spotlights — and a raccoon tail for the antenna ?
Heh-heh . . .
Paul’s first photo shows a body seam just above the bumper, that strikes me as a distant forerunner of the now-ubiquitous demarkation between metal and plastic, firm bodywork and sacrificial “bumper” material, on today’s cars.
An aging judge in Chicago who was starting to lose his marbles once famously, from the bench and apropos of nothing, remarked “the ’55 Chevy was a great car.”
And the grandmother of a friend bought one new – a flashy turquoise and white Bel-Air sedan – and kept it up to her death in the mid-’80s.
That’s the kind of car the ’55 Chevy was.
Nobody remembers what a ’54 Chevy looks like.
“Nobody remembers what a ’54 Chevy looks like.”
? How could anyone forget ? .
My grandparents bought a 55 Chevy new, 4 door post with V8 and powerglide, but sold it well before I came along. I believe it was replaced with a 62 Buick Skylark.
I’ve read that the 64 Chevelle was billed as a spiritual successor to the 55 Chevy. It’s about the same size and has a clean, trim appearance much like the 55.
I agree that you have to jump all the way to ’77 to find another Chevrolet full size car that was as “out of the box” revolutionary as the ’55.
The 1955 Chevy is about the most beautiful car ever produced. Most love the 57 but to me the 55 is the most desirable.
You won’t get a whole lot of love from those who believe the ’57 Chev is the best ever, but I agree, and 1.7 other customers would also respond affirmatively. It’s a beautiful car, and with its companion Pontiac, GM had cars that sold themselves. Great article.
My first car was a 1955 Chevrolet 150, 4-door sedan, with the Blue Flame six cylinder engine and 3-speed manual transmission. The car was a real “stripper” with the only options being a heater (thankfully!) and AM radio. My Dad bought the car in 1962 from my aunt who had replaced it with a new 1962 Chevy Bel-Air. Dad bought the car to use as his “work car” and primarily drove it back and forth to work. Well, when it came time for me to start driving, guess who got the ’55? Since I had taken Drivers Education in school, my Dad would take me out and let me practice my driving so I could get ready for my driving test. I took my driving test in that ’55 and passed everything with flying colors – including the dreaded parallel parking test. I drove that car all through high school and my first year of college. Sometime during my second year of college, I decided that I needed a new car, so I bought a new 1975 Chevy Vega. (That is another story in itself!) We kept the ’55 around for a couple of years before Dad decided to sell it. He sold it to my boss for $300 who was quite pleased with it. He needed a car to drive back and forth to work, so the old ’55 fit the bill for him. That old ’55 never let me down once – it took me many places I needed to go – and a few places that I didn’t need to go! It was a good car – solid, sturdy, easy to drive, and actually rode quite well. I think in retrospect that my Dad wished that he had kept that car. It probably would have been passed down to my brother. So, I can say that I still have an affinity for the Tri-Fives, and although I like the ’55, I am really partial to the ’56.
I found a raggety but rust free 1955 Bel Air wagon back in 1995. 265 p/g. Not a common car back then,today,lots of wagons out there. I got it running,fixed the brakes and drove it as is for a couple of years. I took it apart in 1997 and did a frame off resto/mod. 350 700R4 front disk brakes. I was happy with it but today I’d simply fix the dents and get a cheapo paint job. I liked it more original
Heres a pic after resto
One more time
Here it is after resto,circa 2002. I give up, it wont post my pic
You need to reduce the size of the picture. We can’t take huge files. reduce it to 1200 pixels or so in width and then it will attach.
Thanks, It’s a phone pic. I tried resizing it. Lets see
Cant fix it, Oh well, heres another shot from November ‘95. The day I got it running.
Dang Patrick ~ here we get all the buildup but no pictures….
I feel your pain .