Once upon a time, beater tri-five Chevys roamed the land in vast herds. The cheap hot wheels of choice of young guys for what seemed like an eternity, they were everywhere, thrashed and mutilated in the hands of so many shade-tree engine swappers. And how many of them lived out those rough years wearing perpetual coats of grey primer, awaiting that day when its owner finally have saved up enough for a proper Earl Scheib paint job? Well, this one isn’t in primer, but it sure does remind me of that era, when these were everywhere. As well as the story of one in particular.
Why are all these pesky old yellow Ford trucks trying to shoehorn into my shots? Can’t bear the thought of giving a Chevy the spotlight? Well, the tri-fives certainly hogged that forever.
It almost evokes Cuba, but then Eugene is known as Havana, Oregon.
This one was treated to a high-class red velour interior at some point, and one of the armrests is resting itself now.
Care to guess what’s under the hood?
I don’t look forward to the day when there won’t be a single beater tri-five Chevy left, to remind me of the time these dominated the street-scape.
I worked at a little Sunoco gas station in Towson on Saturdays in high school. One day, towards closing time, one of the guys who worked there during the week dropped by in his…gray primered ’57 two door Chevy. After washing it, he touched up the primer from a can of spray primer he always kept handy. He wanted to impress me as he was pulling out, revved the old 283, and dumped the clutch. The result was he broke one of his rear springs, and the poor old Chevy dropped down on its haunches in the middle of York Road. I felt bad for him as I watched him limp slowly away…that paint job he was saving up for was going to have to wait a few more months.
Yes tri 5s in that condition are very rare and possibly the only way I could bring myself to shoot one, I once told my father I liked 56/57 chevs, his comment; I wish you were around when they were new 57s were the hardest car to sell in decades.
You got that one right. What most people don’t realize is that the ’55 Chevy (back then) was held in the high regard that it has today, the ’56 was just as expected (a new year refresh of last year’s style), and the ’57 was a complete (relatively) failure in the marketplace. Ford beat Chevy that year, for the first time in 20 years! Plymouth completely overshadowed Chevy that year.
The cult of the ’57 only came around since the mid-’60’s, and it was predated by the love of the ’55 for a few years. Probably because most of the ’55’s and ’56’s were already on the street. And all this fuel injection talk? Overrated. I’m guessing that close to every fuel injected engine made back then still exists, which gives you a good idea of how few were made back then. I know dad’s dealership never carried one, the kind of price premium the carried made it a non-starter in Johnstown, PA.
You are exactly right. By 1960-62, the tri-five Chevy made one of the few good older used cars on the road, certainly that were available in any number. By that time, everyone knew that the Fords were rusters that were saddled with the dog of a Y block engine, and the Plymouths were quality disasters that leaked and rusted even worse than the Fords.
I can remember the 55 being the favorite for awhile in the 60s. I was about 5 years old in 1964, and recall a neighbor kid who bought an old 55 to fix up and drive. I recognized the car as a classic even then, as there were still a fair number on the road. I also remember a time in the early 70s when the 56 Ford and 57 TBird seemed almost as well represented among collectors. No longer. The 57 Chevy took over and ran away as the favorite 50s car everywhere.
With the wheels, I’m guessing there’s a 283 plant under the hood, hooked up to either a three-on-the-tree or a Powerglide. I like the patina. It adds character to the car and makes it look like it’s still doing its job after nearly six decades on the road. It’s aging gracefully. A friend’s dad had a ’56 years ago in a coral and cream color. It looked and drove great, but you didn’t want to breathe on it too much.
Given the B&M floor shifter I saw, I’m guessing a 350/THM combo, which is all-too common.
I worked at the Gino’s on York Road in ’64, remember the Sunoco station. Also went to Loyola High School ’60-’64. Love the site, I’ve been following you since TTAC.
That 56 is wearing a 55 Pontiac sunvisor, if you know the owner let him know I have the correct Chevrolet visor if he wants to swap? Been looking for correct visor for my 55 Pontiac.
Thank you sir!
This reminds me of the chevy from “Two-Lane Blacktop”.
What’s under the hood? A 292 Six?
I had already gone to Youtube to fetch this before I read your comment:
Good movie, as long as you’re not expecting character development, a plot, or an ending. But it does have a formidable primed Tri-5 and the late great Warren Oates in a GTO Judge, and that’s not nothing.
That movie is fantastic on its own existentialist terms. It’s actually my favorite movie of all time, if you can believe that. If you watch it expecting any of the things you’ve mentioned you’re totally missing the point.
My 57 has more patina….. but this one is running. Come to think of it the patina is the only claim to fame that mine has. Anyone know where to pick up a sun shade like that?
Don’t do it. Back in the mid-’50s sunshades were rare as hell. Why? They were ugly. My uncle Sully had one on his ’48 Hudson. Sully was not a hipster.
Check Classic Chevy International in Orlando, FL…they might have a used one. I won’t be putting one on my Handyman, fwiw…I too think they’re ugggg-lee.
I’ll never get tired of Tri-Fives. They’re too ingrained in my DNA, from the age of nine when I saw a ’57 BA HT at my cousin Ron’s house next door…I think it was Canyon Coral. I went outside in the February cold and sat on my sled, paper and pencil in hand, and drew a pic of it. That same cousin’s parents – Uncle Dick and Aunt Pat – paid $30 for a ’56 210 2-door as a second car. It was distinguished by the corrugated tin screwed over the rear quarters. It wasn’t around long…Later that year, someone had parked a deep blue ’57 Convertible under the railroad trestle over the creek near my house, I think the owner had gone for a dip, or maybe fishing. This was 1966-67 and I was starting to pay attention to cars in general, and Tri-Fives in particular.
I had my first…a black ’56 210 4-door wagon…at the age of 15. It was a 235-6/3-on-the-tree but it didn’t have brakes, or outer rocker panels. Wonder why I didn’t save my $$ – I had a part-time job – and put it on the road when I turned 16…at least I could drive it in the field behind the farmhouse where we’d moved by then.
It was only as an adult I came to understand how well engineered they were for their day and price range…or how they gained a reputation as an great used car, especially in contrast to the rushed-to-market ’57 Plymouths and quick-rusting ’57 Fords…or Chevy’s ill-fated ’58’s with their own quality issues.
As long as you don’t need to go all-original or numbers-matching…or need a hardtop/convertible/Nomad to feed the need, I still believe a Tri-Five presents a great way to enter the car hobby. Almost 5 million were built, parts are easy to come by, they’re easily updated and the cars themselves were a solid foundation to begin with. The ’56 in particular was known for its handling ability…nothing like what a new car can do, obviously, but for its day it got high marks for roadability.
Must read for any Tri-Five fan…Pat Chappell’s long-out-of-print “The Hot One”. Published in the 70’s, it puts these cars in a proper historical perspective. My wife found a copy on Amazon last year..it made a great Father’s Day present!
I recall a 2000s version of your anecdote at the end of this post, as a university student in California. Car was a late model Fox-body Mustang (another popular one for ‘watch this!’ moments), driver decided to do a burnout exiting a drive-thru. It fishtailed across three lanes of traffic, rode up a grass hill in the median, and rolled over on its roof. Wriggling free and fumbling with his phone to call help, the driver got rather a different reaction than he was going for. ‘Tough crowd’, I thought.
Yeah Chas you hit the nail on the head great used cars not great new cars The styling of the 57 didnt gell with the punters in 57 but it looked great 10 years on. This happened a few times in my dads career in the motor trade 65 Holdens couldnt be given away but in 1970 every used 65 HD Holden sold easily go figure. I recall seeing multitudes of 55 & 56s driving round but 57s had too much trim for people and it was too ugly compared to Fords and Chryslers it was one year too many with that shell.
Nice,they seem to be overshadowed by 55s and 57s
Up until about 1973, Tri-5’s were common young driver beaters, or shade tree hot rods. But they started to be collectible and by the mid 80’s became a “must have” for recently turned 40 Boomers.
I kinda see this as the primogeniture to the fourth generation Caprice SS. I dig it.
Speaking of Earl Scheib, I was in Philly over the weekend and was amazed to find an Earl Scheib shop open for business. I thought the Scheib chain had gone kaput. Turns out that it did, three years ago, but a number of managers bought their shops back out of the liquidation and have (with permission) continued to use the Scheib name.