Vintage Road Test: 1955 Chevrolet 210 V8 – The Legend Is Born, And Tested


In 1955, it would have been impossible to predict just how much lasting influence the 1955 Chevrolet would have for many decades to come. Who could have imagined then that the ’55 Chevy (and its ’56 and ’57 successors) would be a highly collectable classic, in stock or modified form?

The 1955 Chevrolet was arguably the best and most significant American car of its time, and the most important new Chevy since 1929. No other car, never mind a low-cost one, offered such a superlative balance of styling, handling, economy, comfort and of course performance. Its brilliant new small block V8 instantly made the ’55 Chevy the fastest accelerating car in the land.

Motor Life tested a new 210 V8 sedan. They noted that the new Chevy was a very ambitious bid for dominance in the market, and that its outstanding style, performance and handling destined it for success. But immortality was not on of the list of its observed qualities. That would come soon enough.

ML starts out by noting that the new Chevy more fully resembles its more expensive GM stablemates. This was true, especially since the ’54 Chevy was a rather blowsy attempt to conceal its 1949 body whereas Olds, Buick and Cadillac all had smart new Motorama-inspired bodies in 1954. The visual difference between Chevy and the senior GM brands had been quite modest back in 1949, but that gap had grown since then. Now it was drastically narrowed.

And it wasn’t just looks; Chevy’s new V8 engine also posed a genuine threat to the higher-priced brands. With the revised Powerglide that had more low-speed snap and quicker shifts teamed with the new 265 cubic inch V8, Chevrolet offered smooth and brisk acceleration and a 100+ mph top speed.

Handling also got a major upgrade thanks to a new ball-joint front suspension and rear springs set significantly wider apart.  A lower center of gravity thanks to a 6″ reduction in height enhanced handling as well as looks too.

The ’55 Chevy was deemed the most important new car from the brand since the 1929, which revolutionized the market with “a six for the price of a four”, and thus finally leapfrogged Ford’s Model A.




There were four engines available; two versions of the highly-proven 235 six, the base 162 hp 265 V8 and a power-pack version of the V8 with a four barrel carburetor and dual exhaust. The 180 hp version teamed with a 4.11:1 rear axle and manual transmission zipped from 0-60 in under 10 seconds and the 1/4 mile in 17.4 seconds in a test by Road and Track, which wrote “it certainly appears…it will out-accelerate any American car on the market today!

ML tested the 162 hp V8 teamed with the revised Powerglide, and its 0-60 time was a respectable (for the time) 13.9 seconds. ML praised the combination, and noted that in a series of comparison tests, PG equipped cars were equal or quicker than manual-transmission cars, due to the loss of momentum while shifting the manual, even if done quickly. This was a common experience at the time, and explains why PG was often chosen even by those with a performance bent at the time. The advantages of the torque converter were seen to be more than just convenience and smoothness. It was the new way to drive.

ML hit 98 mph with their tester, noting that the 180 hp version should readily exceed that. That too was a big deal at the time; a genuine 100 mph low-priced car.

The new suspensions system was praised, and ML noted that the Chevy “stays snug to the road at all speeds up to 70 mph.” Above that the stock suspension created “some side sway”, but HD suspension components were optional. Cornering was notably more secure, and the reduced steering wheel travel thanks to power steering made the Chevy feel like it was set up for the Mexican Road Race (then a hotly contested event).


Another new feature in ’55 was the availability of overdrive, which increased economy but also allowed performance-oriented drivers to choose a hot 4.11:1 rear axle ratio yet enjoy relaxed highway driving.

The new body and its interior had many advantages, including better visibility, a more attractive dash and enclosed steering column, hanging pedals, and instrument cluster design from the Corvette, and an improved ventilations system.


An accurate prediction: that the Bel Air hardtop will probably be the most sought-after model.

Actually the cleaner 210 hardtop is even more sought-after now by some, and one or more have even converted Bel Air hardtops to 210s.

The summation is that the new ’55 Chevy pretty much has it all. And the question posed was whether it would therefore steal sales from the somewhat similar-looking Oldsmobile. ML felt that a well-equipped Bel Air with the power-pack V8 would clearly seem to be a better buy.

It didn’t matter in 1955, as it was a blow-out year for just about all the brands. But the movement upmarket by Chevrolet (and the other low-priced brands) would turn out to be a factor in the market just a few years later, when in 1958 sales of large mid-priced cars crumbled.

The ’55 Chevy instantly took the performance world by storm. It utterly dominated the drag strips and the shorter stock car tracks. It made Chevy the hot performance brand overnight. And when the competitions’ new bigger-lower-wider ’57 cars turned out to be abysmally made, and Chevy’s own ’58 joined them with those qualities, the solidly-built lithe and trim ’55 and  (and the ’56 and ’57) Chevys became the used cars of choice. The ’55 Chevy earned its legendary status twice: as a hot car and as a unkillable used car. It was a winning formula.


(color photos from the web)

Related CC reading on the ’55 Chevy:

Curbside Classic: 1955 Chevrolet – The iCar – GM’s All-Time Greatest Hit

Curbside Classic: 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air–“Nice To See You”–

Classic Car Show Capsule: 1955 Chevrolet Nomad – Stealing The Thunder From The High Priced Cars

Vintage R&T Feature: 1955 Chevrolet Six – Keeping A 12 year Old Chevy With 180k Miles Going

Vintage R&T Road Test: 1956 Chevrolet 210 205 HP – “The Hot One Is Even Hotter”

My New Curbside Classic: 1955 Chevrolet 150 Business Coupe – Look What Santa Left For Me