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1955 Description

1955 

For several years, General Motors had been considering the development of a V-8 engine for its less expensive car lines, based on its top-of-the-line 1949 Cadillac and Oldsmobile V-8 blocks. The inherent problem was the weight of those engines and the cost to manufacture. Development of a lightweight V-8 would offer a boost in power that would be attractive to the emerging youth-oriented market and would be a significant departure from the traditional "Stovebolt Six" that had been powering every Chevrolet passenger car and truck since 1929.

 

Using a "green sand," upside-down casting process, V-8 bore cores could be accurately located and engine wall thickness could be controlled. Fewer internal molds were used in the casting; precise casting tolerances could be maintained, and overall size and heft of the engine could be reduced. Another modification was rocker arms made from stamped steel, rather than more expensive and heavier castings. The new arms could be mounted on individual studs rather than a common shaft, making the valve train easier and cheaper to assemble.

 

A third departure was the development of hollow pushrods which allowed rocker pivots and valve stems to be lubricated via the valve lifters, eliminating conventional oil lines.

 

The result of these manufacturing innovations was a markedly smaller, lightweight, efficient and inexpensive V-8 with a very high rev rate and excellent heat tolerance. The 265-cubic-inch-displacement block weighed nearly 40 pounds less that the tried and true "Stovebolt Six" and generated up to 57 more horses-162 at 4,400 rpm, or 180hp at 4,6000 rpm with used with an optional four-barrel Rochester carburetor. The straight six block wasn't abandoned altogether. For the traditionalist or economy-minded, there were two 235ci, six-cylinder "Blue Flame Specials" rated at 123 and 136 gross horsepower, respectively.

 

However, the small block V-8, dubbed the "Turbo-Fire," would be Chevrolet's power plant for the next three model years, eventually achieving a fuel-injected 283hp at 6,200 rpm two years later. More importantly, it would become Chevy's mainstay for the next two decades (eventually reaching over 370hp) and the prototype for the next generation of engines.

 

Innovation also was applied to the frame and chassis. From the sheet-metal stamping group came the notion of pressing steel tubing into a fully-boxed, tubular frame that cut production costs; was 50 percent lighter; appreciably stronger and 18 percent more rigid that previous models, and provided greater bending and twisting resistance. The reworked frame was mated to an underbody that also was re-engineered for stiffness.

 

The independent front suspension consisted of stamped double A-arms; lightweight ball joints with coil springs, while the rear featured semi-elliptic leaf springs with diagonally mounted shocks. This would be the first year a 12-volt electrical system was used on a Chevrolet ( six-volt systems couldn't adequately accommodate the V-8's higher compression), steering benefited from a recirculating-ball-type steering box. Braking was provided by power-assisted, 11-inch drums units that made for more positive stops that incorporated an anti-nosedive feature. Modification of the automatic choke also made for quicker starting. The overall effect was an automobile capable of superior handling that could run 0-60mph in 9.7 seconds using the three-speed manual transmission or 11.4 seconds with the Powerglide two-speed automatic transmission.

 

Along with power and handling, styling was another component requisite to revamping the 1955 Chevrolet into the "cool," youth-oriented car of the 50s. General Motors legendary styling chief Harley Earl had some definite thoughts on how the 55's interior and exterior modifications should come together. Earl was partial to an "eggcrate" grille design featured on contemporary Ferraris. Earl also wanted the 55's profile to be lower than the 1954 Chevy. Earl thought 61 inches would be an appropriate height and Cole held out for 60 inches. The end result was slightly over 59 inches overall.

 

New for the 1955 would be a vertical pillar, wraparound, one-piece windshield, despite the cost accounting department's contention that a two-piece split wraparound design would be more cost effective. Early designs also called for the front hood to be recessed below slightly elevated front fenders. This idea was abandoned with the requirements for the V-8 engine entered into consideration. Consequently, hood and fenders were virtually level so a planned dip in the body's beltline, just aft of the windshield pillars, was scrapped. Instead, a dip or notch in the beltline was incorporated just ahead of the rear fenders. In the ultimate design, the notch was augmented by a chrome-accented, vertical winged "side spear" that joined with a horizontal bright molding mounted midway between beltline and rocker panels running from the front door to a point just above the rear bumper wraparounds. Other exterior features were Chevrolet emblems, V-8 insignia, model name in chrome script, "hooded" headlights (a la Cadillac), an elegant aircraft-shaped hood ornament, full wheel discs and chrome window reveals. Rear wheel skirts rounded out the sleek effect.

 

Interiors featured quality and quiet elegance. Depending on the model, bright work abounded. There were chrome front seat and sidewall moldings; a stainless steel dashboard" insert that incorporated nearly 1,000 Chevrolet "bow tie" perforations; an adaptation of the "double bubble" panel configuration from the 1953 Corvette that housed speedometer, warning lights, gauges and automatic transmission indicator for the driver with an electric clock and radio speaker on the passenger side. A deluxe two-spoke "deep dish" steering wheel, with horn ring rather than horn button, was new. Some models featured carpeting, armrests and ashtrays; safety door locks, and seats and door panels were turned out using a new, dielectric embossing process that allowed elaborate designs and intricate sewing patterns.

 

And when it came to "cool," one option for consideration was a newly-designed, totally front-mounted air conditioning system that was located within the engine compartment rather than packed into the trunk as had been the case. One serendipitous result was that cool air immediately blew on the driver and passengers for virtually instant comfort.

 

Exteriors were available in a wide variety of color combinations for both body and wheel striping; interiors boasted color combinations as well as choices of cloth, leather or imitation leather upholstery, and a host of factory-installed options and/or dealer-installed accessories were offered. There were also interior trim colors coordinated with exterior color combinations.

 

The 1955 product mix consisted of three model lines-the 150 Series, the 210 Series and the Bel Air Series.

 

The 150 was available in six- or eight-cylinder, two-door and four-door sedans, and a two-door station wagon. A total of 143,000 were built that first year, retailing from $1,600 to $2,104.

 

Those interested in a 210 Series version could select from a six- or eight-cylinder engine in a two-door or four-door sedan; two-door or four-door station wagon; a two-door hardtop, or two-door club coupe. Retail prices ranged from $1,750 to $2,201. Over 831,900 came off the production line.

 

Top of the line was the Bel Air Series that ranged in price from $1,863 to $2,336. Also offered in six- or eight- cylinder configuration; Bel Airs came in two-door or four-door sedans, two-door or four-door station wagon and two-door convertible or hard top. A total of 800,900 Bel Airs were built for the 1955 model year.

 

In the span of two and one-half years-from the time he became engineering chief at Chevrolet Division in April, 1952 until the auto was introduced in October, 1954-Cole and Company had brought it off! They had initiated a dramatic turnaround in one of America's most popular automotive lines. They had delivered a completely redesigned and re-engineered, smooth-handling, powerful, stylish, trend-setting automobile that would become the hallmark for decades to come and remains today one of the most sought after postwar collectibles.

 

In its advertising campaign, Chevrolet referred to its electrifying "Motoramic" styling which implied that owners would enjoy the benefits of driving a car that was similar to GM's more expensive product lines. In short, it was a "masterpiece" whose classic, clean lines assured its enduring popularity.