Glenn Miller - At Last!

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2/16/09

The 1955 Chevrolet



It only happens once in an engineer’s life time, when a company like Chevrolet hands you a blank sheet of paper and says: “Design us a car from scratch”. That’s the chance Edward Nicholas Cole was given with the 1955 Chevrolet in May of 1952. “We got a big kick out of designing this new Chevrolet, and you will get an even bigger one out of driving it”. Said Ed Cole, Chevrolet Chief Engineer, of the hot new Chevrolet. Chevrolet shed its old image in 1955, replacing it with all new “Motoramic” styling.

Cole started the design with a new frame, new bodies, 3 new engines, new front suspension, new rear springs and new brakes. “Don’t argue with this baby!” warned one Chevrolet ad in 1955. “Blue ribbon beauty that’s stealing the thunder from the high priced cars!” said another.

When Chevrolet introduced the 1955 Chevy in late 1954 it changed their history. What made the new Chevy so popular, then and now? It’s new 265 cubic inch V-8 was probably the most important feature in the motoring public’s eye. The 1955 Chevrolet also represented a completely new vehicle in styling and engineering. With its new styling and the option of a potent new “Turbo-Fire” V-8 it was the most changed Chevy and the most exciting car to ever wear the bowtie badge since WWII.


1955 Chevrolet Belair Sport Coupe

The development of a brand new wider tubular frame chassis and drive train was quite a departure for Chevrolet. With a 115 inch wheelbase the 1955 Chevrolet was 18 % lighter and 50% stiffer than the previous Chevy chassis. Engineers changed the rear end and heavy torque tube drive to an open drive shaft. Modern ball joint front suspension called “Glide Ride” was described as a “spherical joint design”.

A-arms acting on coil springs wound around hydraulic shock absorbers offered a smooth ride. Leaf springs were 9 inches longer, 2 inches wide and mounted outboard of the main frame. With the wider chassis 6.70 X 15 inch four-ply tubeless tires were used. Other mechanical highlights included switching from a six to 12 volt electrical system, new steering box with a 20:1 ratio, 11 inch diameter jumbo brake drums and under the dash swinging pedals.

Because Chevrolet was General Motors biggest seller, styling for the all new 1955 was carefully considered. Serious design work on the body style got under way in June of 1952, at the GM Styling Building. The 1955 body design was the results of Chevy studio head Clare Mackichan, staff designer Carl H. Renner and body engineer Charles A. Stebbins. Following GM’s styling chief Harley Earl instructions they produced a eye-catching package in the 1955 Chevrolet. A bit less radical than initially envisioned by Earl but uncommonly clean for the period. It was boxy, yet altogether sleeker and fresher than the unexciting 1953 and 1954 models. Longer lower and wider was General Motors new buzz words, so overall height was slashed by 6 inches on station wagons and up to 3 inches on other models. However, the 1955 Chevrolet was about one inch shorter and narrower. It just looked longer and wider because of the way the rear fenders were made and the fact that the hood was almost level with the front fenders. Hooded headlamps were also blended into the new flat top front fenders. Stebbins design the functional tail lamps which extend out slightly from the rear fenders. From the Ferrari like egg crate rectangular grille and eagle hood ornament to the stylish wrap around windshield, the 1955 Chevrolet was undeniably a Harley Earl design.


1955 Chevrolet Belair Convertible

Introduced under the “Motoramic” label Chevrolet’s 1955 lineup comprised of three basic models, the Bel air, Two-Ten and One-Fifty. The Belair Sport Coupe two door hardtop was by far the most popular. Bel-Airs were also manufactured as 2-door sedans, 4-door sedans, station wagons, Nomad station wagons and today’s highly sought after Convertible.

Two-Ten models selections were the 2-door sedans, 4-door sedans, 2-door Townsman station wagons, 4-door station wagons, the very rare Two-Ten Sport Coupe 2-door hard top and Delray Club Coupe 2-door sedan. One-Fifty models were limited to 2-door sedans, 4-door sedans, 2-door station wagons and 2-door utility sedans. 14 different solid colors were available for the 1955 Chevrolet.

Two-toning was very popular in the mid 1950s and Chevy had some of the best. They looked best on Bel-Airs and Two-Tens. Roof, rear deck and upper fenders were painted one shade and the body side color was painted another with chrome strip moldings separating the two toning. The One Tens did not have much side trim and their contrasting colors were limited to the roof. 23 different Two-tone color combinations were available for the 1955 Chevrolet.

Interior variation were just as extensive, they were plusher and more expensive, especially the Bel-Air Nomad. Instruments were symmetrically arranged directly ahead of the steering wheel in a simple fan shaped cluster that was matched on the right side by the radio speaker housing. An optional radio was mounted between the two fan shaped clusters. Heater and outside air controls were mounted on the dash within easy reach of the driver.

The mid of the line Two-Ten series was Chevy’s best seller in 1955 with 805,309 units built. The Bel-Air wasn’t far behind with 773,238 units produced. A grand total of 1,704,667 cars were produced in the 1955 production year. The 1955 Chevrolet was a spectacular achievement for General Motors. Seldom had a mass produced vehicle been so completely transformed in one year. The Chevrolet name once dull but durable had a bright new youthful look and sizzling performance despite stronger than ever competition. It was certainly a great year for Chevy buyers, who could now personalize their cars with over 50 accessories.

On November 23, 1954 the 50 millionth automobile produced by General Motors in the United States rolled off a Chevrolet assembly line in Flint, MI. The car taking the honors was a 1955 Chevy Bel Air gold Sport Coupe 2-door hard top. The one question that was often asked at the end of the 1955 production year - What would Chevy do for an encore? The answer was the 1956 and 1957 Chevrolet.

Check out this cool advertisement about the 'Motoramic' 1955 Chevrolet.

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