If there was ever a car that represented so many things that weren't directly automotive related, it was indeed the 1957 Chevrolet. When the Chevy Bel Air came out, some called it a mini Cadillac. The 1957 Chevy model line passed 1.5 million in production. The car was a hit with the public for several reasons. If you have the opportunity of finding the book Classic American Cars by author Quentin Willson, he writes in detail about exactly what is was that turned on the buying public to the 1957 Chevy.
As it turned out, the 1957 Chevy Bel Air is today one of the most sought after collectors cars around. It's probably the best example of young mid-50's America. Advertising of the era proclaimed that " The Hot One's Even Hotter". With it's low sleek looks and with the first engine available to put out one horsepower per cubic inch, it was a big hit with teens and college students. It was the perfect stylish car to pick up your date with and Chevrolet was well aware of it's hit with the younger crowd and pushed it in their advertising.
Author Quentin Willson in his above mentioned book explains how automobile advertisers in general ignored the teenager as a target audience even though many early 1950's sitcoms had teens trying to get hold of the family car keys. The feeling was that the younger set probably had no influence on the family's car buying decision. This proved not to be the case. Chevrolet apparently was the first automaker to recognize the potential of the younger audiences. The V-8 engine in the 1955 Chevy was Chevrolet's first effort to tap this audience and their effort paid off as the new design of the 57 Chevy hit the showrooms.
If you talk about late 1950's Chevrolet advertising you have to mention the popular Dinah Shore Chevy Show which aired on NBC from 1956 to 1963. The show even had it's theme song named, "See the USA in Your Chevrolet". The theme song slogan was even used for some time after the Dinah Shore show went off the air. The variety show had as guests just about all the current popular actors, actresses and singers of the era. It's guests were literally a who's who of Hollywood. It was arguably one of the very best advertising efforts put forth by Chevrolet.
The 1957 design actually had it's origins with the 1955 and 1956 models. Stating in 1955, Chevrolet got away from it's more boxy design with basically a redesign from the road to roof. If you look at the 1954 model you can easily see the large difference.The 1955 Bel Air four door model alone sold over 350,000 vehicles which demonstrated how well the public accepted the new design. The 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air also introduced a new V-8 engine. The Chevy Bel Air's from 1955 through 1957 were designated the "second generation" Bel Air's as opposed to the "first generation" models built from 1950 through 1954.
Specifications for the 57 Chevy Bel Air convertible included 265 cid or 283 cid engines. Horsepower was 162 to 283. Speed was rated at between 90 and 120 MPH and 0-60 MPH time was 8-12 seconds. The chassis was steel-box section with a steel body. The front suspension was independent coil springs and the rear had leaf springs with live axle. The interior of the 57 Chevy included an new dashboard that changed from the symmetrical layout. Options included, among other things, air conditioning, a power antenna, seat belts, a headlight control switch and even ventilated seat pads.
The 1957 Bel Air appeared much less stockier and more leaner than the 1956 model which followed the basic design of the 1950 Bel Air shown in the public domain photo above. The car was low, sleek and fancy. The fins on the 57 model also looked smaller than those on other nameplates during this age of the fin on many brands. The gas cap was hidden in the chrome molding edge of the left tail fin which was similar to the Lincoln and Cadillac.
The 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air convertible like the one shown in this article sold over 47,000 units at a price of about $2,500. While the 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air was the most popular of the company's cars, Ford still remained number one in total sales but the figures were very close. During the 1957 model year, according to the Standard Catalog figures, Ford sales totaled 1,522,406 cars vs 1,516,177 for Chevrolet. Chevrolet's figures however included about 7,000 leftover 1956 models.
(1957 Chevy Bel Air photos from author's private collection. 1950 Chevrolet photo and Dinah Shore photo from the public domain)