The 1950's were a defining decade for Chevrolet. In particular, the years 1955 to 1957 were significant for Chevrolet in terms of design. From these years, the 1955 was a pure design overhaul. The 1956 Chevys were not much changed. The 1957 Chevy represented probably the boldest design change. The best sales years during this period were both 1955 and 1957. Consequently, those two best selling years are also the most sought after models by collectors.
The decade of the 1950's was a big one for Chevrolet. "See the USA in Your Chevrolet" was the Dinah Shore theme song for her popular television variety show which first came on the air in 1956. Chevrolet remained a sponsor of Dinah Shore into the early 1960's.
The 1955 Chevy Bel Air
They say that the top of the line 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air was a new car from the ground up. The 55 Chevy was introduced with the word "Motoramic" styling. This was a term coined by General Motors. It was meant to portray a truly modern styled car. In addition to a powerful V-8 engine, the 1955 Chevy showed the first idea of a tail fin. The overall design could be called subtle. The engine itself came with many new features including lightweight aluminum pistons and a tougher forged steel crankshaft. Total production of six and eight cylinder models combined was about 801,000 units.
The cars were available in both two and four door models, convertibles and in a station wagon. Interestingly enough, the term "Motoramic" was dropped just after the first year. Because of that, many people outside of avid collectors never heard of it.
The 1956 Chevy Bel Air
Compared to the 1955 Chevy, the 56 model year Chevrolet Bel Air had a wider grille, a heavier designed front bumper and headlights lids that stood out a bit more. The 56 Chevy was light because of it's small block V-8. The 1956 Chevrolet Bel Air came with a "Powerglide" two speed automatic transmission. Improved suspension on both the front and rear ends made for improved handling. Other changes in 1956 included a slightly different dashboard, a hidden gas filler cap in the rear fin, and more colors, trim and fabrics to choose from. There were seven different 56 Bel Air models available including a new Sport Sedan.
The Chevrolet slogan for the 56 model Bel Air was "The Hot One is Even Hotter". This obviously referred to the great acceptance and solid sales with the 55 Chevy.
Total 1956 Bel Air production totals were about 693,000 units.
The 1957 Chevy Bel Air
Here was the Chevrolet model that made a big statement. The 1957 Chevy Bel Air hit the showrooms with a new bold look. The most significant change at first glance were the prominent new tail fins. This appears to be the first thing many think of when referring to the 57 Chevy. The engine was a 283 cubic inch compared to the former 265 cid V-8. Chevrolet touted it's new engine as the only production car engine putting out one horsepower for every cubic inch displacement.
An interesting note about the 57 Chevy was that, despite strong sales, Ford did outsell Bel Air in that model year. Most attribute this to Chevy's new tubeless tires that year which hit a confused public. Many questioned the safety of the tubeless tire while at the same time not really understanding the concept. As a result Ford took some sales away. Ford had also come out with a new design in 1957 and this too eroded some of Chevy's sales. In retrospect, the sales figures back in 1957 where Ford won fail to reflect today's high collector popularity of the 57 Bel Airs. Although all mid 1950's Chevy Bel Airs are popular collector cars, the 57 Chevy is the most popular collector model during the years of the "Hot Ones" from 1955 to 1957. Many have said that the 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air is the most popular used car in history. As the old Chevy ad of 1957 stated, the car was "sweet, smooth and sassy".
Total 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air production totals were about 720,000 units. Included in this total are 264,000 four door sedans and about 48,000 two door convertibles.
The best selling Chevrolets during the 1950's were the sedans. The sedans that came with six cylinder engines, particularly the four door sedans, were the largest sellers overall. The 1955 model year represented the biggest design change in post World War Two styling.
(Photos from author's private collection)