1955 CHEVROLET ROCKS THE WORLD
It’s tough today to grasp the significance of the 1955 Chevys when they arrived. They were a total departure from anything that had come before, at least at their price-point. Here was a modern chassis with modern suspension, and a state-of-the-art new V8 at a time when many manufacturers had only 4- and 6-cylinders. And it was all wrapped in that svelte new shape. Even the interior popped. The new ’55 was many things, but what Chevy really did was bring style and performance to the masses, sort of like Henry Ford brought basic transportation to the masses. Until now, you had to opt for a higher-priced Oldsmobile or Cadillac to get a high compression V8. The ’55 was a true home run for Chevrolet, and the best selling of the Tri-Five Chevys (‘55, ’56 & ’57). It broke new ground by every measure, and paved the way into the modern age. Every other car soon followed suit: double ball joint front suspension, boxed frame, double wall front bulkhead, modern V8 in the small block Chevy mold. It just made sense, it was that good a design.
1955 CHEVROLET, IN THEIR OWN WORDS
Here’s what Chevrolet wrote of their new-for-’55 cars: ”Representing the most comprehensive model change in Chevrolet’s history, the 1955 passenger car is the product of an extensive research and development program, supported by a large increase in manufacturing facilities.
“Scientific engineering throughout is reflected in the advanced overall design of the vehicle which has outstanding performance and roadability. Its riding and handling qualities are the result of a complete redesign of every major chassis component as well as the body structure. In its many mechanical features there are some noteworthy additions to the list of “Chevrolet Firsts” and more than one new to the industry at large.
“A sweeping appearance change, with lower overall height and extended body lines, places the 1955 Chevrolet passenger car in the forefront of contemporary styling. Every detail of the exterior is new and combines to produce the total effect of a long, extremely graceful automobile. Overall height is reduced more than 2-1/2 inches in sedans and coupes, and more than six inches in the four station wagon models. Hood, belt and deck lines are correspondingly lower.
1955 Chevrolet INTERIORS
“All models feature a wrap-around windshield and greatly increased glass area. The interiors display a new instrument panel, contoured to the shape of the windshield, gearshift concentric with the steering column, and a recessed hub steering wheel.
“The 1955 list of extra cost equipment includes an all-weather air conditioning system of new and compact design which permits driver and passengers to select their weather and enjoy a refreshing atmosphere at any time of year.
“Supporting the styling transformation is a new body structure with greater integration of body and frame design and higher resistance to torsional stresses. Heavy-gauge reinforcements provide extra rigidity, and unitized body side construction, a new Fisher Body feature, assures accurate door fits. A completely redesigned summer ventilation system takes in air at hood level.
“50% more twist-resistant and 18% lighter in weight, the frame structure has reshaped side members and more rigid front and rear cross member attachments.
The new front suspension, with 1.3 inches wider front tread, incorporates spherical joint steering knuckles which eliminate kingpins and greatly reduce lubrication requirements. Braking dive control, a unique mechanical feature, utilized the forward momentum of the vehicle to control dive upon brake application by up to 45%.
“Among the many chassis improvements which contribute to the smoothness and handling ease of the new car are Hotchkiss Drive, outrigger rear springs and a new steering linkage combined with a recirculating ball-type steering gear which transfers more driver effort into steering effort.
1955 Chevrolet ENGINES
“A 162-horsepower V8 engine of advanced design is offered as optional equipment for 1955. Developed from extensive research, the high performance characteristics of this engine go hand-in-hand with low-weight structural compactness and outstanding overall efficiency. High power output per pound, overhead valves, high-turbulence combustion chambers, 8-to-1 compression ratio, and a large displacement with a low engine bulk are some of the features that provide outstanding performance with low operating expense.
“For the customer who desires exceptional acceleration and speed, there is available at extra cost a high performance equipment package which boosts the horsepower of the V8 engine to 180. All engines have a 12-volt electrical system.
“Offered for the first time by Chevrolet, an overdrive option, in conjunction with a high performance rear axle, offers greater driving flexibility and operating economy. Thus, in 1955, the customer has a choice of six different power teams:
123hp six w/gearshift & 3.7 axle
123hp six w/gearshift, overdrive & 4.11 performance axle
136hp six w/Powerglide & 3.55 axle
V8 w/gearshift & 3.7 economy axle
V8 w/gearshift, overdrive & 4.11 performance axle
V8 w/Powerglide & 3.55 axle”
1955 Chevrolet BODY STYLES
1955 CHEVYROLET 2-DOOR HARDTOP
Very popular, even more so today. Also known as a “Postless 2 door” because of the absence of a B-pillar, “post” (the vertical roof support between the rear edge of the front door and the rear quarter panel). This is accompanied by frameless windows, like a convertible, and a very open feeling. It also shortens the cab by pushing the back window forward, giving it a longer truck deck and a sportier roof line than the Coupe, below.
1955 CHEVROLET 2-DOOR COUPE
Where the 2-door Hardtop was considered the more sporty 2-door, the Coupe was the more practical. You can clearly see the differences now between the two, with the Coupe (above) having a B-pillar, lending them the nickname, “Posted 2-door” or “2-door Post”. They also have fully framed windows (even with the window down, there is still a metal frame around the void which is attached to, and opens with, the door. Note also that the rear portion of the cab, and the rear quarter windows are substantially longer than on the Hardtop (top), making the rear deck shorter. Over the years, these “Post” cars have been very popular with hotrodders because they are structurally stiffer (due to the added post) and lighter than the Hardtop.
1955 CHEVROLET CONVERTIBLE Chevrolet did a great job styling all the ’55 models, but the Convertible, always a difficult body to style, was exception. Perfectly proportioned, sharing much with the 2-door Hardtop (top), and with a nicely-shaped, functional soft top, they looked equally gorgeous, whether top-up or top-down.
1955 CHEVROLET 4-DOOR SEDAN
The basic transportation model back in the mid-50s, the standard around which the others were built, was always the 4-door Sedan. Here, they have done a nice job with it, it looks well proportioned, and still plays well today. Very practical transport. Big inside, huge truck.
1955 CHEVROLET BELAIR NOMAD
The Nomad was something very special. First off, it’s the only model that could be had in only the top BelAir trim level, hence the name. This is not a station wagon. it’s considered a 2-door Sport Wagon. Check out that forward-leaning B-pillar, and the rakish rear tailgate & window angle. Those rear quarter windows slide back & forth, and the front doors have frameless windows. This was a very unique machine, but also very expensive for the day, almost the price of a Corvette, so they never sold in large numbers. Only 8,365 were built in 1955, selling less each year until it was axed at the end of 1957. The name carried on, but only as a trim package on a standard 4-door wagon. The ’55 Nomad is near & dear to my heart. I had a black one right out of high school. Of course, mine had a 375hp Fuel Injected 327 out of a ’65 Vette in it & it was wicked-fast. Every car guy has one main car he wishes he had never sold. Mine was a black ’55 Nomad. Another very cool feature that makes the ’55 Nomad stand out from every other ’55 Chevy, and every other Tri-5 Chevy for that matter, are those rear wheel openings. Look closely at them, then look at the rear fenders on all the other ’55s on this page. Every ’55 Chevy except the Nomad had a squarish cut-down, half-skirted fender that covers half of the rear wheel. Only the Nomad has a full rear fender, elegantly shaped and giving view to the entire rear wheel. This was great when you wanted to put big tires in the back, and who didn’t. right? Even the ’56 and ’57 Nomads didn’t have these full rear fenders of the ’55. By then, they had adopted the standard rear fenders for their years, which were more elegantly-shaped than the standard ’55, but still covered nearly half of the rear wheel.
1955 CHEVROLET 2-DOOR STATION WAGON
In those days, Chevy only really built one car (other than the Corvette) in tons of different body styles. Just look at wagons. There were 2-door wagons, 4-door wagons, 2-door panel wagons, and a wild 2-door Sport Wagon. Above is the 2-door Station Wagon. Notice the differences between this and the Nomad. The Wagon had a vertical post and framed windows and a more upright tailgate, and the rear quarter windows roll up & down, where the Nomad’s slide. Then there are those rear fender openings. I don’t have a good photo of a 4-door wagon yet, but when I get one, it will be posted.
1955 CHEVROLET 2-DOOR PANEL DELIVERY
Built on a 2-door Station Wagon body shell, they eliminated all the rear-side glass, and the roll-down windows, along with the back seat. This was the vehicle of choice for small businesses and contractors who didn’t need the bulk of a truck, but still needed to haul things, or deliver products. Back in the mid-50s, trucks were very crude, so this was a nice alternative, if you didn’t need the big payload capacity. Again, framed windows, and a vertical post. Note that all the body styles shared the exact same sheet metal from the cowl forward, and all but the convertible shared windshields.
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