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Monday, July 12, 2010

1957 Chevrolet Bel-Air hardtop.
I was a car freak when I was a kid. There wasn’t a car on the road I didn’t know and they didn’t change much from year to year. Only kids like me and my friends could tell the difference between a ‘49 and ‘50 Ford and Mercury or a ‘47 and ‘48 Chevy. We loved those heaps and waited anxiously until we were 16 and could get our driver’s licenses.

Unlike now, in those days the new models came out usually at the very end of the previous year or in early January. It was in early January of 1955 when I took my annual bus ride to Queen City Chevrolet in downtown Cincinnati to see what kind of boxy model Chevy had to offer for that year. I was expecting another version of the ’54 with maybe new taillights or door handles when to my surprise, I saw the sleek new model for 1955. Was this really a Chevy with its old 6 banger? No way, Chevy had graduated to a V8 (6 was still available) and put it in a stylish new group of body styles.

Thus began the greatest triumvirate in auto history. The 1955, ‘56, and ‘57 Chevys were on their way to a grateful America. There was nothing quite like the sound of the new 1955 265 cube V8 running through the gears. It was a whine that I will never forget. It was advertised as “The Hot One” and other ads told us “Don’t argue with this baby!”

In 1956, several advances were made from the ’55 and they weren’t just cosmetic. $40million was spent on styling improvements while the V8 and 6 were given more power. It’s no wonder they said “The hot one is even hotter!” My brother had a 1956 Chevy convertible with a “power pack.” A power pack was basically a four barrel carburetor with dual exhaust and it really would move! Also available was a V8 with TWO four barrel carbs if you REALLY wanted to move.

The ’57 Chevy was advertised as “Sweet, smooth, and sassy.” With a new fuel injection system added to the line it certainly was sassy. It also received a styling facelift to give it a longer and lower look. I always like the abbreviated fins on the back fenders and the dual rocket hood ornaments.

The ‘57 was the last of the three years of classic Chevys and after vintage Corvettes, is the most sought after car by collectors. The most popular of the 57’s was the red convertible; every baby boomer of the 50s and 60s wanted that car.

Those were great cars and a credit to General Motors’s engineering of that era. In 1958 they were gone and replaced by a new design which included a 348 cube V8 in the new Impala. They were nice cars but not in the same league as the ’55,’56,and ’57.

I doubt if anyone will ever match those three years of Chevys and to those of us who remember those times, they are a fond memory.

To leave a comment or to read other comments, click "Jim's azcentral blog" in the right column under links. You won't get a virus. Jim McAllister writes for The Arizona Republic.

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