Thursday, November 10, 2016

Facelifting the 1955 Chevrolet

The 1955 Chevrolet (Wikipedia entry here) was a sensation when it was unveiled.  For many years Chevrolet was usually the best-selling American brand.  But Chevys were seldom very exciting until the '55s came along.

An extremely important excitement factor was its new V-8 motor that supplemented its long-standing "stove-bolt six."  Then there was the new styling -- General Motors' A-body version of its B and C body themes launched for 1954.  Differences from 1954 Chevys included slab fenders (with a flowing top line), the trunk lid at about the level of the fender tops, a lower hood not much above the fender line and, most important, a wraparound or panoramic windshield.

Another departure for Chevrolet was its grille.  Heavy, chromed sculpted bars were replaced by something that looked like a tipped up storm sewer grid ... or perhaps a grille inspired by Ferrari (take your pick).  Because it slanted forward and its vertical grid bars were set ahead of the horizontal ones, the grill opening usually looked like a dark, rectangular hole aside from the chromed frame.  This was at odds with GM styling supremo Harley Earl's preference for sky-reflecting chrome trim.  All-in-all, a curious feature that also was oddly likable.

Regardless, '55 Chevys sold very well.  But even as they were being announced to the buying public, stylists were working on the obligatory (in those days) facelift for 1956.  Moreover, a redesign wasn't scheduled until the 1958 model year, so there had to be a facelift styled for 1957 as well.


A front three-quarter view of a 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air via Auctions America.

Publicity photo showing the side.  The car looks better without the two-tone paint over the trunk and rear fenders.  Basically, a nice, trim design.

Rear view of a Bel Air convertible.  It seems plain by today's standards, but fancy rear ends were still in the near-term future.

1956 Chevrolets got new side trim and a more conventional grille.  That grill still slanted forward, but it was more heavily chromed.  Its ensemble took in the width of the car, unlike the narrow '55 version.  All much more conventional ... and not very distinctive.

Rear styling took a small backwards step with the cut-out tail light assemblies replacing the sensible '55 version.

The 1957 facelift was more extensive.  Another new grille design appeared, following the industry trend to integrating grilles and bumpers.  headlight housings got longer hoods and odd, fake air intakes were added to the hood.  Side two-tone paint and trim were replaced by another trim design with space for either paint or a textured metal panel.

This rear 3/4 view of a four-door hardtop shows how the rear fender tops were converted into thin blades hinting at the tail fins that Chrysler Corporation began promoting in 1956.  Tail light assemblies took on a jet fighter or sci-fi space ship look with the red lenses at the top, white backup lights at the tips of the bumper guards, and a fake exhaust pipe opening at the bottom.  (Actual exhaust pipes ended beneath the bumper.)
If memory serves, I think it was Bob Cumberford who revealed that the 1957 Chevrolet facelift was something of a casual effort creating change for change's sake.  And it shows.  Ironically, I read that '57s are more highly valued these days than the truly important 1955 models.

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