Throwback Thursday: Fins are King, Doo Wop is on the Air, and Kermit the Frog is Born. It’s 1955

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Television personality and Chevy spokesperson at the time Dinah Shore poses with a youngster in pedal car alongside of a 1955 Bel Air Indy Pace Car.

It was in early 1954, when automotive designer Ed Cole and a few of his colleagues at Chevrolet were tasked with a very important job. They were instructed that they needed to design and build a new car that would get people excited, compel them to feel like they had to get one, and create a national buzz about the unheard of at the time speed and power that it would deliver. If you think that this was a tough job, you could say that. Now, imagine having to complete the task in a mere sixteen weeks? That’s right, time was not their friend. But, as history has proven, the crew accomplished there directive, and an amazing 1.7 million cars were built for 1955. The Tri-Five Chevy was born, and it still lives.

In 1955, Chevrolet’s “Hot One” as it was dubbed by the marketing guys, received not only an all new styling departure from the previous years, but the drivetrain and suspension also received a much needed makeover. Oh yeah, and let’s not forget that power was up substantially. The new styling was crisp and clean, and if you squint just a little, you can understand the comparison between the egg-crate grille of a Ferrari and the Tri-Five Chevy. It has been said, that GM Styling Chief Harley Earl was supposedly adamant about making sure to incorporate the Ferrari-esque grille. The year 1955 saw the introduction of more appealing exterior colors becoming available than were available on the 1954 models. Of the 14 solid-color options in 1955, 10 were new, while 20 of the 21 two-tone paint combinations were new.

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Stealing the Show in 1955, and continuing to do so to this day.

The interior alterations that were bestowed upon the 1955 Chevy were just as extensive as the new body and exterior color selections. The new and unusually luxurious interiors (by previous passenger car standards), combined matching colors and a variety of cloths and plastic. Unlike previous years, there were now soft trim elements that were developed by Ed Donaldson. The interior was now plusher, and more expensive looking than before, especially in regards to the Bel Air’s new green, red, and gray waffle pattern vinyl. In all, there were almost 40 available combinations of vinyl and cloth interior patterns that made up the ’55 Chevrolet’s interior selections.

The Bel Air versions even came with upgraded items like interior carpeting, chrome headliner bands (hardtops), chrome spears on the front fenders, stainless steel window moldings, and full wheel covers.

In 1971, the movie Two-Lane Blacktop starred singer-songwriter James Taylor, the Beach Boys’ drummer Dennis Wilson, Warren Oates, and Laurie Bird. In 1973, George Lucas used the same ’55 Chevy that starred in Two-Lane Black top for his highly successful movie, American Graffiti. Coincidentally, the movie was supposed to be filmed in San Rafael, California, but when a local bar owner complained, filming moved to Petaluma.

Underneath was a newly designed frame, that supported a totally new ball-joint front suspension, better steering and bigger brakes, and finally, the torque tube rear end that had been used for years, was replaced by a newly implemented Hotchkiss axle.

The car was an instant hit, and the legend continues to this day with specialized events, enough reproduction parts to build an entirely new car, and starring roles in movies that are remembered by many. But, when they were new, the ’55 Chevy was the first successfully-marketed Chevrolet to offer an optional V8 engine. Way back in 1918, Chevrolet actually built a car that had a V8 under the hood (They called it the Series D). That engine was 288 cubic inches with 155-horsepower. It was unfortunately a dismal failure and only lasted for two years.

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In 1955 however, the new V8 featured overhead valves, and this new small block Chevy would become the most popular V8 of all time. The following engines were available under the hood of your new 1955 Chevrolet: the base engine was a 235ci six cylinder with 135 horsepower, and following that were three versions of the new 265ci engine. One V8 version created 162 horsepower (using a two barrel carburetor), one made 180 horsepower (Power Pack), and another made 195 horsepower (Super Power Pack). Both the 180 and 195 horsepower versions came with four barrel carburetor(s). In 1955, Road and Track successfully got their 180 horsepower test car to accelerate from 0-60 in 9.7 seconds, and they throttled it through the quarter mile in 17.4 seconds.

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About the author

Randy Bolig

Randy Bolig has been working on cars and has been involved in the hobby ever since he bought his first car when he was only 14 years old. His passion for performance got him noticed by many locals, and he began helping them modify their vehicles.
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