One of the most recognizable automotive icons in the world is the 1955 Chevrolet. To start with, it has been featured in hundreds of Hollywood films over the years. Want a good example? It was in American Graffiti that Harrison Ford made his movie debut driving a black 1955 Chevy that challenged John Milner (Paul Lemat) in his yellow 1932 Ford 5 window coupe.
One of the reasons for the remarkable popularity of the 1955 Chevy was that General Motors sold a large number of that model year. The reason being that the 1955 model year was a year of many new firsts for Chevrolet andthis was considered a huge turning point for the manufacturer.
Perhaps the most distinguishing characteristic for 1955 was a drastically new body design. Although Ford had already gone to a “shoe box” body design (no external fenders) in 1949, Chevy was gradually doing the same through the early 1950s. In 1955, Chevy caught up with Ford in the body design category by leaping to a true shoebox look. It had smooth straight panels on the sides and hood, wrap-around glass on the windshield, and triangular tail lights that jutted outward. And this new look, combined with new power and engineering, made the ’55 an instant hit and a critical success.
The next characteristic that was a huge hit was the optional V8 engine. Chevrolet had produced an earlier car with a V8 in 1918, which used a 288-cubic-inch V8, but it remained in production for only a year. The new 1955 265-cubic-inch overhead valve V8 was designed to be smaller, lighter, and more powerful than previous V8s in the auto industry.
The 1955 Chevrolet also offered many other firsts for Chevrolet, including changing from a 6-volt to a 12-volt electrical system. And new options like air conditioning, power windows, power seats, power steering and power brakes were available. Never before had so many options been offered for a car in the low-price field.
The 55’s top trim offering was the Bel-Air, which had more chrome than the 150 or 210. The Bel-Air and 210 could be bought with a post between the front and rear passenger windows, or without a post. The Bel-Air was available in a convertible, with the same shorter roof and longer rear deck as the sport coupe. The convertible was offered in Bel-Air trim only.
Chevrolet retained the same body and chassis for the 1955, 56, and 57 model years. These years are extremely sought after by collectors and enthusiasts, and are often referred to by the given nickname of “tri-fives.” The nickname “tri-fives” was given because there were three model years in the 1950s.