Photos by Joe Greeves
Arguably, no other automobile has had more written about it than the 1955 Chevrolet. Revolutionary in every aspect, it took the country by storm with both state of the art body design and a revolutionary new powertrain. Chevrolet, in one stroke, took a staid and boring means of transportation to a level few could have imagined.
While wheelbase and overall length remained about the same as 1954, the body silhouette was considerably lower. Chevrolet’s dramatic styling changes were carried out by Harley Earl, head designer for GM. Every inch of sheet metal was new. However, the 1955 Chevrolet was more than just handsome sheet metal. It now rode on a much improved chassis that offered better ride and handling. Suddenly, it was a new era.
The Chevrolet was available in three series and fourteen body styles. The 150 series was the basic means of transportation, clearly aimed at fleet sales. The 210 offered a few additional appointments for the public. The star of the show was the upscale Bel Air series. Bright trim ran from the front of the fenders to mid door. Additional trim ran along the quarter panel. Together, they gave the car a longer look. A Bel Air emblem was placed on the leading edge of the quarter panel, just above the side trim. The side trim design provided a breakline for the latest craze of two-tone paint.
A new wrap-around windshield gave much improved visibility. The fenders were brought up to the full height of the beltline. The low-profile hood and Ferrari-like egg crate grille gave the front end a rich look. A stylized winged bird graced the top of the hood. Headlamps were slightly peaked, and Chevy’s parking lights were free standing below the headlamps. Quarter panels, on all but the station wagons, featured a well-defined dip to break the lines in the side of the car.
The rear of the car was a triumph of simplicity. Simple, high-mounted taillamps thrust out from the top of the rear fenders and incorporated optional back-up lamps, if ordered. Cars with a V8 included a V-crest located below each taillamp. The trunk lid opened wide and had more than ample room.
Chevrolet’s interior was entirely new from stem to stern. The new dash incorporated twin sweeping pods, one in front of the driver and the other in front of the passenger. The driver was privy to a 110-mph speedometer, temperature and fuel gauge. Controls were relocated for improved convenience, and the glove box was centrally placed in the dash. Seat covers were available in striking color combinations and materials. The new body style provided additional interior room for passengers.
The base engine was the 235-ci stovebolt straight six. Changes in the air cleaner and water pump were required for it to fit under the lower hood height. The six-cylinder gave modest performance with good fuel mileage. Available transmissions included a three-speed manual, three-speed manual with overdrive and the PowerGlide.
Most significant for 1955 was the introduction of the all-new small block V8. Designed for increased displacement, the engine eventually grew to 400 cubic-inches. Compact in size and light in weight, the 265-ci engine was available with either 162 horsepower or the 180 horsepower Power Pack option. The Power Pack included a four-barrel carburetor and dual exhausts. Compression ratio was 8.0 to 1. The short, 3-inch stroke and free-breathing heads gave the car incredible performance. Designed by Ed Cole, Chevrolet’s chief engineer, the small block V8 would, in time, become a legend at the race track.
Fuel for Thought
First year for small block V8
Fastest production car for 1955
First year for optional air conditioning
First year for overdrive
Number built – 1,704,667 units, 41,292 Bel Air convertibles
Construction – Body-on-frame
Engine – 235-ci overhead valve six cylinder, 265-ci overhead valve V8
Power/Torque – 123 horsepower/200 lb-ft. torque (six-cylinder w/std transmission), 136 horsepower/207 lb-ft. torque (six-cylinder w/automatic transmission, 162 horsepower/257 lb-ft. torque (base V8), 180 horsepower/260 lb-ft. torque (Power Pac V8)
Transmission – Three-speed manual, three speed manual w/overdrive, two-speed PowerGlide automatic
Suspension front – Independent, unequal length control arms, coil springs
Suspension rear – Longitudinal leaf springs
Brakes – Four-wheel drum-11 inch diameter
Length/width/height – 195.6/73.8/60.5 inches
Wheelbase – 115 inches
Weight – 3,710 lbs. shipping weight
0-60mph/quarter mile – 9.7 seconds/17.2 seconds at 77 mph (Road and Track, February 1955)
Top speed – 104.7 mph (Road and Track, February 1955)
MPG – 18/22 mpg (Road and Track, February 1955)
Price – MSRP – $2,305; Today – $43,500-$102,900
Engine – The small block Chevrolet engine is without a doubt the ultimate powertrain: small in size, light in weight and with many aftermarket parts available.
Handling – Handling was much improved over 1954. The new chassis was 50% stiffer, and the weight of the car was reduced by 18%. Still, as with most mid-50s American cars, manufactures didn’t focus on tight turns or sports car handling. The 1955 Chevrolet had the advantage of the light-weight small block, which gave a combination of great performance and decent handling.
Highly sought-after in the collector car world
Restoration parts readily available and reasonable
World class styling
Difficult to purchase at a reasonable price
Many unrestored cars have rust problems
Not a one of a kind car
1955 Ford convertible
Number built – 49,966
0-60/quarter mile – 14.0 seconds, 20.5 seconds at 67 mph
Top speed – 97 mph
Price – MSRP – $2,324; Today – $23,500-$53,200
1955 Plymouth Belvedere convertible
Number built – 8,473
0-60/quarter mile – 13.2 seconds, 20.3 seconds at 69.5 mph
Top speed – 98.9 mph
Price – MSRP – $2,351; Today – $14,500-$32,900
What to pay
1955 Chevrolet Bel Air Convertible
MSRP – $2,305
Low – $43,500
Average – $76,100
High – $102,900
*Based on prices from the Classic Cars and Parts Price Guide, fueled by NADA and available wherever Kustoms and Hot Rods magazines are sold.
Insurance cost is $510/year for a stock 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air valued at $76,100. For a modified vehicle, insurance cost is $815/year. This is based on 3,000 miles per year of pleasure driving.
*Based on a quote from Heacock Classic Car Insurance, www.heacockclassic.com
Front grille $259.95
Hood ornament $179.95
Front bumper $449.95
Front floor pan $124.95
Padded I/P top $289.95
Interior door panels $64.95
Front and rear seat covers $799.00
*Based on information from Danchuk Manufacturing Inc.,
Chevrolet 1955-1957 (Enthusiast Color) by Mike Mueller
Chevrolet History 1955-1957 (Pictorial History Series, No. 3) by John
Original Chevrolet 1955, 1956, 1957 by Robert Genat
Chevrolet’s Hot Ones by Anthony Young and Mike Mueller
Chevrolet for 1955: A History in Advertising by Achieves of Advertising (CD-ROM)
Most are weekend drivers. While many 1955 Chevrolets are meticulously restored, owners will use them on a semi-regular basis.
In 1955, Chevrolet took middle class vehicle ownership from a simple means of transportation to a trendsetting “in your face” ownership experience. Not only did it have the best styling for the mid-50s, the development of the small block engine put Chevrolet at the top of the performance ladder. No other car, regardless of price, offered both great styling and outstanding performance like the 1955 Chevrolet.