Chevy Classics 1955 1956 1957 by Anthony Young – Photography by Mike Mueller
Published 2011 by Crestline
Purchased new from a retail bookstore.
About 8 years ago I decided I wanted to amass a small library of automotive books. I already had maybe 5 or 6 titles. I acquired another 8 or 10 when a friend passed away. That’s when I started to seek out books about cars. It wasn’t long before I found Chevy Classics 1955 1956 1957 on the clearance table at my local Chapters store.
Anyone who knows classic American cars knows that the 1955-57 Chevrolets are iconic. They are featured in countless movies, all sorts of car magazines, and you’re almost bound to see one at cruise night or a car show. These cars were not rare — Chevrolet sold over 4 million Bel Airs, 210s and 150s from 1955 to 1957. But, beyond just basic transportation, the Chevrolet introduced for 1955 was all-new, revolutionary by comparison to the 1954 car. The style and power of the new car had the public’s interest. It was known as ‘The Hot One’, and this book tells the story.
Anthony Young’s book offers a fairly deep analysis of the development the new-for-’55 Chevy, and the subsequent improvements for ’56 and ’57. In fact, he begins well before the car hit showrooms, in 1952 describing the hiring of Ed Cole to be Chief Engineer of Chevrolet Division, after a career at Cadillac that began in 1929. Cole then brought Harry F. Barr over to be his assistant. Other notable names Young discusses include Al Kolbe and Don McPherson (on development of the new small block V8), Ellis Premo (coordinating Fisher Body with Chevrolet Styling) and Clare MacKichan (Chevrolet Styling Chief). This gives the background into the team who would transform Chevrolet’s automotive offerings.
Given that the author spends time introducing us to the engineering team, you’d think this book might include a great deal of technical and engineering information. And, that is the case. For example, there’s a few pages about how Chevrolet had been developing a V8 based off the Cadillac V8, later scrapped in favour of a clean sheet design. There’s information about how the engine was nitially figured to be 245 cubic inchesm but development saw benefits of punching it to 265. Also included is information about how the engines were cast and the benfits reaped both in economy and performance. A section deals with cylinder head design, and includes quotes from McPherson who was heavily involved.
Now that may all sound like a lot of heavy info to digest. But truthfully, Young writes it in a way that is interesting and easy to follow. And that’s true of all the tech info, from chassis design tweaks, to body construction processes, to a description of the Turboglide transmission’s construction, to dashboard design. Despite the level of detail, the text doesn’t bog down. One easily comes to understand the almost constant improvement to the car year after year to provide better performance and comfort.
It isn’t all technical and engineering though. Young provides a great deal of information on the differences between the trim levels, including the body adornments. He details each year’s paint and interior colour availability. There’s quite a lot about available options and Chevrolet’s philosophy of offering as much equipment as ‘optional’ as possible. In fact, Young writes scenarios featuring a young couple, husband recently promoted, and how their visit to their local dealer might go as they outfit their new Chevrolet 210 sedan. That is contrasted against another scene were an executive would opt for the Bel Air convertible, almost fully equipped with over $1500 in options! It’s easy to see how Chevy sold buyers on the idea that their good-looking hot new car was a representation of themselves.
It doesn’t end there. The author also details the company’s efforts in racing, and how that was to be translated into advertising to sell The Hot Ones. Not only that, Young offers comparisons to point out just how economically priced the Chevy was compared even to its predecessors in the late 1940s and early 1950s.
I’ve mentioned the work of Mike Mueller before. Over 30 years, he has contributed countless photos and articles about cars, and authored 30 books of his own. For Chevy Classics, Mueller photographed a number of Tri-Five Chevys owned by enthusiasts. The photos are really great, typical beauty shots of exteriors, interiors and engine bays, as well as specific detail shots of options. These are supplemented by period advertising, technical drawings and assembly line photos, many of which help highlight the engineering aspects of these cars.
Now, most of the pictures do feature Bel Airs as opposed to 210s and 150s. In a way, that is a real shame. The Bel Air did tend to be the ‘prettier’ car, but 150s and 210s were by far the cars that sold most often. It would be nice to see more of what the average guy drove everyday. Unfortunately as the captions point out, Bel Airs tended to survive more often. As happens with so many daily drivers, people rack up the miles and eventually the old car gets replaced and sent to the scrapper. One treat however is that there is a number of shots of a famous fuel injected 150 utility coupe that made its name in racing as One of the cars known as The Black Widow.
I’ll note that this edition is identical in terms of dimension to another Crestline publication I have, Fifties Flashback: The American Car, even down to the same page count. It would make sense that maybe these books were run through production at or around the same time, which would be financially prudent for the publisher.
The 1955-57 Chevy cars are revered classics. But they were also the best-selling cars of their model years. These cars were in driveways all over every neighbourhood in North America. Anthony Young and Mike Mueller put together a book that helps us understand the popularity of these cars and gives us a peek at what was driving the auto industry in the mid to late 1950s.
Pros: Filled with information direct from GM archives as well as interviews with people who were part of the development. Includes technical illustration and factory photography, as well as advertising. Technical but still easy to read.
Cons: Almost all the new photography is of Bel Air models, and none features wagons other than Nomads.
Where to get it: May still be in some new retail bookstores, otherwise Amazon, eBay, or used resale.