Tag Archives: Bel Air

Chevy Classics 1955 1956 1957

Chevy Classics 1955 1956 1957 by Anthony Young – Photography by Mike Mueller
Published 2011 by Crestline
160pp., hardcover

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.

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Bel Air ’56

Recently I featured a detail shot from the front of a rough 1957 Chevy Bel Air, an icon of American motoring. Today the feature is on the tail end of the 1956 Bel Air in much better shape.

The 1956 edition of Chevrolet cars is sometimes overlooked – classic ‘middle child’ syndrome. The 1955 was a complete departure from previous Chevs. The 1957 was more ornate in design, and many argue it’s the prettiest of the 3 years. The 1956… well, some see it as less special, a warmed over 55 holding place until the 57 arrived.

That’s really not true, as we’ll see in an upcoming book review. The 1956 actually incorporated a number of upgrades and revisions over the 1955 car. Styling-wise the 1956 is distinct from its siblings, longer and some say cleaner. On distinctive feature was these one-year-only taillights, a bullet style that resembled those from Oldsmobile and predates the exaggerated 1959 Cadillac bullets.

This car was shot in Syracuse at the Nationals in 2014. I used my Nikon D3200, 18-55 Nikkor zoom lens, set at ƒ/9.0, shutter speed of 1/250 second and ISO 100. Compareed to the original (below) it can be seen there was a good amount of processing the image, which was done in Topaz Adjust, to warm up the colour as well as reveal the details of the image.

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Rough 1957 Chev

One of the iconic American classic is the 1957 Chevy. Known as one of the ‘shoebox’ or ‘Tri-Five’ Chevies (along with the 1955 and 1956 models), it is among the most recognized and popular cars ever. General Motors introduced the new longer, lower and wider models in 1955, and when Chevrolet offered the new 265 cubic inch V8 (in addition to the old stovebolt 6 cylinder engine) in its handsome cars, it scored an instant hit. Chevrolet sold 1,775,952 of their full-size line (models 150, 210 and Bel Air) in the first year, followed by 1,623,376 for 1956. For 1957, Chevy sold a total 1,555,316 cars that year for well over 4,000,000 cars over 3 years (numbers taken from here). The old 6 engine was still the base offering, but the small block V8 was now 283 cubes, and the hottest ticket was the optional fuel injection which made 283 horsepower – 1 for each cubic inch!

This particular coupe was found in the hotel parking lot when I attended the 2014 Syracuse Nationals car show. Clad in primer and showing a number of scars from age, it fit in with a number of other rat rods and ‘unfinished’ cars that showed up. The crest has been shaved from the front of the hood, and much of the chrome on the grille and headlight bezels is rough, but the hood windsplit ornaments looked pretty fresh, and the 3 trim ‘D’s on the fender show this to be a top of the line Bel Air.

I shot this car with my Fuji FinePix S1500, which has a fixed lens. The settings were ƒ/5.0, 1/300 second shutter speed using ISO 64. It was an overcast evening, so there wasn’t much in the way of the normal June evening sunset. The original image capture is below, and you can see how using adjustments in Topaz Adjust really helped to bring out the details in the paint and chrome that the camera seemed not to show at first. The cracks and runs in the paint, the amount of pitting in the chrome, even the uneven quality of the primer is revealed in post processing.

Sixty Years of Chevrolet

60yearsofchevroletSixty Years of Chevrolet by George H. Dammann
published 1972 by Crestline Publishing Company
319 pages, hardcover

ISBN-10: 0912612037
ISBN-13: 978-0912612034

Acquired from the estate of a friend and fellow ‘car guy’. Currently out of print.

The Crestline Automotive Series of books are regarded as just about essential to a serious library on cars. With this in mind, the first review for AutoBookBlog is Sixty Years of Chevrolet, by George Dammann. Dammann founded Crestline Publishing, and was the driving force in creating a series of books that attempted to present the most comprehensive histories of American-made cars. Dammann himself wrote many of them.

Regardless of author, each book in the series (and there are many) follows a format. That format is simple… so simple that this book’s title explains exactly what you’ll get. The first chapter of a couple of pages presents a pre-Chevrolet background, a brief story of how Chevrolet the car company came to exist – the Chevrolet brothers and William Durant, Republic Motors and The Little Motor Car Company – the early days for a cornerstone in what would become the General Motors empire. That is followed by 60 more chapters, named 1912, 1913, and so on up to 1972… literally 60 years of Chevrolet.

The Chevrolet Motor Company was incorporated on Nov. 3, 1911,
and shortly thereafter its first production cars began to roll off the floor…
Sixty Years of Chevrolet

The year-by-year accounts are comprised of a few pages of narrative, covering such topics as significant corporate happenings, model introductions, changes and innovations, and general sales figures and pricing information. Accompanying the story are numerous photos and illustrations of the year’s offerings. In this respect, this book is an important and valuable reference tool.

Each year, each model, gets the same type of coverage. There are no sidebars that focus on 1957 Bel Airs, SS Chevelles or any other collectible Chev. After all, in 1972, a 5-year-old Camaro was just another used car, and certainly didn’t hold the type of enthusiast appeal we see today. In that respect, Dammann covers the Corvair sedan with the same respect as any Corvette – each is another small part of the overall history of Chevrolet.

60yearsofChev Corvairs and Corvettes appear side-by-side in ‘Sixty Years of Chevrolet’.

Make no mistake, this book is not what one would consider a modern publication, nor the only reference one would ever need. The photos are all in black-and-white, and many are dark, sometimes obviously hand-trimmed. A great number are archival General Motors promotional shots. It’s a representative though not exhaustive showing of Chevrolet’s offerings. Looking for a specific model? There’s a good chance it’s shown, though specific options may differ from the car your granddad drove. The captions are informative, though sometimes brief. If one were looking for information concerning option codes, paint colours and the like, this is not the place to find it. And though it is apparent that many hours were put into researching and assembling this book, there are a number of typos and minor factual errors.

Compared to books you’d find today, Sixty Years of Chevrolet doesn’t fare well. For the casual automotive reader, it can make for some tedious reading. But, for those who enjoy leafing through history, or who want to see period-correct photos of old cars, this is a great book to have around. For the more hardcore motorhead, who revels in knowing exactly when the name Master Deluxe debuted, or when the Custom Coupe roofline was first offered on the Impala, this is a must-have.

Pros: numerous pictures, simple layout, fairly comprehensive for the period it covers
Cons: tedious reading for those with a casual interest, only goes up to 1972
Where to find it: Amazon, ebay, used bookstores, estate collections

Note: An updated version, 75 Years of Chevrolet, was released in 1987. It follows the same format, and information up to 1972 remains the same.

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