In 1957, Elvis appeared on Ed Sullivan’s “really good shew,” Kerouac published On the Road, John Lennon and Paul McCartney met for the first time, gas was a shocking 24 cents per gallon, and Chevrolet introduced its soon-to-be-classic ’57 Chevy.
A radical shift in design from the past, Chevrolet’s 1957 Bel Air model appeared longer and lower (though it was actually smaller than the competition) and with its distinctive styling, the “coolness” factor was unmatched. Even today, the ’57 Chevy is considered an ultimate classic. With the Bel Air’s exclusive V-shaped trim filled with ribbed aluminum tail fins, and a massive front bumper and grill that appear more similar to a Cadillac than a Chevy, it had a sleek yet solid look. Chevy’s advertising tag line for the new ’57 Chevy that year was “Sweet, Smooth and Sassy.” It had the biggest and boldest look among lower-priced cars, and though engineering changes were extensive, its styling got most of the attention.
Automotive engineers of this era had a goal of attaining one horsepower from every cubic inch of engine displacement. With the ’57 Chevy’s 283 cubic inch (4,640 cc) V-8 engine option, and the addition of the new Ramjet fuel injection system, Chevy had achieved an engineering milestone. Few mechanics were yet qualified to handle the complexities of the new fuel injection system, however, so it was slow to catch on.
Despite public enthusiasm, its sleek new look and state-of-the-art engine developments, the ’57 Chevy was not as popular as General Motors had hoped it would be. Chevy’s rival, Ford, outsold the 1957 Model for the first time since 1935 (although Ford’s 57 model—excepting its retractable hardtop model—is not nearly as prized by collectors as the ’57 Chevy is now). One culprit was thought to be the new tubeless tires that came standard on the ’57 Chevy for the first time; buyers just didn’t trust them.
Clean-cut and wholesome in 1957 and lusted after by young baby-boomers as their dream car, the ’57 Chevy also became a popular street machine/hotrod choice for drag racing and customization in following years due to is relatively light weight and size. Combined with simple mechanical systems and an engine bay large enough to accommodate GM’s big-block engines, the ’57 Chevy was easy to maintain, customize, and upgrade. The famous Ford hotrods with their flathead V-8s faced stiff competition when Chevrolet, in 1962, first introduced the small-block 365 horsepower “327,” and, made it easy to drop into the ’57 Chevy.
When you think of the 50s, the classic ’57 Chevy must come to mind as one of the most memorable cars of the decade. It is one of America’s all-time favorites, and it still remains vastly popular with classic car collectors today. With an average sale price of US$2500 back then, many of us now wistfully wish we had purchased (or kept) a few and stashed them away for the future!