By on February 24, 2012

Sure, beauty is only skin deep, but what car guy doesn’t get his head turned by a pretty set of wheels? Perhaps the most popular cars ever wrapped in a bowtie were produced in three consecutive model years. Which is the best vintage?

Few would argue that the 1955-57 Chevrolets have produced one of the biggest army of fans in the entire car world. The cars are the stuff of legends in movies (American Graffiti, Two Lane Blacktop) and song (Eric Clapton’s ’57 Chevy).

An entire car culture and industry has been built around these iconic cars. They are more popular today than they were when they rolled off the dealerships over fifty years ago. And it wasn’t simply because people liked Dinah Shore.

Today a well-preserved (or restored or resto-modded) Tri-Five Chevy will command big money for its owners, most of whom would not be in a mood to sell their beloved ride.

So we have established that 567 Chevys are an extremely popular trio of hot-looking sister cars. The million-dollar question is…which is the hottest looking sister?

A strong case could be made for the oldest sister in this debate. A 1955 Chevrolet changed the game in 1955. It was a radical style departure from the 1954 Chevy model.

A 1955 Chevy was the first modern post war look for a Chevrolet sedan. The post war look was modified in 1949 by Chevy, but the changes were nowhere near the shift from 54-55.

A ’55 Chevy was a completely different animal. It had a less-rounded design and it had the first vestiges of the finned look that became a huge part of the back nine of the 50s Detroit philosophy. The ’55 was a car with its fins in a training bra.

The 1956 Chevy was the middle child in the 567 family. It had a look that was very reminiscent of the ’55, but ultimately it forged its own identity in the Tri-Five family.

The fins were slightly more noticeable with a re-configured tail- light package and some cosmetic changes to the front grille components. You could definitely see a strong family resemblance between the ’55 and ’56, but many Chevy guys felt that GM got it just right with the 1956 model.

All bets were off with the 1957 Chevy. This little sister wanted to be noticed, and its big tail fins put the ’57 right well beyond the training bra fin stage of its older siblings. There would be no mistaking a ’57 Chevy with the other two in the Tri-Five family.

The 1957 Chevrolet also ran with a faster crowd. It offered the first production year of the legendary 283 engine. A bored-out version of the earlier 265 meant that a ‘57 Chevy was a little hotter on the street than its siblings.

But was it a hotter model overall? The question will never be scientifically answered because 567 love runs deep. The Chevy boys will have grounds to present a solid case for all three years of these 50s beauty queens.

For more of J Sutherland’s work go to mystarcollectorcar.com

 

 


Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

32 Comments on “Car Collector’s Corner: 567 Chevys, Which Year Wins The Beauty Contest?...”


  • avatar
    VanillaDude

    It depends upon your taste.
    If you like gaudy – 1957
    If you are a purist – 1955

    But please, they look like dogs compared to the 1953 Studebaker coupe.

    • 0 avatar
      Zackman

      Sorry, but scoreboard wins. Of course, you know what that means – the Corolla is the no. 1 classic!

      …slinking to my corner…

    • 0 avatar

      I strongly agree w/ Vanilla about the Studebaker.

      I don’t think any of these 3 Chevies were particularly good looking. My favorite full-sized Chevies from what I would call the Classic era (end of WW2 to first arab oil embargo) are the 64 and the 58, the latter much more for the rear than the front.

      Among the 3, I don’t particularly like gaudy, and I am more of a purist, but I prefer the 57, though maybe not by all that much over the 55.

  • avatar
    fintail jim

    I agree with Vanilla – the ’55 must be the purist’s favorite. I like the eggcrate grille. The ’57 is only gaudy compared to the other two model years of the 567s. Compared to the same year model Buick or any of the 1958 GM offerings, not so much.

    I also agree that Bourke’s ’53 Studebaker coupe was in a class by itself. If it had come from one of the big three the other two bigs would have been p-ss-ng all over themselves trying to “catch up.” It seems Chrysler, Ford, nor GM considered it a threat and they were right in their way of thinking – it didn’t hurt their sales.

  • avatar

    Sorry Dude…a ’57 Bel-Air hardtop is sex on wheels. Or as close as it comes in an American passenger car. Except for a ’57 convertible.

    It’s well known that the ’55 grille was considered unpopular when new, hence the more chrome-laden, conventional-for-the-50′s facelift for ’56.

    Yeah they added a lot of doodads for ’57 but somehow it all worked in a way the ’58 just didn’t.

    This is not to take anything away from the styling of the ’53 Stude coupe. It’s a timeless beauty.

    But which one had quality control issues writ large, and which one was well built and could still be a competent driver today with just a few updates?

    Advantage ’55-’57.

    My preference is the ’57 first, followed closely by the ’55 and then the ’56. But the truth is, I wouldn’t kick any Tri-Five outta my driveway.

  • avatar
    Crabspirits

    No option for 56′ Dodge, 57′ Fairlane? Same car to me.

    These things are at every small town car show, and bore me to tears.

    I’ll say 56′ just because it brought something new to the table with that gas “door”.

    • 0 avatar

      It’s about the Tri-Fives precisely because of their continued popularity, running head & shoulders above their Ford/Mopar counterparts.

      When these cars were new, one out of every four cars sold was a Chevy. True that Ford outsold Chevy in model year ’57 sales…but Chevy won the calendar year count by 130 cars.

      Still, the cars’ build quality, durability and performance compared to their peers – especially the 1957′s – cemented their place in history.

      • 0 avatar

        Performance maybe among the eights, but not the sixes. My parents’ ’57 210 station wagon was not particularly powerful; and definitely less so than the ’57 Ply, and didn’t handle as well, either. Of course, the Ply was a real POS compared to the Chevy, which was a POS by today’s standards, and compared to the Xler slant sixes

  • avatar
    ciddyguy

    For me, I find the 55′s a little too plain up front but I have to agree, it’s design is clean and pure. But what I find is it had the nicer looking taillights than the 56′s but the 56 had a less plain grill that I tend to prefer. However, the 57 seems more cohesive from front to back, which I think partly explains why it’s the most popular of the 3.

    That said, I also liked the dash of the 57′s best of the 3, gaudy or not as it more exemplifies the Mid Century/Googie architecture stylings then in vogue as 1957-58 was I believe the height of MCM design before it made its slow decedent into irrelevancy by 1965. by the mid 60′s, society was becoming more and more conscious of architecture’s visual impact on the environment in terms of not trying fight the natural beauty, but to tone it down with the (then) prevailing use of darker colors (greens, browns etc) and the mansard roof, as seen on later McDonald’s structures since the late 60′s for an example.

    Anyway, that is my take as there is something fun about letting one’s design imagination run wild and these cars today still look fantastic, as does that whole era in our current time when everyone seems to be taking the safe route to more traditional subtle design paradigms, in both architecture and in cars and what not.

  • avatar
    Jason P

    I’m going to have to agree with Crabspirits. I see these things so often at every car show I don’t even give them a second look anymore (same goes for Chevelles and first-gen Camaros). It seems like I’ve seen every one ever produced and every single different build style that can be done with them. 90% of owners are old farts sitting around in lawn chairs with some variation of a Hawaiian shirt with either one of those ridiculous “flair hair” visors or a ball cap standing straight up about a foot in the front (I call them “paw paw billboard hats”). There were far more interesting pretty cars produced during that time period (in the rest of the GM portfolio alone) which you don’t see near often enough.

    • 0 avatar
      VanillaDude

      +1!

      I think the Hawaiian shirt thing is like based on the Beach Boys or California or surfing or something like that. That’s why it’s popular with the Dockers crowd.

      I also heard it has something to do with that Jimmy Buffet guy who had a hit forty years ago.

      The Model T crowd was into Lawrence Welk and Big Band stuff, so I guess this crowd is into that stuff. The Model T guys are dying off and I think we’ll probably start seeing the Old Car Guys in the Hawaiian shirts popping off too.

      Then it will be the old Tattoo Punk freaks parading around in Supras and MR2s. Can’t wait!

      • 0 avatar
        racebeer

        Sorry VD, I’ve gotta disagree a bit with you. Up here in the frozen north we have this little show in June called “Back to the 50′s” that draws in about 12000 cars — all 1964 or older. In the past 6 years I’ve been seeing more and more young Tattoo Punk freaks and their girls coming to the show and checking out all of the old iron. They really seem to love the old stuff, and I’ve also noticed more of them actually bringing old iron to exhibit. So, don’t be too fast on the Supras and Mister2s with this crowd. The cars will probably stay the same, but the music and clothing will certainly change.

      • 0 avatar
        Juniper

        Totally agree with Racebeer. We go every year with the avatar and see these guys. They started with rat rods and are now evolving (maturing) into “nicer” rides. I think the hobby is safe. And for the nay sayers, go to a big show like Back to the 50s, you may be suprised at what you see and how much fun you have. If you like cars that is.

  • avatar
    poltergeist

    My top three…

    1.’55 210…I love the simple front end
    2.’57 150…a ’57 with side trim like the ’55…keeps ‘em guessing
    3.’57 210…my Dad has one. No ugly gold trim like Bel Air

  • avatar
    nikita

    I owned a ’57 for many years. Even a lowly Two-Ten model two door post sedan (the most plentiful style) turned heads everywhere, even in car-jaded Los Angeles. After restoration and driving it for two decades I sold it to a collector in Sweden. For me a ’55 Nomad, in gray and coral two tone is my ultimate tri-five. The ’57 may seem gaudy, but compared to what, a ’57 Plymouth? While I wouldnt turn one down, the ’56 never did as much for me emotionally.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    To me the ’55 is the platonic idea of an automobile.

    But that may be a personal opinion colored by the fact that my father bought a ’55 Bel Air convertible during the summer of ’55. It was the most exciting event of my childhood.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    I owned two 1957 Chevys – both two door post models, one a 210, the other a Bel-Air. The Bel-Air had a V8, thus a heavier frame, but the body was shot in spite of ALL trim and interior almost like new. The 210? Everything was shot EXCEPT the body! So…we switched the bodies – junked the Bel-Air body and put the 210 body on the rebuilt & painted – springs and all – V8 frame. This was 1974-75. I was still in school, single, little money. Needless to say, the car never got on the road or finished. I paid $155.00 for the Bel-Air, $50 bucks for the 210. Sold the car in boxes in late 1979 for $400.00, I lost money, too. Sad story all around. The car eventually was finished in the colors I intended – Red w/White roof. Red interior (original). The tranny was a 3 speed w/overdrive!

    The ’57 had always been my dream unfulfilled, and probably never will be realized…

    I’m happy to see some have the time and money to spend on these…

  • avatar
    stickman

    Just a suggestion…I’m not a 55 to 57 Chevy afficianado so perhaps this is unnecessary for your intended audience…

    I can understand you’re talking about the styling changes among these three years, but I don’t know the cars well enough to match their picture with the text. I can tell the top picture is a ’57 only because it says so on the side. I can tell the third picture is a different year than the middle picture with three cars because the grille is different. I can’t see the grille in the top ’57 to see if it matches either of the other two pictures. I can’t see the rear end of the middle and bottom pictures to see if they match the top ’57. It’s like one of those logic puzzles where you’re missing one tidbit of information. My suggestion is to maybe show front/rear/side of a ’57, front/rear/side of a ’56, and front/rear/side of a ’55 and label them (or show cars like the top where the year is part of the picture) so we can match the styling cues in your text with the picture.

    • 0 avatar
      nikita

      Middle picture are ’55′s and the bottom one is a ’56. Its easy to get plenty of rear view images by doing a Google search. You are right, to those not familiar, the minutia of styling differences make little sense. Understand that at GM, Fisher body dictated a lot of commonality, even between brands. The doors, glass and roof panels are identical, and the same for the same years of Pontiac, as well as the smaller Buick and Oldsmobile of the same years. It still amazes me how much the divisions were able to do by decorating the same Fisher Body shell.

  • avatar
    210delray

    We had a ’55 Chevy as the family car, then skipped over the entire late 50s excesses and replaced it with a ’61. Both were exceptionally clean cars (design-wise).

    My preference though is for the ’57 overall, but for cleanness and originality of design, the ’55 still wins. (Yes, I know the grille was copied from Ferrari, but it works beautifully.)

  • avatar
    oldowl

    (1) ’55 Chevy Nomad

    (2) ’55 Chevy convertible

    (3) ’56 Chevy hardtop

  • avatar
    Juniper

    Great! My first car in 65 was a 57 210 2 dr. 265(yes 265) three on the tree. Wrecked it (stupid kid) A year later, and many hours working at the gas station, I bought a 57 black Bel Air 2dr Hardtop, with the orangish reddish interior. Sold that when I went in the service. Yes that is the car I wish I still had.
    But I think the 55 looks “tougher” belongs at the drag strip, the 57 belongs at the drive in even tho it had more performance options available. From a six to a fuel injected high compression 283 HP 283. You could even get a factory approved dealer installed four speed. Not many of those exist. ( the real ones that is.) I have to say the 56 is my third choice, but the 56 Nomad was the best looking Nomad in my opinion.

  • avatar

    In Gilligan’s Island calibration:

    ’55 is Mary Ann
    ’56 is Mary Ann in a bikini
    ’57 is Ginger

    On a deserted island, take your pick.

  • avatar
    Bunter1

    The ’55 is like a goodlooking sharp dressed chubby gal.
    Rather appealing if you like some cushion in a lady.

    The ’57 is her cousin with Jay Leno’s jaw in rhinestone rim glasses, terminal mascara, jeans that are 3 sizes to small and nasty gold lame stilletos. Add some sagging equipment in a tube top.
    I don’t imbibe so I don’t know how many shots of JD it takes before she looks good. Ehwwwwwwww! Needs orthodotic work also.

    The popularity of the ’57 may be just a combination of herd mentality and the nice way “’57 Chev” rolls off the tongue.

    OK, I don’t like this car.

    ’56? Yawn, just a typical ’50s mismash of styling cliches.

    Love & bullets,

    Bunter

  • avatar
    Monty

    I came home in a ’57 150 2-door wagon (which was traded in on a ’56 Buick Century 4-door hardtop), so one would think I’d be partial to the ’57s.

    I’ll take a 150 2 door post or 2 door wagon in the 1955 vintage, please. Thanks.

  • avatar
    fincar1

    From the outside, I like the 1955 Bel Air 2-door hardtop best. But from the driver’s seat, the view just looks kind of lumpy; the view out a 1957 windshield down the sight is more coherent.

    I’ve never driven one of these tri-five cars, surprisingly enough, but have ridden in several. A friend has an all original V8 3-speed 150 2-door sedan with the white patches on the rear quarters. Pretty cool car but I’d prefer a bright red one.

  • avatar
    old fart

    The 55 is best looking just pure sex, sorry dad ( he had a 56 ) the 57 while a hot rod was a peacock ( and yes I would still want one anyway )

  • avatar
    SilverHawk

    I’ve never been able to choose between the three. They’re just so freakin’ perfect. Loved everything about them. As a kid, I was blown away the first time I saw the 57 at the dealership. Today, I might go with the 55.
    To this day, Bob Bourke’s 53 Starliner is the only Stude that actually makes me emotional. I could never own one. It would consume my life!

  • avatar
    willbodine

    Very interesting post. I think you had to be there to appreciate what a breath of fresh air the ’55 Chevy was. It’s a lot of things: a moderately lower profile, that “wrap-around” windscreen, new hotchkiss drive (no more torque tube), improved front suspension but most importantly the thin-wall small block V8. Up to 1954, Chevies were for Grandmas and maiden aunts. Rarely has an image been reversed so quickly and convincingly. I love the “ferrari-esque” grill”, those lovely taillights, tasteful graphics. The one major styling fault are the dainty, square, small rear wheel openings. Vastly improved for ’56. (Interestingly, the 567 Nomads all had full-radius rear wheel openings.)
    But my favorite is the 1956. (Probably most shoebox fans’ least favorite). A nice update on an admitted classic. Bright new colors.
    First Chevy 4 door hardtop.
    And my least favorite is the ’57. Looks like it was designed by a committee. Car is too boxy for those fins. Which were borrowed shamelessly by both Rambler and Mercedes for their boxy sedans. And not attractive on them, either. The 283 was awesome, though.

  • avatar
    willbodine

    May I chime in on the 53 Loewy-Bourke coupe? It’s quite stunning, but with several design faux-pas. First, that “speed-boat” cowl. it’s so high. How much better it would look if the windscreen began at hood level. And the side-sweep cove thingy. By ending at the door, it only emphasizes how excessively far back the rear wheels are relative to the door. Might have worked better if the cove extended past the door into the rear quarter. Think 65 Mustang. The wheelbase is too long. “Coupe” by definition means “cut” (height and length.) Cash strapped Studebaker had to use the long sedan frame. Love the grill and tail, however. And the low profile.

  • avatar
    geggamoya

    I say -57 simply because one of my earliest memories is buying a Majorette -57 chevy pro-street diecast model. Wanted one ever since, though i would skip the red with yellow flames paint-job of the model.

  • avatar
    wstarvingteacher

    Own a 57. Experienced all three. Like them all. Wasn’t a whole lot of differences that relly meant much.
    Little bigger engine. Little more weigjt.


Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Subscribe without commenting

Recent Comments

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Staff

  • Authors

  • Brendan McAleer, Canada
  • Marcelo De Vasconcellos, Brazil
  • Matthias Gasnier, Australia
  • J & J Sutherland, Canada
  • Tycho de Feyter, China
  • W. Christian 'Mental' Ward, Abu Dhabi
  • Mark Stevenson, Canada
  • Faisal Ali Khan, India