By on May 3, 2014

YouTube Preview Image

Earlier this week TTAC ran an insightful post by Abraham Drimmer on the history of autonomous cars that featured a promotional film about General Motors’ Futurama exhibit at the 1939 New York World’s Fair. That film was produced by the Jam Handy Organization, the Detroit based motion picture studio famous for its educational film strips and promotional films. GM executives must have liked the “ama” suffix because a few years later in the 1950s they used it to name their annual touring display of concept and show cars the “Motorama”. Just as the Futurama gave Americans a look at the highways of the future, in its day, Motorama became synonymous with cars of the future. Perhaps that’s why Chevrolet decided to use the word “Motoramic” to describe their all new 1955 models and again hired the Jam Handy studio to promote them.

YouTube Preview Image

Nineteen-fifty-five was a big year for Chevy. It marked the introduction of Chevrolet’s first V8 engine, then called the “Turbofire V8″, what would become known as the “small block Chevy”. Chevy’s chief engineer, Ed Cole, led the talented team that developed the lightweight, compact and powerful motor, the first time a modern, high compression, overhead valve V8 was available in something that wasn’t a luxury car. Motoramic, according to Chevrolet meant, “More than a new car, a new concept of low cost motoring”.

YouTube Preview Image

It may seem quaint today, when hardly anyone in the U.S. market describes their products as economy cars, but in the 1950s Chevy, Ford and Plymouth were not embarrassed to call themselves the “low cost three”. The ’55 Chevys were landmark cars. Not only did they introduce the OHV V8 to the masses, they were some of the first popularly priced cars that were available with a wide variety of trim lines and optional features. They also had more style than one might expect in an economy car. Almost 60 years later, the ’54 Chevys still look dowdy next to the ’55s (and later ’56 and ’57 models). Advertising touted “show car styling” and “43 new interiors”. By offering a variety of body styles (convertible, two door, four door, station wagon etc.) and trim lines, GM gave Chevy dealers a showroom full of different “models”, even though they were all pretty much the same car.

YouTube Preview Image

As with the Futurama, GM commissioned the Jam Handy Organization, in this case to produce a series of 10 television commercials used to launch the 1955 Chevrolet line. While each has a different opening tagline, all ten of the ads use variations on the same script, to make sure that new car’s selling points, the show car styling, the three new engines, the three new transmissions, and the new Glide-Ride front suspension etc. get mentioned.

YouTube Preview Image

We’ve seen plenty of retro styled cars over the past couple of decade. Even the recently introduced 2015 Ford Mustang and Dodge Challenger use design cues that are at least 40 years old. With the appeal of Ad Men, a show placed in the mid 1960s, and the growing interest in “mid-century” collectibles I won’t be surprised if, in a fit of hipster irony, Chevy, or another car company, reprises the look and feel of these Jam Handy produced ads.

YouTube Preview Image

YouTube Preview Image

YouTube Preview Image

YouTube Preview Image

YouTube Preview Image

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

38 Comments on “It’s The New Motoramic Chevrolet!...”


  • avatar
    Lorenzo

    Forty-three new interiors! They may bring back that type of ads, but that many interiors are history. Today you can get any interior you want, as long as it’s all-black, gray, or tan. I also shed a tear for the two tone exteriors, not so much for the split color rear fenders as for the white, or at least light-colored roof.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      You just have to be willing to pay more. I had a choice of more than a dozen leather colors, plus a couple of leatherette, plus a number of different wood and aluminum trim options on my BMW. And very few limitations of what color inside with what color outside. And that is without getting into the BMW Individual options. Nothing as wild and crazy as the turquoise and whorehouse red you used to be able to get on American cars, but the red-brown Chestnut color I chose is quite nice.

      I like the 55′s best of the ’55-’57 Chevys. Cleaner lines.

      • 0 avatar
        ajla

        If Audi was willing to make a lime green S5 for Jack, I would assume that BMW would be willing to build a bright red ActiveHybrid5 for someone if they ask for it (even though that color isn’t listed for any 5-series).

        • 0 avatar
          krhodes1

          Yes, paint to sample is part of the Individual program. Not cheap though!

          • 0 avatar
            ajla

            It was $2600 on Baruth’s Audi and I’ve heard $5500 on a Porsche. So I’d guess it’s in that ballpark. Honestly, considering the price of a factory-quality repaint, I think those are okay prices for a custom color.

            I give the German brands credit for offering it to customers. If I wanted a factory painted baby blue MKZ, I think I would be out of luck at any price.

            It looks like right now the BMW “Individual Program” is only on the 5-series and above. I wonder if that means they wouldn’t paint someone’s 228i the orange color of a ’72 2002tii (not sure how close the current Valencia Orange is).

          • 0 avatar
            jim brewer

            It must be really expensive to offer a wide array of color options. That’s the only reason I can think of why such a drab palette is offered by so many manufacturers.

          • 0 avatar
            PrincipalDan

            @jim brewer, http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/05/fear-of-a-black-planet/

            And then some manufacturers offer 3 shades of the same dang color…

  • avatar
    87 Morgan

    The 55′ is by far my favorite. Some cold argue they are over done, but owning one is still on my bucket list.

    • 0 avatar
      Felis Concolor

      After spending hundreds of hours staring at many thousands of examples both stock and custom, my favorite of the Tri-Fives is far and away the first iteration, followed by the ’57 and the ’56.

    • 0 avatar

      The ’56 and ’57 Chevys are a little overstyled to my tastes, particularly the ’57s, but the the 1955 is the equivalent of a well tailored man’s designer suit.

      • 0 avatar
        Dave M.

        Agreed! The purest of the tri-five designs. The ’56 ain’t bad either, but I never got the commotion over the ’57s…the Ford was much better looking, and sold accordingly so.

  • avatar

    This was the moment when the rungs began to weaken on Alfred Sloan’s ladder.

    The ’53-’54 Corvette was a non-factor with limited production and questionable quality. But Chevy sold a then-record 1,800,000 of their full-size line. Then in 1958 the Impala and Ford Thunderbird came along…followed by the ’65 LTD, Caprice and Plymouth VIP…the democratization of luxury was well under way.

    • 0 avatar
      jim brewer

      I was always given to understand that the 1966-1957 Chevrolets were such a sensation because it was the first time middle-class cars had about as much hp as the fancier cars.

  • avatar
    jimbob457

    I remember it well. My ’51 flathead with dual carbs, headers and a hot cam went from being fast to being half-fast overnight.

  • avatar
    Kenmore

    I was 10-years old when the ’64/’65 transformation from the previous long, rounded slab look to the forward-raked, tighter rectangular boxes came about. I distinctly recall the freshness and excitement of the ’65s from both Chevy and Ford.

    I’m sure the ’54/’55 transition had to be at least as exciting. Put me down for loving ’55s best of the Tri-Fives. Very clean machines.

    • 0 avatar
      mikey

      For me? nothing compares to the 57. I do like the 65, but given a choice, the 66 had a cleaner look.

      • 0 avatar
        Kenmore

        I too prefer ’66 Fords and Chevys to the ’65s. But the jump from ’64 to ’65 seemed pretty rad at the time.

        Funny how things repeat themselves; I wouldn’t turn down any ’65 through ’67 Ford or Chevy. Same for the Tri-Fives. They’re all more gorgeous every year we move further into this Age of Blobs.

        • 0 avatar
          NoGoYo

          I prefer ’67 full size Chevys to ’66s, but that period of ’65-’67 is pretty golden overall, and you even get some weird stuff like the fastback Olds 88s with a wacky front end and wackier tailights.

          • 0 avatar
            Kenmore

            In the ’70s I owned both a ’66 Galaxie and a ’67 Impala. I’m pretty partial to those years, too.

            Today, of course, they’d be weekend queens only; not just to protect them but to protect me. I remember their brakes, width and wallowing.

            But they looked *so* good.

          • 0 avatar
            Lie2me

            My first car was a ’67 Impala

          • 0 avatar
            Kenmore

            Mine was a white/red SS 396. The only problem I had in two years of daily driving was when the shift linkage snapped on a hyper-cold IA morning.

    • 0 avatar
      Lie2me

      I really wasn’t conscious of cars until the ’60s. 1963 with the introduction of the Corvette Stingray, Buick Riviera and Studebaker Avanti the Mustang one year later in 1964, this was my “car base” The ’50s cars looked so ancient by comparison. Took awhile for the ’50s cars to come back around and be appreciated for what they were

      Great piece, when life was set to music.

  • avatar
    RogerB34

    Dinah Shore and Chevrolets 1952 – early 60′s.
    She sold cars and the V8 made it so much more.

    • 0 avatar
      Syke

      In my family, The Dinah Shore Chevy Show (and later, Bonanza) were absolutely required viewing on their respective nights. And shows that were sponsored by Ford were conspicuously absent on the Paczolt family viewing schedule.

      I do remember Mom was absolutely indignant when she divorced, feeling Chevrolet should drop her for such behavior.

      Well, when dad’s a Chevy dealer . . . . . .

  • avatar
    ern35

    My dad bought a ’55 Canadian Pontiac—which was essentially a ’55 Chev, but with Pontiac trim—-as all Canadian Pontiacs were trimmed that way—along with the 2 rows of stripes on the front hood and the bumpers —-but with the Chevrolet OHV 6 cyl. engine.
    AS I recall, it was the beginning of a very exciting ‘car culture’ in Southern Ontario at the time.
    Also—Consumers Reports had a ‘Best Buy’ rating for cars—and the Chevrolet 210, along with the Oldsmobile 88, and one of the Cadillacs were the only cars given that designation in their Annual Auto Issue of 1955.

    • 0 avatar
      -Nate

      Canadian Pontiacs came with Chevrolet’s 261 C.I.D. light truck engine , a very good and sought after engine these days .

      I found on (’56 Canadian Pontiac Sedan) in a Long Beach P-A-P junkyard last summer but am too beat up physically to take the engine out , it was crushed for scrap instead =8-( .

      -Nate

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      Chrysler did that with their Dodge and Plymouth makes for Canadian sale, mixing and matching models and trim. I imagine they were trying to make the Canadian versions look unique, but who did they think they were kidding? I also don’t remember seeing or hearing of that tactic being used by Ford. Maybe they shot their wad making Mercury models distinctive?

      • 0 avatar
        NoGoYo

        I find it amusing how Ford sold Mercury trucks in Canada. I’m not sure they even sold Ford trucks until the Mercury trucks stopped.

        • 0 avatar

          You could buy a Mercury Ranchero in Canada. Ford also used the Monarch and Meteor brands up north. A while back I did a piece for Left Lane News on Canadian Fords.

          http://www.leftlanenews.com/a-trip-though-history-to-see-fords-unique-canada-only-lineup-feature.html

          I think my favorite Canadian-market-only car is the SS396 Beaumont, essentially a Chevelle with a Pontiac nose and a GTO dashboard. If folks are interested, I can do a post on one of the six existing ’68 SD396 Beaumont convertibles.

          • 0 avatar
            NoGoYo

            Acadians and Beaumonts are neat. It’s weird seeing a Pontiac-style grille on a ’68 Chevelle though, at least the Parisienne looked “right” (though the tailights before the switch to ’81 Bonneville lights didn’t look so good).

  • avatar
    OneAlpha

    I remember a Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode where Joel and the bots made fun of a promotional “World of Tomorrow” short film GM had made in the 50s.

    The best part was at the end where Crow chimes in with the disclaimer,

    “Future not available in Africa, India and central South America.”

  • avatar
    wmba

    Growing up in South West Nova Scotia in the late ’50s and on, it always surprised me as a nascent car nut that Chevs tended to have six cylinder engines and three on the tree manuals, while Fords had V8s and Fordomatics. Local taste. But we always inspected the cars driven by the multitude of American summer residents. Almost always automatics.

    The ’55 Chevs did look better, except for the ’57 in orange and white to my eye. Our HS principal had one like that. It ended up ruined by turpentine bath applied by a psychotic student.

    The 261 in my math teacher’s ’61 Pontiac was ultra smooth and emitted a very refined whine/whistle as it accelerated. All our schoolbuses had the same engine, which wound out to maybe 3500 rpm seemed to have little trouble whisking the buses around doing an easy 55mph in Ruxall high on the main (2 lane highway) on my way to and from the regional school in town.

    Our local councillor drove a ’55 Ford F100. The Mercury M100 was never seen in much quantity.

    Surely the 1955 Ford had an available OHV V8 too? I never understood the hullaballoo about Chev being first with an OHV V8.

    • 0 avatar
      NoGoYo

      Chevrolet wasn’t even the first GM division with an OHV V8. Oldsmobile got one in 1949, Cadillac also got one in 1949, and Buick’s 8-cylinder engines were always OHV (though I guess their first OHV V8 was in 1953).

      As for non-GM makes, Chrysler had an OHV V8 starting in 1951 and Ford got its first OHV V8 in 1954.

    • 0 avatar
      mikey

      I had a 62 Pontiac Strato Chief, 2dr post. with a 261, and “three on the tree”.

      My buddies and I had our 1/4 mile strip marked off. The Pontiac took on all contenders. I could beat a tired 283 equipped with a powerglide. But my other buddy had a 65 Valient with a 225 slant six he could take me out of the hole, but by the time I hit second I had him by a length. At the end of the 1/4 it could go either way.

      Wow!….If I could only turn back time.

  • avatar
    ern35

    My first car was a 1954 Monarch—2-door, V8, automatic, but with no power-equipment (i.e. no power steering, power brakes, power anything) heck–even the windshield washer was vacuum-operated, and had to actuated by pumping a rubber device on the floor! Bought it used privately—2 1/2 years old. Great looking car, two tone maroon and beige, with white-wall tires and huge humpers accentuated with a couple of dagmars. It was essentially a Mercury, but dressed and trimmed up differently to differentiate it from the Mercury sold by Lincoln dealers. I believe that the Monarch was sold at the Ford Dealerships in Canada at that time and well beyond!

  • avatar
    grandprix

    My first car was a ’57 Chevy Bel Air 2dr coupe. Always liked these since I was a little kid and bought mine in 1971. 32000 miles,283 powerpak,automatic and power steering. Wish I still had it.


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
  • W. Christian 'Mental' Ward, Abu Dhabi
  • Mark Stevenson, Canada
  • Faisal Ali Khan, India