Veteran & Vintage Chevrolet  Automobile Association of Australia  South Australian Branch
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1957 Chevrolet
Initially, General Motors executives wanted an entirely new car for 1957, but production delays necessitated the 1955-56 design for one more year. Ed Cole, chief engineer for Chevrolet, dictated a series of changes that significantly increased the cost of the car. These changes included a new dashboard, sealed cowl, and the relocation of air ducts to the headlight pods, which resulted in the distinctive chrome headlight that helped make the '57 Chevrolet a classic. Fourteen-inch wheels replaced the fifteen-inch wheels from previous years to give the car a lower stance, and a wide grille was used to give the car a wider look from the front. The now famous '57 Chevrolet tailfins were designed to duplicate the wide look in the rear. Bel Air models were given gold trim: the mesh grille insert and front fender chevrons, as well as the "Chevrolet" script on the hood and trunk, were all rendered in anodized gold. The 1957 Chevrolets did not have an oil pressure gauge or a voltmeter. The base engine was an inline 6-cylinder called the Blue Flame Six. The engine was smoother running than the V-8. Carburetion came from a single one-barrel carburetor. From a numbers standpoint, the '57 Chevrolet wasn't as popular as General Motors had hoped. Despite its popularity, rival Ford outsold Chevrolet for the 1957 model year for the first time since 1935. The main cause of the sales shift to Ford was that the '57 Chevrolet had tubeless tires, the first car to have them. This scared away sales to Ford as many people did not initially trust the new tubeless design. Also Ford's introduction of an all-new body styling that was longer, lower, and wider than the previous year's offerings helped Ford sales. However, the 1957 Ford - with the exception of the rare retractable hardtop model - is not nearly as prized by collectors today as the 1957 Chevrolet. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, the '57 Chevrolet was a popular used car and highly prized "street machine" or hot rod in 1957 terms. It was the final year of the "shoebox" Chevrolet, as 1958 saw the introduction of a much larger and
heavier "X" framed Chevrolet. The ideal size of the '57, combined with its relatively light weight compared to newer full-sized cars, made it a favourite among drag racers. The engine bay was big enough to fit GM's
big-block engines, first introduced in 1958 and popularized in the 1960s by the Beach Boys in the song "409". The relatively simple mechanical attributes of the car made it easy to maintain, customize, and upgrade with components such as disc brakes and air conditioning. The big block, however, was not what put the '57 on the map on the street scene; it was the introduction of the low-priced small-block, 365-horsepower 327 in 1962 that was the blockbuster that made both the '55 and '57 Chevrolet able to beat the Ford hot-rods with their flathead V8s. This was a major turning point in American hot rodding: Chevrolet had claimed the street scene from Ford. The '57 Chevrolet also won 49 Grand National "cup" NASCAR races (the most of any car in NASCAR history), won the Southern 500 (in 1957, 1958, and 1959); becoming the only car to win the 500 three times. The earliest victory for a '57 Chevrolet in a titled NASCAR Grand National Series race was the 1957 Virginia 500. The '57 also won 26 NASCAR "convertible races," more than any make, and won all three possible driver's championships. The first in convertible class and winning car in the 1959 Daytona 500 was a '57 driven by Joe Lee Johnson. The convertibles started on the outside row and were approximately ten miles an hour slower than the hardtops and sedans because of their aerodynamics. No one figured that a convertible would win the race and they didn't but wonder who was driving the top finishing convertible. The 283 engine placed from the factory behind the centre-line of the front wheels made the '57 a superior handling car on the short tracks and the dirt
tracks as well. This mechanical advantage, coupled with the high revving and reliable 283, earned the '57 the nickname "king of the short tracks". With the fuel injected 283, the One-Fifty model two door sedan version, called the "black widow," was the first car outlawed (and quickly so) by NASCAR as it proved almost unbeatable on virtually all the NASCAR tracks in early 1957. After the '57 was grandfathered out from the now "cup" division in 1960 and relegated to the lower local track sportsman divisions, they were still the car to beat for years. The '57s subsequently were used up in stock car racing at a very high rate. Surprisingly enough, the
'57 Chevrolet also won a disproportionate amount of demolition derbies as well: With the radiator set back from the grille, the car was difficult to disable. The additional advantage of having the last double lined trunk, coupled with a strong frame, made it a surprisingly common winner in the demolition derbies during the late 1960s and early 1970s. By the 1970s, the '57 Chevrolet became a collector car. Companies such as Danchuk Manufacturing, Inc. and Classic Chevy Club International began selling reproduction and restoration parts. In the early 1990s, the value of a meticulously restored '57 Chevrolet convertible was as high as $100,000. Though those peaks gave way significantly after 1992, the '57 Chevrolet has held its value and is now poised to exceed the previous peak. Although restored original examples are increasingly rare, modern customizers and restorers are creating fast, powerful, ultra-modern hot rods that are winning the '57 Chevy a whole new generation of fans. As original cars become harder to find, fiberglass and all-steel reproductions (EMI in Detroit, Michigan was the first to build restoration bodies using original firewalls with VIN numbers - the steel reproduction body-shells are manufactured by Real Deal Steel in Sanford, Florida, using reproduction sheet-metal) are making it possible for future generations to enjoy the '57 Chevrolet.
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