The 1957 Chevrolet is an automobile which was introduced by the Chevrolet division of General Motors in September, 1956. It was available in three series models: the upscale Bel Air, the mid-range "two-ten", and the "one-fifty". A two-door station wagon, the Nomad was produced as a Bel Air model. An upscale trim option called the "Delray" was available for two-ten 2-door sedans. It is a popular and sought after classic car. These vehicles are often restored to their original condition and sometimes modified. The car's image has been frequently used in toys, graphics, music, movies and television. The '57 Chevy, as it is often known, is an auto icon.
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 Chevy 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 Chevy tailfins were designed to duplicate the wide look in the rear. Later in the year,Bel Air models were given gold trim: the grille, front fender chevrons, hood, and trunk script were all rendered in anodized gold. The 1957 Chevys 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 smooth running and more fuel-efficient than the V-8. Carburetion came from a single one-barrel carburetor.
"Tri-Five" 1955–1957 V8
The 1955 model year Chevrolet introduced its now-famous small-block V-8 — the first V-8 available in a Chevrolet since 1918. It has a displacement of 265 cu in (4,340 cc). Prior to 1955, Chevrolet offered an inline 235 cu in (3,850 cc) displacement in-line 6-cylinder engine only. The 1955 model, like its engine, was all new. The "shoebox" design, so named because it was the first Chevrolet to feature streamlined rear fenders, was a watershed for Chevrolet. The lightweight car, coupled with a powerful overhead valve V-8, became a showroom draw, but also thrust the company into the arena of competitive motorsports. 1955 Chevrolets went on to dominate drag racing and became a formidable force in circle track racing. In 1956, the design was lengthened somewhat in front and given a more squarish treatment; under the hood, engine power increased and a Chevrolet Corvette engine was available for the first time in a full-size passenger car. The V-shaped trim on the tail fins was filled with a ribbed aluminum insert exclusive to the Bel Air. The fuel-injected engine represented the first time that an internal combustion gasoline engine in a passenger car reached the one horsepower for each cubic inch benchmark. In NASCAR racing the 283 with its increased horsepower gave the '57 a dramatic advantage over the smaller 265 v8 the '55 and '56 had. NASCAR held the competition, especially the '55–'57 Chevys to a cubic inch restriction because of all the races the '57s were winning. This restriction stayed with the '55–'57 till they were grandfathered out of the lower NASCAR divisions in the 1970s as the '57 was still beating virtually all in their class.
Body choices for 1957 included 2- and 4-door sedans (identified by the "posts" between door windows), the two-door hardtop (also known as a sports coupé; the car has no post between the front and back window when the windows are lowered), the four-door hardtop (also known as a sports sedan), the utility coupé, a two-door sedan with a package shelf instead of a rear seat, the Delray "club coupe", which was a 210 model 2-door sedan, two styles of two-door station wagon, the top-of-the-line Bel Air Nomad with a sloped pillar behind the hardtop door and sliding windows at the rear seat, and the basic Handyman with an upright sedan B-pillar and a C-pillar, where the four-door wagons have one, available only in 150 and 210 trims. The four-door, six-passenger station wagon, the four-door, nine-passenger station wagon (both called Townsman in the 150 series and Beauville for the Bel Air version), and the convertible. Unlike most competitors, the Chevrolet 4-door hardtop featured a reinforced rear roof structure that gave the car added rigidity and a unique appearance in silhouette. The 1957 Chevy was called by some a "Baby Cadillac", because of many similar styling cues to Cadillacs of the time.
Although not a production model, the 2-door wagon could be had with Bel Air trim (not Nomad).
For 1957 there were four standard engine options, a 235.5 cu in (3,859 cc) inline 6-cylinder producing 140 hp (104 kW), a 265 cu in (4,340 cc) V8 "Turbo-Fire" producing 162 hp (121 kW), and two 283 cu in (4,640 cc) V8s: a "Turbo-Fire" twin-barrel carburetor producing 185 hp (138 kW) and a "Super "Turbo-Fire" four-barrel carburetor developing 220 hp (164 kW).
1957 was the first year that Chevrolet ever offered fuel injection as an option. A 283 cu in (4,640 cc) engine fitted with solid lifters and fuel injection was rated at 283 hp (211 kW). Fuel injection continued as an option throughout the early 1960s. However, most mechanics of the time didn't have the experience to keep the units running properly. This prompted most buyers to opt for conventional carburetion.
There were many options available, most of which were designed to make the car more comfortable and luxurious. Air conditioning was offered though rarely ordered, as was a padded dash. Power steering and power brakes were available, as well as a signal-seeking AM radio and power antenna. Power windows and power seats were also available. A rear speaker could be purchased which required a separate volume knob to be installed in the dashboard, beside the radio — this rear speaker was touted as providing "surround" sound. An "autotronic eye" was offered; it was a device that bolted onto the dashboard and sensed the light from oncoming traffic, dimming the headlights automatically. One unique option was an electronic shaver, connected to the dashboard.
Another dashboard-mounted item was the traffic-light viewer, a ribbed plastic visor that was installed just above the speedometer. Because the roof extends so far forward of the driver, it is hard to see overhead traffic lights. The traffic light viewer captured the reflection of overhead traffic lights so that the driver didn't have to lean forward to see past the edge of the roof. A/C was also an option.
In 1957, Chevy started to add safety features such as "crash proof door locks "(first added in 1956), padded dash boards, safety-styled steering wheel with a recessed hub (though not as much as Ford's), seat belts(also first in 1956) and shoulder harnesses. However, unlike, Ford, Chevy did not promote these safety features heavily.
1957 was also Chevrolet's first offering of a turbine transmission, known as the Turboglide. It was a design concept that Buick had developed with their Dynaflow transmission. However, due to a reliability reputation caused by its complexity, most automatic transmission buyers shunned the Turboglide in favor of the two-speed Powerglide that had been offered since 1950. At the time the Turboglide casing was the largest cast aluminum component ever put into mass production, but it never recovered from the reputation in 1957 and the option was discontinued in 1961. Manual transmissions were limited to three-speed, column shifted units (with synchromesh in second and third gear only). The Powerglide's shifter went P N D L R while the Turboglide's was P R N D Hr. An overdrive unit was available as an option on the three speed manually shifted transmission cars. A four speed manual transmission was also offered at a price of $188.00. A '57 equipped with this transmission mated to the 270 horsepower engine and limited slip differential was the one to beat on the drag strip and street into the early 1960s.
From a numbers standpoint, the '57 Chevy 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 the fact the '57 Chevy 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 Chevy 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 favorite 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 and the over-the-counter, low-priced availability of the small block, 365 horsepower 327 in 1962 that was the blockbuster that made both the '55 and '57 Chevy able to beat the Ford hotrods with their flathead V8s. This was a major turning point in American hot rodding: Chevrolet had claimed the street scene from Ford. The '57 Chevy 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 only car to do so.
The 57 also won 25 NASCAR convertible races, more than any car and won all three possible drivers championships. The 57's subsequently were used up in stock car racing at a very high rate. With the 283 engine placed from the factory behind the centerline 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 a high reving reliable 283 earned the '57 the nickname "king of the short tracks". With the fuel injected 283, the 150 model two door sedan version, called the "black widow", was the first car that was 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 the car to beat for years. Surprisingly enough, the '57 Chevy 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 Chevy became a collector car.
Companies such as Danchuk Manufacturing, Inc. and Classic Chevy International began selling reproduction and restoration parts. In the early 1990s, the value of meticulously restored '57 Chevy convertibles was as high as $100,000. Though those peaks gave way significantly after 1992, the '57 Chevy has held its value and now is poised to exceed the previous peak.
Restored, original examples are increasingly rare, and modern customizers and restorers are creating fast, powerful, ultra-modern hot rods that are winning the '57 Chevy a whole new generation of fans. Fiberglass and all-steel reproductions are making it possible for future generations to enjoy the '57 Chevy as original cars become harder to find.