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57 Chevy - An American Classic

57 Chevy - An American Classic

When the 1957 Bel Air went on sale, nobody - not even Chevrolet - expected to make history. Instead, it became one of the landmark images in American pop culture; one of the most recognizable cars the world has ever known.

Today, automakers still hail the 57 Chevy as a perfect example of good design and great timing coming together.

What we call the 57 Chevy was actually 19 distinct models. All 19 models were based on a single frame or platform, the basic structure of the car. The 1957 models were the final year in that frame's life. It had been the backbone for Chevrolet's model line for the 55, 56 and 57 model years. The only other car Chevrolet sold then was the Corvette.

Ford and Chrysler had all new frames and styling for their 57 models. They should have mopped the floor with the aged GM model, but Chevrolet outsold Ford by 126 cars in 1957. It sold 1,522,536 units of the various 57 Chevy models and 6,339 Corvettes.

The best-selling 1957 model was the Two-Ten four-door sedan, with a base price of $2,174.00. The least expensive was the $1,885.00 One-Fifty Utility two-door sedan. The most expensive 1957 model was the Bel Air Nomad two-door station wagon with a $2,757.00 base price. It was Chevrolet's lowest-selling model. Chevrolet sold just 6,103 Nomads that year, trailing the Corvette by 236 sales.

Some of the options for that year included, seat belts and a racing-style over-the-shoulder security harness. Other options included a tissue dispenser, electric razor, wheel spinners, backup lights and a gas filter. The cars came in 16 solid colors and 15 two-tone combinations.

Many 57 Chevy's featured a prism on the dashboard. It was intended to refract light from traffic signals so the driver could tell when the light changed without learning forward under the nearly vertical windshield.

The cars came with a choice of seven engines; a standard 235.5 cubic-inch 140-hp straight-six; 162-hp 265 cubic-inch V8, and eight versions of the 283 cubic-inch V8 with power ranging from 185 to 283 horsepower. The 57 Chevy was the first American car with fuel injection. The optional 283 cubic-inch fuel-injected V8 produced 283 horsepower. It was the second American engine to develop one horsepower per cubic inch of displacement, coming a year after the 355-hp 354 cubic-inch Chrysler Hemi.

Ten assembly plants built the 57 Chevy Family: Atlanta, Baltimore; Flint; Janesville, Wis.; Kansas City, Mo.; Los Angeles; Norwood, Ohio; Oakland, Calif., St. Louis, and Tarrytown, N.Y.

Many designers and car enthusiasts say they believe the 1955 Chevy was the best looking model, but the 57 model year brought more defined tailfins, bullet-shaped bumper protectors, bombsight hood ornaments and other elements that gave the bargain-priced Chevrolet just enough zing to grab buyers' fancy.

The 57 Chevy had style, the buzz born of racing success and demographics on their side. They hit the used-car market just as early baby boomers got driver's licenses and went looking for affordable wheels.

The 57 Chevy embodied the spirit of Chevrolet, great looking, groundbreaking and affordable.