While it might just be the car icon of all icons, the 1957 Chevrolet is also a car that charted a new performance course that forever changed the way the buying public perceived this General Motors division.
Until the '57's arrival, sportiness had been left to the Corvette, which, as you probably already know, could be comfortably enjoyed by only two people at a time.
But with Corvette firepower being made available to the every-day '57 Chevy and its buyers, performance could be enjoyed by the masses, including you and four or five buddies.
Since those days, Chevrolet has banked plenty of success on the philosophy of the '57 Chevy (as seen in the Nova, Chevelle, etc.), even if it wasn't really apparent at the time.
But what about the '55 and '56 Chevrolets that seem to get lumped in with the '57? Although they share many of the same mechanical features and ride on similar chassis, the '57 is the visual standout with its wraparound grille/bumper combination, twin-rocket hood ornaments and deftly defined rear fins that are easily the car's most celebrated features. And since the '58 seemed to take a step backward, it only served to punctuate the '57's star-car status. The designers could have taken the over-the-top approach, as did Chrysler stylists with the aircraft-influenced appendages of the Dodge/Plymouth/DeSoto/Chrysler lineup that year. But they restrained themselves and rendered a set of rear fenders with a just-right amount of jet-age shape that made the '57 appear longer and lower while not looking trendy or controversial.
The Bel Air, Chevy's top-rung model in a trio that included the price-leader One-Fifty and mid-grade Two-Ten, came with a wide triangular band of stainless steel trim that made it instantly recognizable, then and now.
Although the '57 Chevy was only a couple of inches longer than the previous year's car, it was actually lower by about four centimetres. Part of the height reduction was attributed to the 14-inch wheels (15s were on the 1956 cars), as well as modifications made to the car's suspension. The rear leaf springs were relocated closer to the wheels and the ladder-type frame was stiffened with additional cross-bracing. The net effect was a more controlled ride and improved handling.
With 19 separate models, including coupes, sedans, hardtops, wagons (including the gorgeous and super-rare Nomad sport wagon) and convertibles, most buyers had no problem finding a Chevy to fit their lifestyle or pocketbook. Power sources were equally diverse. The starting point was a 235-cubic-inch "Blue Flame" six-cylinder engine that generated 140 horsepower. The base V8 was the 162-horsepower 265-cubic-inch unit that was first developed for the 1955 Chevy.
The big news for '57 was the addition of a 283-cubic-inch V8 to the options list, similar to the one found in the Corvette. However, this engine, which was a mildly bored-out variant of the 265, could be ordered in one of six different horsepower ratings, ranging from 185 all the way up to 283. The latter, combined with a close-ratio three-speed manual transmission, featured mechanical fuel-injection that was a whopping $550 option.
Most of these low-volume one-horsepower-per-cubic-inch engines found their way into factory and privately sponsored race cars where they easily outclassed most of the Ford and Plymouth competition. Still, it proved Chevrolet was intent on bringing performance to more than just Corvette afficionados.
A still-potent 283 with dual four-barrel carbs that cranked out 270 horsepower was a slightly more common high-performance option. However for most buyers, flat-out speed was less important than the Chevy's perfectly proportioned styling and affordable nature. Consequently, the 185-horsepower 283 engine coupled to the two-speed Powerglide automatic transmission found its way into most '57s.
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