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1955 Chevrolet Bel Air

Story and photos by Jerry F. Boone

Exactly what is it about the 1955 Chevrolet that -more than a half a century after it was built -- still raises the heart rates of car enthusiasts?

As a design and styling exercise, it was a radical change from the curves and rounded corners of the Chevrolets of the early 50s.

The ad guys had a field day with the look, calling it “Motoramic” styling.

It also came with Chevrolet’s first overhead valve V-8, a 265 cubic inch option to the venerable, standard in-line six cylinder of the era.

The “Turbo Fire” V8 block began with a new casting technique, mated to a tougher forged steel crankshaft, lightweight aluminum pistons, lightweight independent rocker arms and short-stroke cylinder dimensions. The hottest option included dual exhausts and a four-barrel carburetor.

“Don’t argue with this baby,” warned one Chevrolet ad in 1955.

Marketing, of course, had a lot to do with its success. Chevrolet was riding the wave of enthusiasm generated by the Corvette and the brand’s success in stock car racing. And then there was Dinah Shore telling her eager TV audience to “See the USA in Your Chevrolet.”

The ride was improved over the ’54, by lengthening the chassis and moving the springs to outside the frame rails. Up front Chevrolet created the “Glide Ride” package of better springs and a highly-modified suspension geometry.

Popular? A stunning total of 1,704,667 Chevrolets were produced in 1955, in 16 body styles, ranging from the utilitarian four-door sedan to the highly-desirable Nomad wagon.

But that was nearing 60 years ago. And the car is still considered an icon...by some who weren’t even alive when the ‘55s rolled off assembly lines.

Even Dobby Meyer can’t describe what’s so magical about the car...and he just spent years bringing one of them back to life.

“I can’t think of any single reason,” he says. “I just like the entire car.”

Maybe it is the distinctive egg-crate grill. Or the beginning of the fin trend that would culminate with the outrageous bat-mobile rear on the ’59. Or perhaps it is the clean, uncluttered profile, with just enough chrome to set off the two colors of paint.

It’s all of those things, and something else. For Meyer, the Chevy represents more than just steel and rubber.

He bought his Chevy in 2002 as a project for him and his wife to restore together.

He owned and worked on both a two-door post and a convertible in high school, so he was familiar with the car. And it was a way to link to his youth.

But his wife passed away before the car was delivered.

“She never even saw it,” he says.

That may have been a blessing of sorts.

Meyer said he purchased the car off an internet auction. It was being sold through a third party, who said the owner -an elderly Wisconsin man -was too ill to handle the auction details.

“I didn’t want to buy a car that was completed or half finished, because you never know what’s under the paint until it is too late,” he said.

He found out the hard way. Meyer said he was both shocked and disappointed when the Chevy arrived in Phoenix, AZ.

“It was much worse than I had been led to believe,” he said. “The driver side was really bad, and the floorboard had huge problems with rust. It was a mess.”

Because the car needed just about everything, that’s exactly what Meyer did to it.

The chassis has been dropped in the front and air bags were added to the rear. He fitted GM disc brakes on all four corners, inside Chip Foose designed rims. The rear end is the ubiquitous Ford 9-inch, running a 4:11 final drive.

Power comes from a ZZ4 crate motor that puts out 355 horsepower in stock form...or nearly 200 more than the original engine.

But this one isn’t stock.

He’s swapped the carb, added headers and roller rockers to add another 30 horsepower to the V-8, which is mated to a 700 R4 transmission.

It took him almost three years to finish the project.

The end result is a combination of old and new.

When he received the chassis, he said the interior “was the full duct tape option.” He had a new interior fashioned. It mimics the original style, while using better fabrics and less utilitarian style.

The body’s color scheme is traditional ’55 Chevrolet, but the paint is a unique blend of a Mercedes-Benz seafoam green with metallic added to the mix.

“It took us a while to get the exact color I wanted,” he says.

“I did just about everything but the paintwork,” he says. “You can’t get this type of finish with Krylon rattle cans.”

Instead he took the bodywork to a local shop known for high quality work.

“The guy and I had a hard time communicating, because he didn’t speak hardly a word of English,” he says. “But he knew exactly what to do and how to do it.

“We kept all the original body panels and welded replacement panels in the damaged areas. You can get just about everything you need for the cars, but original panels are hard to come by. When the car hit the 50-year mark, all the cars in wrecking yards were stripped.”

Meyer said he spent most nights surfing the internet searching for the parts he needed to do the job his way. And the effort paid off.

“I had a couple Chevrolet guys look at the car a while ago. They spent a couple hours looking at it and remarking how the bodywork is better than when it left the factory.

“I told them I did it the old-fashioned American way,” he jokes. “I took it to a Mexican body shop.”

Click on any item below for more details at Amazon.com

Robert Genat
Original Chevrolet 1955, 1956, 1957
Motorbooks, Hardcover, 2003-09-15
This book covers 1955, 1956, and 1957 Chevrolets-Tri-Chevys-some of the most popular American cars of all time.Beautifully illustrated with 250 color photographs, this book focuses on all the details restorers and enthusiasts want to know. An entire chapter is devoted to the elegant ‘55, ‘56, and ‘57 Nomads and the unique components used on these stylish station wagons. A large appendix includes production numbers, component identification codes, and interior trim charts. Everything pertaining to Chevrolet’s passenger car models from 1955-1957 is highlighted.

Peter C. Sessler
Tri-Chevy Red Book
Motorbooks International, Paperback, 1992-11

Tri-Chevy Red Book is the essential pocket reference book on the legendary Chevrolet passenger cars of 1955, ‘56, and ‘57. Each chapter is devoted to a single model year, putting all of the pertinent data at your fingertips. Include are serial numbers, colors and codes, options and specifications, photos and history.

Cars & Parts Magazine
Catalog of Chevy V8 Engine Casting Numbers 1955-93 and Stamped Numbers
Amos Press, Paperback, 1994-07
Here is anything a car owner needs to know about Chevy V-8 engines (1955-1993). The covers blocks, heads, crankshafts, intake and exhaust manifolds, carburetors, fuel pumps, water pumps, generators/alternators, and EGR valves.

Mike Mueller
Chevrolet, 1955-1957
Motorbooks, Paperback, 1993-09-27
The hottest Bel Air sedans, convertibles, Nomad station wagons, 150s, and 210s from around the country are featured in big color profiles with historical text and captions that tell the story of America’s classic tri-Chevys.

1955 Chevrolet
Automobiles: 1955 Chevrolet
In 1955, Chevrolet’s “Hot One” burst on the scene with a flurry of fins and chrome. The stodgy automotive company had created an innovative series of cars highlighted by an all-new, optional V8 engine. The rest is history. AUTOMOBILES goes under the hood and down the road with the landmark 1955 CHEVROLET. Automotive writers at the time criticized the cars’ “egg crate” chrome grille as outlandish and hard to clean, but today it is heralded as a design masterpiece. But no one ever had a bad word for the ferocious small-block V8 at the heart of this classic Chevy. More than 40 years later that engine has powered millions of racecars, boats, generators, fork lifts and, or course, Chevrolets. It’s no wonder Chevy ads shouted “Don’t mess with this baby”!

The 1955 to 1958 Chevrolet Film Collection
This series of seven films takes a look at the models and features of the1955 to 1958 Chevrolet automobiles. Here are the contents of this DVD: Great News - An overview of all the new features of the 1955 Chevrolet. Proof of the Pluses - A teardown and comparison of Chevrolet and Ford engines. Thrill Driver’s Choice - A look at 1956 Chevrolets performing in racing and stunt situations. Safety Built In - A look at safety features of the 1957 Chevys. Jet Ace - A look at fuel injection. Turboglide - A presentation of the Turboglide transmission. What’s New - Hosted by Pat Boone, this video takes a look at the 1958 Chevrolet models. Quality Note: The quality of these old films varies from excellent to fair. You will notice things like faded video and mixed audio quality in some of the clips. This DVD has a runtime of approximately 1 hour 4 minutes.

1955 Chevrolet Dealer Training and Education Film Collection
With the 1955 model year, Chevrolet commissioned the Jam Handy corporation to build a series of training films for the dealers to educate them on what is new in the 55 model year and what is the same as in prior years. Each film is presented as a narrated slide show. Here are the contents of this DVD set: 55 Chevy - A New Concept - This film offers an overview of the new 55 Chevrolets and what makes them different than the earlier Chevrolets. Color Magic - Discusses the wide array of colors available for the new Chevrolets. All New, All Powerful - A very detailed discussion of the power features of the motor. Powered To Pass - Teaches how engine power is related to performance at the drivetrain. The Third Era In Ride And Handling - A detailed look at the suspension system. Three Minutes That Sell - Training the dealer on how to walk the customer around the car, presenting and explaining all the new features. A Home On Wheels - A look at the accessories that are available for the 1955 Chevrolet. Quality Note: The quality of these old films varies from excellent to fair. You will notice things like faded video and mixed audio quality in some of the clips. This two DVD set has a runtime of approximately 1 hour 45 minutes.
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