One thing that General Motors mastered to gain the meat of the US market share was planned obsolescence. GM tricked buyers better than any other corporate behemoth on the wonders of superficial change to convince them that the purchase they just made suddenly wasn’t Spring Fresh.
Underneath all of the dazzle, the majority of what American cars were stayed the same: Rear Wheel Drive, Drum Brakes, Solid Rear Axles and Body On Frame Construction had been mainstays under swoopy bodywork since the great depression.
Chevrolet launched a game changing standard line in 1955 that brought efficient V8 performance and a boost of sporting luxury to a price point in the market better than Ford did, more thoroughly than Plymouth did and with more resources than Studebaker had to be able to price match. What’s incredible is how the basic 1955 car changed fashions for ’56, only to do so again in ’57, then to totally ditch the box for some curves in 1958.
Up front saw the delicate eggcrate grille, brow’d headlamps and moody, brooding Brando-like expression transformed with a little mascara and squaring off of the parking lamps and a thinner grille pattern into something different.
Whether it was prettier is up to discussion, but the ’56 is normally considered the pause break between the hunky ’55 and the harlot that’s the ’57 Chevrolet. Out Back we were treated to tail lamp clusters that served dual duty as gasoline fillers while echoing design cues associated with the more Premium Cadillac and Buick feathers. Speaking of, a more distinct hint of tailfin was evident out back as well.
Inside, there was more accounting for more surface luxuries, especially on our well outfitted Bel Air Sport Coupe subject car. To make it the most personalized experience, a laundry list of options proliferated and made many a buyer wonder why there was such a need to move up to something more luxurious. Power Windows, Air Conditioning and Seats where available alongside a sprightly V8 with up to 225 horsepower and the no shift option of the now familiar Powerglide Automatic.
While Ford emphasized Safety, and Plymouth upped the performance ante with the blazing white hot Fury, the new lipstick that graced the Bel Air continued the winning streak for Chevrolet, rightly called The Hot One! at this point. 128,382 buyers agreed that a Bel Air Coupe was the finest way to go in ’56, making the body style the 2nd most popular in the Bel-Air stable that year.
It’s amazing what a little contouring and lighting can do. It can surely make you think you’re seeing something old all new all over again.