Last Reviewed: May 20, 2024
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The 1957 Chevy is one of the most popular classic cars on the road today, but why? General Motors wanted to build an all new line of Chevrolets for 1957 from the ground up but manufacturing problems stymied the process. Ed Cole, the head engineer, had no choice but to reuse the chassis, suspension and most of the drivetrain from the previous year. Having only the body styling and options to work with, Cole oversaw the creation of an all new dashboard, cowling, chrome trimmed headlight pods and the now-famous rear fins. He also lowered the car by using fourteen rather than fifteen inch diameter wheels and the front grill was redesigned to make the car appear wider. Was the styling what made it so popular?

1957 Chevrolet

1957 Chevrolet

The 1957 Chevy started with three basic models but variations and options came shortly after. The high-end model was the "Bel Air", whose chrome made it stand out like a Cadillac's cousin. The model "210" came next (with less chrome) and the "150" was designed as a business coupe with limited options. The 210 could be dressed up with a "Delray" trim package and you could choose between two and four-doors, hardtop or convertible and a six or nine passenger station wagon; all with optional trim packages. Other options included air conditioning, power brakes, power steering, power windows, power seats, automatic headlight dimmers, an upgraded sound system and even an electric shaver. A variety of safety options were also offered, such as seat belts, but they got little attention. Were all the new options what made it so popular?

General Motors offered several engine options in both inline six cylinder and V8 designs and the 283 cubic inch V8 with a four-barrel carburetor, called the "Turbo-Fire", was the fastest. Fuel injection was offered for the first time but sales were weak due to its complexity. And they introduced the Turboglide three-speed automatic transmission in 1957 but problems made the proven two-speed Powerglide a more popular choice. They also offered three different manual transmissions: a three-speed column shift with synchromesh gears in second and third, a three-speed manual with a fourth overdrive gear, and a four-speed floor shifted transmission, popular among drag strip and street racers. Was it the drivetrain that made the 1957 Chevrolet so popular?

The answers to all the above questions are no! In fact, there was nothing about the 1957 Chevrolets to cause notoriety and the 1957 Ford outsold it for the first time in 20 years.

1957 Chevrolet Nomad

1957 Chevy Nomad

By 1958 General Motors had their manufacturing problems solved and an all new line of Chevrolets were introduce, built on a new chassis that was larger and heaver than previous years. Bigger cars called for bigger engines so they also introduced two new V8 engines to move them along. A new "W" series big-block 409 cubic inch engine was to be the workhorse, used mostly in Cadillacs and trucks, and an all new small-block 327 cubic inch was produced for everywhere else. The 327 was used so much that it readily became available in salvage yards and was the cheapest horsepower available in a crate from the factory. (And that is a clue to the question!)

Once racers figured out that the 327 and 409 would fit in the earlier, smaller, lighter 1957 Chevys a new generation of hot rodder was born. Overnight the new Chevy V8's took the reign away the popular Ford flathead V8, both on the street and track, and the Beach Boys were singing it's praise. That is what made the 1957 Chevy so popular.