The American Dream; 1957 Chevy

The American Dream; 1957 Chevy

’57 Chevy: Defining An Era

One look at the 1957 Chevy and your mind is instantly transported back in time.

Sure, there are other vehicles of this era that will make any car-loving nerd stop in their tracks, but none of them have the iconic presence and rabid following of the ’57. Not only is this one of the most sought-after collector cars ever, but it’s also the car that came to define the outlandish styling of 1950’s America. Arguably, it’s also the vehicle that started America’s love obsession with Hot-Rods and gave rise to an automotive culture that is still going strong today.

We’re going to take a deep dive into this American icon and tell you everything you need to know about the 1957 Chevrolet:

History & Development
The Small Block V-8
Body Styles & Options
Impact On Popular Culture

History & Development

In order to really understand how and why the ‘57 Chevy came into development, we need to take a quick detour into the ’50s automotive world of design. Most people know vehicles from the 1950s for their outlandish styling, ample use of chrome, and most importantly, tail fins. While tail fins had been used in the past as some early attempt at aerodynamic stability, tail fins as a styling element were first seen on the 1948 Cadillac designed by Harley Earl.

In fact, Earl was really the pioneer of 1950s styling and popularized the look of not only tail fins but also the aircraft-inspired goodness that flowed through the decade. The 1948 Cadillac proved extremely popular and would set General Motors up for design dominance in the 1950s.

After learning that Ford was coming out with a brand new full-size car, Chevrolet was looking for an all-new vehicle for 1957. However, production delays and increased costs took Head Engineer, Ed Cole and his team back to the drawing board for more of a reboot than a completely new car.

Rehashing the popular 1955 and 1956 Chevrolet, 1957 would see a host of styling changes: brand new dashboard, sealed cowl, and the relocation of air ducts to the headlight pods. The latter would force Chevrolet to redo the headlight pod itself and the result was one of the most iconic styling elements of the ’57. The rest of the Earl-inspired era was there as well and executed without being outlandish (’59 Eldorado, we’re looking at you).

The Small Block V-8
Is there a motor with more street cred than a small block Chevy? We didn’t think so.

What we now know as the Small - Block V-8 was first introduced in the 1955 Chevrolet as an optional upgrade to the Blue Flame I6 that came standard. Ed Cole (the same person who engineered the 57) wanted a motor that would produce ample power, while still retaining the smooth driving character and long-term reliability that GM had become known for. What they didn’t expect was that the small block engine would form the basis for Hot - Rod culture and that it would be the start of America’s obsession with Motorsports.

The very first small block was the 265 c.i. found in the 55 Chevy Bel Air and the Corvette, but 1957 would also run the 265 as an option. This motor dubbed the “Turbo-Fire” put out a stout 162 horsepower, and would be joined by another, more legendary small-block V-8 that would quickly become the one to get if you wanted the “hot” Chevy. The Small Block 283 was available in a variety of configurations that took the 57 from mild to wild. At the bottom of the lineup was a 2 barrel Turbo Fire that put out 185 horsepower, but those looking for more power could go for a 4 barrel Super Turbo Fire that put out 220 horses.

Looking for even more power? Chevy offered a 283 with 2 four-barrel carbs, Duntov cams, and solid lifters for an even 270 horsepower. Still not enough? Chevrolet also offered fuel injection on the 283, which brought the power to an even 283 horsepower. That’s right, that’s one horsepower per cubic inch, way back in 1957. The Small Block was so easy to work on, so reliable, and produced power so readily that young people quickly caught on that they could easily “hop up” these powerful engines with cheap modifications and basic parts. Add a high flow head, a proper exhaust, and the right carbs and you had a car that could easily dominate the track for not a lot of coin.


Body Styles & Options
Much like competitors of the day, the ’57 Chevy was offered in a wide range of body styles that went from relatively basic, utilitarian beasts to Cadillac levels of luxury and panache.

Optional Equipment
One of the most interesting things about the ’57 Chevy was the sheer volume of not only trims but also of available accessories and options. We’re going to cover some of the most notable options from the lineup here but keep in mind, there were many, many more:

Turboglide Transmission
Although the concept had been pioneered by Buick, the ’57 was the very first Chevrolet to have a turbine (starter) based automatic transmission. Although it was ultimately unsuccessful due to reliability concerns, the Turboglide was still revolutionary for the day. Buyers still flocked to the 2 - Speed automatic known as the Powerglide and the standard 3 on the tree manual transmission.

Power Accessories
The 57 was available with power windows, door locks, and even power seats. That seems fairly normal, sure, but what about a power shaver? Yes, the 57 had a power shaver so the man of the house could groom himself on the way to work. Awesome. An available automatic headlight dimmer was also installed to avoid blinding other drivers on tight roads.

Safety Equipment
Although not touted for safety, the ’57 Chevy did have a good selection of safety equipment including a recessed steering wheel, a padded dash, crash-proof locks, and full seat belts with shoulder straps.
Impact On Popular Culture

In truth, the real impact of the ’57 Chevy came many years after the introduction of the incredible automobile. Ford soundly beat Chevy in the sales wars of 1957, it was their quality construction, low cost, and easy-to-modify mechanical components that made them irresistible to rodders of the day. Once Chevrolet dropped the hot small - block 327 in 1962, an engine that fits perfectly into the engine bay of a 55, 56, or 57; the cheap to purchase Chevy coupes suddenly became nearly unbeatable at the drag strip and beyond.

In fact, the '57 Chevy was dominant in Nascar until the early 1970s! Its balanced chassis and punchy 283 also made it a blast on short tracks and dirt tracks all over the nation. No matter which way you cut it, the 57 was an integral part of the American motorsports scene and it laid the foundation for generations to come.

The American Dream
What makes the ‘57 Chevy so incredible is its indelible mark on the landscape of American motoring. From its made in America, quality construction that would march on from generation to generation, to its role in launching the accessible hot - rod culture that would go on to create the muscle car era of the ’60s; the ’57 Chevrolet is many things to many people. What’s absolutely not up for debate, however, is that this machine is an absolute icon.

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