Sunday, April 24, 2016

1957 A Time Remembered and the 1957 Chevy Bel Air Fits Right In

1957 A Time Remembered
and the 1957 Chevy Bel Air Fits Right In
  -Alan Arnell

In 1957 the buying public enamored with continued growth of bigger taller tail fins on new cars, Automakers styled their cars with  more lights, bigger with more powerful engines.  The average car sold for $2,749. The Soviet Union launched the first space satellite Sputnik. Movies included "Twelve Angry Men" and "The Bridge Over the River Kwai", and TV showed "Perry Mason" and "Maverick" for the first time. The music continued to be Rock and Roll with artists like "Little Richard". The popular toys were Slinkys and Hula Hoops. Some of the areas that would cause problems later were starting to show South Vietnam is attacked by Viet Cong Guerrillas and Troops are sent to Arkansas to enforce anti segregation laws.

Sputnic and the Soviet Cold War Scare

Technology was being embraced and celebrated.  For example, During July of 1957, test pilot and future astronaut, John Glenn Jr. set a new transcontinental speed record while piloting a F8U Crusader from Los Angeles to New York. He became the first pilot to average supersonic speed during a transcontinental flight and it took three hours and twenty-three minutes to complete. Glenn later became one of the first U.S. astronauts when he was chosen for the Mercury program by NASA in 1959. In addition to being an accomplished test pilot, he became the first American to orbit the Earth and the fifth person to go into space in 1962 aboard the Friendship 7 spacecraft.

John Glenn in his record breaking F8U Crusader

The cold war during during 1957 struck fear in the masses living in the USA, especially the school children learning to duck and cover in their classroom  The ever-present threat of nuclear annihilation had a great impact on American domestic life as well. People built bomb shelters in their backyards. They practiced attack drills in all public places. The 1950s and 1960s saw an epidemic of popular films that horrified moviegoers with depictions of nuclear devastation and mutant creatures. In these and other ways, the Cold War was a constant presence in Americans’ everyday lives.

Another family gem of our family traveling through Nevada.  It was a real nice hot day!

As a result, the stakes of the Cold War in 1957 were perilously high. The first H-bomb test, in the Eniwetok atoll in the Marshall Islands, was on people's minds showing just how fearsome the nuclear age could be. The blast created a 25-square-mile fireball that vaporized an island, blew a huge hole in the ocean floor and had the power to destroy half of Manhattan. Subsequent American and Soviet tests spewed poisonous radioactive waste into the atmosphere.

Enewetak, Atoll,  Marshall Islands

Meanwhile, back in the American heartland the populous prospered. Soldiers back from WWII and a 4 year college experience courtesy of Uncle Sam’s GI Bill were making up for lost time making a new spawn of American babies.  1957 was the peak of the Baby Boomer birth years.

My favorite car maker Chevrolet was cruising along after the war’s stop in production of personal automobiles.  The car maker was turning out a line of cars that would eventually be recognized as one of America’s most popular designs.  More than 1.5 million Chevys were produced in 1957.  Actually, Ford made and sold more cars that Chevy in 1957, but the 1957 Ford did not produce the staying power of the general public's fancy as my beloved 1957 Chevy. Chevrolet had a great year in 1957 posting its third best production year for the largest division of General Motors.  

1957 Chevy Bel Air vs 1957 Ford Retractable

Those were the glory years for Chevrolet as the production numbers and their importance has long since faded.  What 50’s lovers remember or like to remember most about 1957 was the simplicity of life and the lack of immediate crisis.  To them, the 1957 embodies those times.

This favorable remembrance of the 1957 Chevy in part is fostered in part to many positive components like economy, styling and power.  The ‘57 Chevy was, some would say, the fuel for the fire of the Muscle Car era. The ‘57 sporty Bel Air symbolized strength to a country anxious about the Soviet Union’s actions in Europe.Fuel injection made it possible for engineers to increase the car’s horsepower, from a maximum of 225 in 1956 to 283 the following year.  Since gasoline was plentiful and cheap, selling around a 24 cents a gallon, few drivers cared about engine efficiency.  Cars not equipped with fuel injection had horsepower ranging from 162 to 270.

One of the most recognized icons in the automotive industry, the '57 Bel Air
Under the hood the V8s got an increase in displacement to 283ci with optional max power output to 283 hp with the Ramjet continuous flow fuel injection.

Ironically, the car’s muscle evolve from an engineering innovation that today is associated with gasoline savings-fuel injections, initially available on Corvettes, fuel injection eliminated the need for a carburetor by monitoring the amount of gasoline squirted into the cylinders.

The car’s “Muscle” reputation was made larger by the car’s leaf spring rear suspension.  The 1957 was that last automobile to feature the suspension system that customizers and car racers loved.  They found it easier to raise and lower the leaf-spring suspension than it successor coil spring system.  

Muscle Car Timeline

Just as the true picture of the 1950’s had become blurred by time, so has one aspect of the 1957 Chevy’s reputation.  Some car guys have equated the muscle image with young men wearing black leather jackets, tight jeans rolled up shirtsleeves and waterfall haircuts.

In fact, there were many engineering innovation in the ‘57 Chevy, like an improved automatic transmission and a hill retarder that provided better braking during downhill runs.

Chevrolet”s appeal to the youth market was still a decade away and in 1957 adults were snapping up the cars.  Styling was one reason.  Elegance was a key work in the ‘50s and Chevrolet had its share.

Smooth As Quicksilver and Quick As They Come!

Crafty designers built the car to look longer than it actually was.  They lowered the body one inch to emphasize the car’s horizontal sweeping lines.  The borrowed the prestigious look of the Cadillac Brougham, especially its hooded headlamps and tail fins.  The latter were as much in vogue in 1957 as horror movies, pizza and frozen foods.

The ‘50s were known more for looks and impressions than practicality, nevertheless the ‘57 Chevy was practical, too.  Because of it short wheelbase, the car handled well and got nearly 19 miles to the gallon.

For all its 1950’s styling featured on the ‘57 Chevy incorporated some engineering and design innovations that would be necessary in the safety and ecology conscious times to come.  There were fuel injection and good gas milage.  Exterior glass, so vital for better visibility, was upped six inches to 75 inches, and here was more interior room, especially head room

Bel Air Convertible Fuel Injection Convertible 1957

Chevrolet was much a part of its time as it was ahead of it.  Its combination of elegance and muscle, hard and soft, was a perfect metaphor for the contradictory 1950’s.  It is understandable why, into days times, people like to look back and dream about the way the thoughts things were.  And perhaps that also explains why the 1957 Chevy, almost any model, has not only kept it strength in the memory of Americans who owned them, but seems destined to be one of the great classics in automotive history.

1957 one of the great classics in automotive history during a iconic time in American History.

1957 Facts

Cost Of Living 1957-How Much things cost in 1957
Yearly Inflation Rate USA 3.34%, Yearly Inflation Rate UK 3.3%, Average Cost of new house $12,220.00, Average Monthly Rent $90.00, Average Yearly Wages $4.550.00, Cost of a gallon of Gas 24 cents, Bacon per pound 60 cents, Eggs per dozen were 28 cents, HI FI Portable Record Player was $79.95, Children's Shoes $5.95

Popular Culture

Elvis Presley purchases a mansion in Memphis, Tennessee and calls it Graceland
The Cavern Club opens in Liverpool ( Where the Beetle's started )
The Film Jailhouse Rock premiers with Elvis Presley
"American Bandstand" the teenagers chart music show makes its network debut on ABC

Popular Films

The Ten Commandments
Around the World in Eighty Days
12 Angry men
Jailhouse Rock by Elvis Presley
The Bridge on the River Kwai
The Three Faces of Eve

Popular Books
The Cat in the Hat - Dr. Seuss
From Russia with Love - Ian Fleming
The Guns of Navarone - Alistair MacLean

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