57 Chevy 50th Anniversary - The "Hottest One's" Anniversary

Arguably the best looking and most well known Chevy every built celebrates 50 years on America's roads.

Doug Marion Jan 26, 2007 0 Comment(s)
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The '57 SR2 Corvette's tachometer was too small to continually look atduring the thick of road race competition. So Corvette engineerscalibrated a tachometer to work with a 0-7,000 speedometer face. It'strue!

SPEAKING OF '57 CORVETTES

Of the 6,339 '57s sold, 4,706 had an optional V-8 engine. That's almost75-percent. According to published data, the 245hp, twin four-barrel 283numbered 2,045. The 270hp, twin four-barrel, solid-lifter 283 sold theaforementioned 1,621. The 250hp fuel-injected engine sold only 284, andthe 283hp fuel-injected 283 tallied a whopping 713. There was one other283hp Corvette that had a road racing fiberglass air box and acable-driven AC tachometer. This F.I., air-box and cable-tach setup costover $725 retail. A total of 43 '57 Corvettes were so equipped.

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The '57 Nomad is one of the rarest Tri-fives. Besides cost, their only negative was the rear tailgate and window tended to leak, causing Nomad owners a few headaches.

THE RAREST '57 OF THEM ALL: THE NOMAD WAGON

It was deemed to be the "station wagon with a sports car flare." But the'57 Nomad sold only 6,534 units. It seemingly just could not find itsnitch. This was roughly 2,000 cars less than what sold in 1955 and 1,500less than 1956 totals. The three-year production run totalled 23,167units. The Nomad cost $200 more than a four-door Bel Air and over $250more than a Bel Air convertible. A Corvette cost about $400 more than aNomad.

Station wagon buyers generally needed utility-at-a-price. To most, thatmeant four doors. Two doors did not equate nor did the Nomad's highprice tag. While the Nomad did not sell well, it did receiveconsiderable national editorial over its upscale styling and flare.

THE NEW BORG-WARNER T-10 FOUR-SPEED TRANSMISSION

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In 1957, Vince Piggins oversaw Chevy's skunkworks, Southern EngineeringDevelopment Company (SEDCO) in the Atlanta, Georgia, area. It built manyChevy and Corvette racers, including 10 fuel-injected 150s complete withsix-lug wheels, big brakes, rollcage, boxed A-arms, two shock absorbersper wheel, and much more. The cars did so well in NASCAR competitionthat they were outlawed, hence their slang term--Black Widow. (Widowmeaning all dressed up and no place to go). All '57s then had to competewith a 220hp, single Carter four-barrel carb. Note the fuel-injected150s had F.I. script and flags on the rear fins, not the front fenders.Why? So the competion could better remember who out-ran them.

Chevrolet really showed the performance way in 1957. Its optionalengines were all front-runners, especially the mechanical-lifterversions. The engineers knew that proper driveline components were alsoneeded to let their performance engines work to maximum potential. Aproperly geared transmission would let the '57 Chevrolet lead the way,and boy did it ever.

Chevrolet contracted with Borg-Warner Automotive to create a four-speedtransmission. It became available on April 9, 1957--about six months intothe '57's calendar-year production run. It featured full synchromeshgearing and a cast-iron main case. It was said to have cost about $188as an option, slightly more over-the-counter. Perhaps a few thousandpassenger cars were so equipped by the end of the model-year production.

A total of 664 Corvettes were special-ordered with the new four-speedgearbox. We should note that many passenger cars were retro-fittedeither at the dealership or by the owner at home or in a private garage.Manual-transmission, three-speed, column-shift mechanisms were thescourge on all cars including Chevrolets. Writers highly recommended theCorvette three-speed, floor-shift linkage be installed in Chevypassenger cars; then recommended the complete Borg-Warner four-speedtransmission assembly.

NEW POSI-TRACTION DIFFERENTIAL

Chevrolet coined the word "Posi-traction" for "Positive Traction." Thismeant both rear tires were getting the same amount of power to each one,not to just the right rear tire as was the case without Posi-traction.Prior to 1957, one had to either shim the spider gears tighter to helptransmit power to the left rear tire or weld the spider gears together.The latter was a no-no on the street because now both tires turned atthe same ratio. Good when going forward in a straight line, but not goodwhen cornering. It cost just over $48 retail. You could also select whatgear ratio you wanted, be it 3.70, 4.11, or 4.56. Some ratios werefactory- installed, while others were dealer-installed.

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Over the years, thousands of '57s have been customized for the street or strip. Recently C.A.R.S. inc. has released their new '57 convertible body, assuring that one of GM's most iconic vehicles will be around for a long time.

THE '57'S TRUE TESTAMONIAL OVER TIME

The '57 Chevrolet is forever etched in the minds of many as the modelthat first really blasted to the performance forefront. It buriedeverything in its various classes at Daytona Speed Weeks. In one class,Chevys filled the first 33 out of the 37 positions. For decades,enthusiasts have openly asked Chevrolet to reproduce the '57 sport coupewith a contemporary chassis and drivetrain. Word is they would sellevery one they could make.

We tend to take for granted one performance year and model afteranother, but if it was not for the accomplishments, offerings, and racewins accomplished in 1957, we doubt if future Chevrolet accomplishments,offerings, wins, and laurels would have been as great as they were. Itall started big-time in 1957.

THE '53 DUNTOV MEMO

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In 1953 Duntov wrote this letter which laid the foundation for Chevrolet's rich performance history. Together with geniuses like Ed Cole, Vince Piggins and others, they put Chevrolet on the performance map.

When Zora Arkus-Duntov was hired by Chevrolet's Research & DevelopmentDepartment in the early '50s, he ended up being a key player in uppingChevrolet and Corvette performance, handling, and braking. He went on tobecome Corvette's first chief engineer. Prior to his tenure atChevrolet, Duntov created hemispherical heads for the Ford Flatheadengine. They are called "Ardun" heads and are prized possessions today.

Lucky for Chevy lovers, he also was a consummate "car guy" and had paidclose attention to the youth marketplace. While Chevrolet wasout-selling Ford in car sales every year, Ford had a big edge inhot-rodding popularity due to its flathead V-8 that was introduced wayback in 1932.

When the small-block V-8 was in its initial design and planning stages,Duntov wrote a memo to his boss Maurice Olley, head of Research &Development, dated December 17, 1953. He explained that young buyerswere hungry for performance and if Chevrolet served them by offeringperformance parts over-the-counter, Chevrolet would have a never-endingmarketplace in used-car sales, new-parts sales, then new-car sales whenyoung enthusiasts got older. To the best of our knowledge, this memo wasnever made public. Vince Piggins gave us a copy direct from hisearly-'80s Product Promotion files. In 1982, Vince Piggins was inductedinto Super Chevy magazine's Hall of Fame. Duntov came soon thereafter.

Mr. Duntov proved to be a true visionary. From 1955 to 1985, enthusiastsflocked to Chevrolet dealership parts departments buyinghigh-performance and restoration replacement parts. General Motors had apolicy of keeping parts available for at least 10 years after modelproduction. Some parts with few sales were pulled at year eight, whileparts that repeatedly sold were on board for 15-20 years.

Prior to 1955-1957, Chevrolet's car sales never topped 1.5 millionexcept in 1927 and 1950. Their '55/'56/'57 model year sales totaled arecord 1,830,029, 1,621,005, and 1,522,536. A recession set in at theend of 1957, and total industry car sales dropped 30 percent in 1958.Chevrolet would not hit 1.5 million in car sales again until 1960 and1961, at 1,873,598 and 1,604,805, respectively. For the record, salesrocketed to 2,161,398 in 1962; 2,303,296 in 1963; dropped to 2,114,691in 1964; and peaked in 1965 at 2,587,490. Sales in 1966, 1967, 1968, and1969 were 2,202,806, 1,920,615, 2,148,091, and 1,999,256. The '70Chevrolet sales were 1,504,522. This was 18,014 less than 1957. You bet,economy and plant production factors were at play in 1970.

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