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1955 Chevrolet Corvette - An Enduring Classic

This Flawless Example Of The First V-8 Corvette Is...

Richard Prince Mar 1, 2001
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When autombile production resumed after the conclusion of World War II, automakers scrambled to meet incredible demand that resulted from the years of wartime deprivation. As a result, early postwar cars were virtually identical to those built before the war. Converting manufacturing facilities back to peacetime production and pumping out product to meet the demand that blossomed after the war ended took precious time and resources, so several years passed before most car companies began introducing truly new products.

At that time, Chevrolet occupied a crucial position in General Motors' hierarchy as the company's low-price and high-volume leader. Chevy was not supposed to be an innovative trendsetter in any respect. Instead, its mission was to be the number one provider of reliable and economical transportation.

All of that changed in 1955, a pivotal year indeed in the long and storied history of Chevrolet. That year saw the fruition of extensive restyling and re-engineering programs that radically transformed not only the character of all Chevrolet products, but the very nature of the company itself. In one fell swoop, Chevrolet went from America's "Value Leader" to America's "Hot One."

As dedicated Corvette fans know, Chev- rolet's little two-seater did not undergo the same total transformation that other Chevy products did in 1955. It did, however, benefit from one major change that year, one that did nothing less than save the Corvette from almost certain extinction. This magic pill was, of course, the installation what would become the most prolific and successful engine in auto motive history, Chevrolet's venerable small-block V-8.

Why was the V-8 so crucial to Corvette? That important question can be answered in one word-speed-and as Karl Ludvigsen pointed out in his excellent book Corvette: America's Star Spangled Sports Car, speed spelled survival.

When the Corvette was introduced as a concept car in GM's '53 Motorama, the public was fascinated. Enthusiasm was so strong, in fact, that the company rushed the plastic -bodied sports car into production in a record time of only six months. GM quickly discovered, however, that wild enthusiasm on the Motorama show circuit did not translate into sales in dealer showrooms. Market performance was so dismal, in fact, that by the end of the '54 model year, roughly two-thirds of that year's production remained unsold.

To most who wielded power within the corporate ranks at GM, Corvette was a misguided experiment from the very beginning and the sooner the flow of red ink it induced was stopped the better. A small band of visionaries disagreed vehemently and fought long and hard to prevent the bean counters from having their way. Men like Ed Cole and Zora Arkus-Duntov fervently believed that a strong demand existed for an American bred and built sports car and, with intelligent changes, Corvette could be molded into the vehicle to satisfy that demand.

Early Corvettes had a wide variety of deficiencies that hurt it in the marketplace, but by far the single biggest problem was its less-than-stellar performance. With no history to draw upon, Chevrolet executives and their advertising people at Campbell-Ewald did not know how to market a sports car. They ignorantly thought the car would appeal to the country club set and sell on looks alone. They thought fast acceleration was popular only with "hot rodders," and agile handling was the exclusive domain of those eccentric, tweed jacket wearing, pipe-smoking foreign car devotees. How wrong they were! The country club set had little use for a small, relatively noisy car devoid of the creature comforts they were used to. And performance car enthusiasts did not understand the point of offering a car that looked like a sports car but behaved more like a big Buick than like an MG or Jag. By the mid '50s, a small but significant number of Americans were ready for a nimble handler with speed and acceleration to match, and they got exactly that in 1955 with the mating of the Corvette and the new small-block.

Besides the giant leap forward in performance offered by the new V-8, '55 Vettes were also improved in a number of other ways. Reliability was increased by the change to a 12-volt electrical system. Body fit and finish continued to improve as it had throughout the previous year. And though installed in extremely limited numbers, a three-speed manual transmission was made available late in the model year. As in 1954, a number of exterior body colors were offered in 1955. In addition to Polo White, which was the only available hue in 1953, and by far the most common color in 1954, buyers of '55 Corvettes could opt for one of several different and vibrant colors. Up until April 1, when it was discontinued, Pennant Blue could be specified. After that date, buyers could order Corvette Copper, Gypsy Red, or Harvest Gold. Wheels were painted to match the exterior color with the exception of some Pennant Blue cars, which came through with Sportsman Red wheels. Convertible top color changed according to the exterior color, and top material changed somewhat haphazardly, with canvas being the only available material until around April, and both canvas and vinyl utilized thereafter. In general, Polo White cars got either beige canvas or white vinyl tops. Pennant Blue cars got beige canvas while Corvette Copper exteriors were paired with white vinyl. Harvest Gold was teamed with green canvas or green vinyl and Gypsy Red got beige canvas, white vinyl, or beige vinyl. Interior colors were only slightly less complicated. As in 1953 and 1954, Polo White was always paired with red. The other exteriors available in 1955 got a mixture of interior shades. Pennant Blue and Corvette Copper were fitted with dark beige, Gypsy Red with light beige, and Harvest Gold with a combination of yellow and green.

While some consider Polo White with a red interior the classic combination for the '53-55 Corvettes, many people are attracted to the beautiful colors then available. Harvest Gold in particular seems to really symbolize the time period and that, combined with its brilliant radiance, makes original Harvest Gold '55s highly sought after by collectors. The color of this car is precisely what induced owners Rene and Rob Tringali to purchase it. They first saw a '55 wearing this vibrant hue back in 1984 and missed buying that car by the smallest of margins. Over the ensuing years they remained on the lookout for another one, convinced that one day the right car would present itself. Rob stepped up the search a few years ago with the hope of finding a suitable car in time to present it to his wife as a gift for a big birthday that was approaching (we won't tell you which big birthday!). In 1997, the long hunt came to fruition when a disassembled but extremely original and complete Harvest Gold V-8 '55 was located in Massachusetts. According to Rob, it had been apart and in storage for over 30 years, but it was a genuine Harvest Gold car and all of the difficult-to-find, one-year only parts, including the ignition shielding, coil, and coolant shut-off valve, were still in it.

Rob is in the late-model collision repair business and does not do restoration work for others. However, he is no stranger to the art form and has restored quite a few award-winning Corvettes over the years. With the exception of spraying the exterior paint, which was done by son Rob Jr., Rob Sr. did all of the restoration work himself. He repaired bumps and bruises all around the car's body, rebuilt the engine and mechanicals, restored the chassis, refurbished the interior and did everything else necessary to transform his wife's birthday present from a state of disarray into what ranks as one of the finest restored '55 Corvettes in existence.

In testimony to the quality of its restoration, the Tringali's '55 has cleaned up on the show circuit, earning the prestigious NCRS Duntov Mark of Excellence award, Bloomington Gold certification, the Triple Crown Award, and innumerable Best in Show trophies.

Their '55 Corvette is, understandably, the Tringali's pride and joy and was well worth the long search that led to its purchase. The prize-winning little Harvest Gold roadster is also tangible proof that growing a bit older has its rewards. Happy Birthday, Rene!

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