Tuesday, July 26, 2011

1955 Chevrolet Bel Air

GM's 50-Millionth Car - A Golden Opportunity
Text by David W. Temple
Photos from author's files

General Motor’s 50-millionth production automobile was assembled with great fanfare on November 23, 1954. At 9:50am that day, GM’s 50-millionth body met its 50-millionth chassis and assembly personnel secured its many components under banners commemorating the grand event. Within five minutes of the body-drop, the front fenders were being attached followed mere minutes later by the hood. Once complete, the car was driven to a nearby platform built specifically for this occasion while a band played “See the USA in a Chevrolet.” Chevrolet general manager, T.H. Keating made a few remarks then introduced GM president Harlow Curtice who told the employee audience, “Ours is a great achievement. It is one in which all of us can well take great pride. It should inspire us to even greater achievements for the future.” Curtice also noted that 50-million cars “are more than any other country or combination of countries has ever produced.” The keys to the special Bel Air were ceremoniously handed over to Harlow Curtice as part of the festivities.

The Chevrolet Bel Air two-door hardtop including its chassis was painted Anniversary Gold and had a reported 716 trim parts plated with 24-carat gold (though another report gave the number as “more than 600”) along with a duplicate set of replacement parts for repairs if necessary. The interior was color-keyed to the exterior and had the 50-millionth commemorative medallion made for the event attached to each door panel. Chevrolet also offered the Anniversary Gold paint color as a limited option (reportedly just 5,000) for four-door models only. The 50-millionth car not only appeared at the “Golden CARnival” parade in Flint, but also at the GM Motorama. General Motors even painted one of their diesel locomotives in Anniversary Gold with the special 50-millionth car logo as part of the celebration.

The ’55 Chevy passenger cars were all new this year; three-hundred million dollars were spent on the redesign and new tooling for its 3,825 new components. Just as with the Biscayne dream car, the new Chevrolets were designed under the leadership of Clare MacKichan as well as Ed Cole (who would later become president of GM). According to Fingertip Facts for the 1955 Chevrolet (a book printed for salesmen), “Chevrolet first found out, through exhaustive research, exactly what people want in a car of lowest cost; then developed – in one compact design – values that exceed people’s greatest expectations of a car of Chevrolet’s class… As a result, the new Motoramic Chevrolet is by far the most beautiful, most enjoyable, and finest performing Chevrolet ever built.” Up front was a Ferrari-like egg-crate grille. The hood-line was nearly flush with the front fenders and the profile sported a beltline or “Dutch Darrin” dip as seen on several dream cars. The beltline dip served to make a car look lower than it really was. In this case, it accentuated the low look of the new Chevrolet that was over two inches lower than the previous ’54 models. Surprisingly, the ‘55s were about one-inch shorter and one-inch narrower than the previous year models. The wraparound windshield finally made it to Chevrolet (including pickups) this year as well. With the new body came a new chassis with box-section frame rails and ball joints up front instead of king pins. The Bel Air convertible received an X-member for additional strength. A six-cylinder was standard and the new V8 optional on all models.

The unique Anniversary Gold Bel Air two-door hardtop became privately owned at some point after its days of generating publicity for GM came to an end and according to Classic Chevy World magazine’s editor, Joe Whitaker, the car was recently known to be owned by a North Carolina resident.According to him, this owner (who prefers his privacy so he will be called “Mr. Gold”) owned a different 1955 hardtop he was planning to restore. Mr. Gold learned of some garage owners who were building another 1955 hardtop into a race car so he went there to see it. Extensive modifications were nearly underway when Mr. Gold’s inspection of it showed it to be in better condition than the car he originally planned to restore. Since this car was about to get major modifications Mr. Gold suggested swapping it for his car. The offer was accepted.

After getting the car home and beginning the dismantling process, Mr. Gold noticed lots of gold plating and gold paint inside the car. He also found a special plate on the firewall, so he called Tom Trainor who worked for GM for 30 years and was a Chevy hobbyist (and is since deceased). Tom found that the VIN on Mr. Gold’s Bel Air matched that of the 50-millionth GM car. As of the last report, it was still in the process of being restored.Hopefully, upon completion of the restoration of this historic Bel Air the car’s owner will share it with Chevy enthusiasts by showing it at car shows and special events. We are sure readers would very much enjoy seeing the finished car.

5 comments:

  1. I appreciate your information, thanks.

    I own one of the '55 BelAir Sedans in it's original factory paint of Anniversary Gold. It only has 15,000 miles on it. Photo's are posted with its story at www.classicsurvivor.com

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  2. Thats quite a historical record set by General Motors. 50 million cars! And to think of a gold plated car! Nice information here. But i have a question, where do you get all this history from?

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    1. Thanks for your comments. My research is done through various sources - original factory literature/documents, books, and contemporary automotive magazines such as Motor Life, Car Life, Motor Trend, etc.

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  3. That's very good information. Keep up the good research work!

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  4. Your post is very much appreciative. I appreciate your perseverance on doing some research for this. You are indeed a writer!

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