The year 1955 was like the Fourth of July and Christmas rolled into one: fireworks and genuine surprises. Everything burst out new, truly new, each car and truck different, totally transformed -- even the 1955 Chevrolet Light-Duty Truck.
It was surprising that Chevrolet was all new for 1955, since Chevrolet always tended to be conservative: same Stovebolt Six every year, same vanilla styling. But not for 1955. Here came the new Chevrolet looking like a baby Cadillac with a Ferrari grille. And it had this wonderful little jewel of an ohv V-8, again like Cadillac. Merry Christmas!
Christmas for Chevrolet's truck lines, though, came slightly delayed. While the division introduced its new passenger cars on October 28, 1954, the revamped trucks weren't ready until March 1955. Until then, Chevrolet continued the 1954 trucks pretty much unchanged.
These early 1955 trucks were called the "First Series." The totally changed "Second Series" wasn't released until late March. But this was no big problem, because Ford's 1955 trucks turned out to be rehashes of the 1954 models, and Dodge would also be late in releasing its 1955 C-3s -- later even than Chevrolet.
Even though the First Series 1955 trucks looked the same as Chevrolet's 1954 models, they did introduce two significant mechanical improvements: a Hotchkiss open driveshaft and a revised three-speed synchromesh transmission. Both carried over into the Second Series.
Finally released on March 25, 1955, the Second Series Chevrolet trucks had that 1955 look. Not many parts carried over from the First Series; the open driveshaft, yes, and the re-engineered three-speed. But the most important carryover was the Thriftmaster six-cylinder engine.
The six had been considerably upgraded for 1954 with a new cylinder head, a more rigid crankshaft, different pistons and connecting rods, beefier bearings, bigger bulkheads, a higher-pressure oil pump, and revised rocker studs. Displacement was hiked to 235.5 cubic inches and output stood at 112 horsepower.
Aside from the aforementioned running-gear items, everything else in the 1955s was genuinely new and as different mechanically as anything General Motors brought out that season. Plus this was a great year for firsts. Chevrolet put the first 12-volt electrical system into its light trucks, the first overdrives, the first power steering, and, of course, the first iteration of the new small-block V-8.
The Second Series also launched the first Cameo Carrier, and here's where the fun really started. The Cameo was probably the most significant first of the lot.
Before 1955, "glamour" was not a word often applied to Chevrolet pickups. General Motors, in fact, never made a big deal about the appearance of its truck fleet. Trucks were trucks; they needn't look like they'd just come from the beauty parlor. But here, suddenly, stood this sexy 1955 pickup, and you couldn't help but do a double take.
Working in their own little world, Chevrolet truck designers borrowed just enough high-fashion touches from car styling to create light-duty vehicles as handsome as they were handy starting in 1955. Their impact is still being felt.
For more on the 1955 Chevrolet light-duty trucks, continue to the next page.
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1955 Chevrolet Light-Duty Trucks
The 1955 Chevrolet light-duty trucks were obviously and successfully cut from the same cloth as Chevrolet's new passenger cars. The standard line of 1955 trucks had the same type of wraparound windshield -- another first in the truck field.
Gone were the traditional hang-on front fenders. The 1955 fenders flowed smoothly back into the doors and down over the recessed step plates. On pickups, the beltline swept around behind the cab. Hooded headlamps, which GM introduced on the 1953 Cadillac, came to Chevrolet cars for 1955 and now also appeared on the trucks, as did Chevrolet's Ferrari-inspired eggcrate grille.
The man who directed Chevrolet's truck styling operation was a designer named Lu Stier. Stier and his tiny staff occupied an out-of-the-way studio in one corner of GM's Assembly Plant No. 8, a place known fondly as Planet 8.
Planet 8 stood a brisk 15-minute walk west of the General Motors Building near downtown Detroit. And to put this all in spatial perspective, directly behind the GM Building, in the so-called Argonaut Building, the top four floors were occupied by General Motors Styling, the hub of all GM body-design activity.
Stier, off by himself on Planet 8, was left alone more than other studio heads. Even so, he knew what was going on in Chevrolet's passenger-car area. The Chevrolet car studio was under the direction of Clare MacKichan, and MacKichan and Stier kept in touch.
Then, at the top of the styling pyramid, overseeing this design activity and directing the creative flow between Planet 8 and MacKichan's studio was Harley J. Earl. Earl was GM's styling boss, a vice president of the corporation no less. His designers called him "Misterl," one word, partly because he'd brought his department up from nothing to the status of an empire. In the process, Harley Earl managed to make himself one of the most indispensable people in corporate America.
By focusing on styling, Earl taught the world that the way a car looks has a lot to do with the way it sells. He also made sure that GM led the industry in styling, a supremacy he proudly maintained decade after decade. His staff revered and feared him, sometimes both at the same time, and he stood at the height of his powers during the time when the 1955 Chevrolet cars and trucks were being designed and engineered.
He took a special interest in Chevy trucks for that year, and while the regular models represented a huge leap forward, the star among ½-tonners had to be the 1955 Cameo Carrier.
The Cameo broke new ground by being Chevrolet's first-ever luxury pickup. Pickups had never had a "top of the line" before, but here suddenly one appeared. And if the standard Chevrolet pickups traced their heritage indirectly to Cadillac, the Cameo Carrier paid homage to the Eldorado. Nothing in the truck field even came close that year.
The Cameo Carrier sprang from the mind of a young designer in Lu Stier's studio named Chuck Jordan. Jordan was 25 years old when he conceived it. He'd come to GM. fresh out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1949 and, immediately after paying the usual six-month dues in an orientation studio, asked to be put into a truck studio -- a highly unusual request for an aspiring young designer.
Stier's area was next door to the orientation studio, so Chuck already knew the truck people and what they were up to. He'd entertained a passion for trucks most of his life, ever since he'd learned to drive has grandfather's 12-speed Moreland as a child. And because most other young designers wanted to design cars, Jordan saw an opportunity to do some highly original work on the other side.
To see how this work translated into changes for the 1955 Chevrolet trucks, continue to the next page.
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Changes for the 1955 Chevrolet Light-Duty Trucks
The truck that Chevrolet was building in the early Fifties had 1947-vintage styling on an updated prewar platform, and Chuck Jordan knew there had to be some big changes for the 1955 Chevrolet light-duty trucks.
He'd heard about the new V-8 for 1955, which meant the division would engineer a new chassis and body. He recognized a rare opportunity to help launch a line of 1955 trucks that would be just as distinctive as that year's GM passenger cars.
"So that's why I was happy to go into the truck studio," recalls Jordan, who retired in 1992 as GM's vice president of design, "... that and because I'd always been fascinated by trucks. Nobody else was too interested in going into trucks back then because, after all, trucks normally didn't change very often. And even when they did, they still looked like workhorses. But not to me."
Then suddenly in 1952, Chuck got called up for active duty in the Korean War. He joined the Air Force for a year, but even on military assignment in Florida, he kept on designing trucks in his spare time. "We weren't very busy, so all the free time I had I worked on the 1955 Chevy truck program," he notes. Jordan kept sending sketches and ideas from Florida to Planet 8.
"The previous Chevy trucks," Jordan continues, "had a nice shape to them-kind of voluptuous, and smooth, and clean; not too busy. So I was influenced by that, and the 1955 came out as a clean, voluptuous-shaped truck. I returned from the Air Force and jumped right into the 1955 program with all the guys in the studio."
On his return, Jordan was named Stier's assistant chief designer. Also in the studio were designers Bob Phillips, Al Phillips (no relation), and Drew Hare -- who had charge of interiors -- plus three clay modelers.
"One of the modelers, Clark Whitcomb, was my mentor," recalled Jordan. "He was a great modeler, older than the rest of us, but he was full of life and so much fun to work with and always very open to new ideas. He helped me a lot with the three-dimensional execution of these 1955 truck designs we were doing."
Stier's studio was responsible for the entire range of Chevrolet commercial vehicles, from pickups to the biggest cab-overs. Not many people realized it, but except for route vans, all Chevrolet trucks used the same basic cab. Cabs were identical up and down the line. Cowls, doors, windshields, roofs, and all structural sheetmetal were common to every Chevrolet truck of that era. Trucks rated at more than one ton had a single-bar grille, the big cab-overs had a unique doghouse, and some GM trucks used a different floor hump, but otherwise the metal stampings were the same.
All shapes and styling cues, though, started with the ½-ton pickups, because in the beginning of the 1955 program, the main focus was on these smaller vehicles. The other body styles grew from those, including the panels and Suburban Carryall wagon.
"The hooded headlight was intended to give the truck some motion," according to Jordan. "And the windshield, too. The shapes were simple and clean. I was fascinated with that angle-sided grille; did a lot of work with the grille shape. I wanted that splayed-out look, because it gave the truck more facial expression. And we tried to be as advanced as we could, because trucks didn't change that often, so we needed to make a significant statement, something we could live with for years."
To see how these designs played out with Ed Cole, Chevrolet's chief engineer, continue to the next page.
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Edward Nicholas Cole, Chevrolet's Chief Engineer
The other strong personality in this tale was Edward Nicholas Cole, Chevrolet's chief engineer. He'd already earned a reputation as an engineer's engineer. Indeed, junior engineers used to compete to serve on his staff. Ed Cole was a compelling individual: tremendously gifted, constantly involved in challenging projects, a charismatic leader, and an outstanding teacher.
Cole earned his spurs by developing the 1949 Cadillac V-8. This trendsetting, lightweight, fuel-efficient, ohv engine set the standard for U.S. V-8s for decades to come, including the Chevrolet V-8, which Cole also engineered.
A few years after he'd finished the Cadillac V-8, Chevrolet asked him to take over the design of the entire 1955 Chevrolet program, including the new engine, the new passenger cars, and the new trucks. And in 1956, General Motors made Cole a vice president and Chevrolet's general manager.
Harley Earl, like everyone else at GM, held Cole in high regard, and the two got along well. Engineers and designers don't usually mix, but Earl and Cole did. That was because Cole, unlike so many of his colleagues, was vitally interested in how the 1955 Chevrolet cars and trucks would look. To Cole, appearance was just as important as getting the mechanical parts right. The two aspects were inseparable. So Cole made sure Fisher Body Division and Chevrolet Engineering never stood in the way of Styling.
"In those days," remembers Chuck Jordan, "we dealt directly with Chevrolet engineering -- with Ed Cole and Chevy's assistant chief engineer, Jim Premo. Jim was always over in our studio; very detail conscious. He'd sit with us at the board and work with us on how to get things right. He didn't dictate design at all, but he helped us make practical decisions.
"Once in a while Ed Cole would come over, and occasionally Chevy's general manager, Tom Keating, would also come in when we had a show ... when it was decision time. But Ed Cole, if he said it was okay, it was okay. So we really enjoyed the freedom of doing what we wanted, and we were helped in that regard by Jim Premo. Sometimes he'd bring in some stamping people from Chevrolet to be sure they could make these shapes we were designing. It was an ideal situation."
When asked where the Cameo Carrier idea came from, Jordan had this to say: "The basic idea came to me when I was still in the Air Force down in Florida. I was making these sketches, and I thought, boy, wouldn't it be neat if we could get some of the car style and flair into the truck? I loved that idea. Trucks were pretty austere back then. The interior door panels were sheetmetal, the floormats were rubber; there was nothing luxurious about a truck.
"So the concept of the Cameo Carrier was to combine some of the style and flair of the 1955 passenger car with the practicality of a pickup. I felt strongly that we could do it and that it would be a neat thing. I remember clearly ... we were so busy doing the normal truck program, working overtime, and then just before this big presentation to Ed Cole and the general manager, we made a 3/8-scale illustration of the Cameo Carrier and scheduled showing it at the end of the review -- sort of like dessert. Cole and Keating really bit on that; really liked it. They both encouraged us to go ahead and develop the Cameo, so we did."
See the next page for more on the 1955 Cameo Carrier.
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1955 Chevrolet Cameo Carrier
The 1955 Chevrolet Cameo Carrier was a light-duty truck designed with the flair of a passenger car. As Chuck Jordan remembers, "In our earliest designs, the bodysides ran back flush into the pickup box. The cab and the box were all tied in. There was no seam, no gap. But then Chevrolet came along and said, no, you can't do it that way, because there'll be too much body torquing, and tying the whole thing together will wrinkle the sheetmetal.
"So we redesigned it and put in that gap between the cab and the box. There's a kind of overlapping flange and a chrome strip that fills in the seam. I think they told us we had to have ¾-inch of clearance. The gap looked huge to us, but when the average person sees the truck, he probably doesn't really notice the gap.
"Anyway, the Cameo turned out to be something extra, something beyond the ordinary. It was the first time Chevrolet had done anything like it. And we knew this would never be a high-volume seller. We didn't expect to sell a lot of Cameos, and low volume meant fiberglass. That's how they got into the fiberglass parts. Fiberglass let us afford the program. We had the Corvette to thank for that. The Corvette blazed that trail."
The smooth-sided Cameo Carrier carried a conventional steel stepside box hidden inside fiberglass outer skins. The fenders, tailgate, and spare-tire carrier were all formed from fiberglass and attached with concealed fasteners to the exterior of the pickup box. The faired-in vertical taillamps were unique to the Cameo, and the tailgate swung down on cables that retracted via hidden, spring-loaded pulleys.
All fiberglass pieces were supplied by the same company that fabricated the Corvette body: Moulded Fiberglas of Ashtabula, Ohio. And like early Corvettes, the Cameo Carrier came in only one color scheme: Bombay Ivory with Commercial Red window accents, and a red-and-beige vinyl interior. The inside walls of the pickup box were also painted red.
Chevrolet continued the Cameo Carrier into early 1958. Depending on the year, prices ranged about $350 to $475 higher than those of Chevy's basic ½-ton pickups, and total Cameo production came to 10,321, approximately half of which was sold during the short 1955 season.
But the significance of the Cameo Carrier wasn't its sales record; it was the halo effect it had on all Chevrolet trucks. The Cameo Carrier was to Chevrolet trucks what the Corvette was to passenger cars -- an attention getter and brand focal point.
Observes Jordan: "Of course, the influence of the Cameo was considerable. Shortly after we introduced it, Dodge brought out a pickup with a fleetside box [for 1957], and from then on all trucks became available with smooth sides. So the Cameo, which didn't sell in great numbers because it carried a relatively high price, started the trend toward flush-sided pickup boxes."
To read about more 1955 Chevrolet truck models, see the next page.
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1955 Chevrolet Truck Models
The 1955 Chevrolet truck models offered an impressive total of 75 "Task-Force" models on 15 different wheelbases designed for everything from light delivery to over-the-road hauling. Our focus here, though, will be on the light-duty lines rated up to one ton.
Pickups were spread liberally throughout the model roster. Series 3100 ½-tonners (including the Cameo) were on the standard 114-inch wheelbase. The lone member of the 3200 series was a ½-ton-rated long-bed pickup that shared its 123.25-inch wheelbase and heavier frame side rails with the pickup in the ¾-ton 3600 line.
The beefiest of all was the 3800-series pickup. Listed at one-ton capacity, it rode a 135-inch wheelbase. A new rear fender style graced all these trucks (other than the Cameo Carrier, of course). These larger fenders had a forward cant and were topped by a cap with a crease line that mimicked the bodyside sculpting on the cab. Base prices ranged from $1,519 for a fender-side 3100 to $1,844 for a 3800.
Variations abounded in the ranks of Chevrolet's light duty lines. The 3100 and 3800 series both featured a panel truck. Stake-bed and platform models were available in a choice of ¾- or one-ton ratings. Operators with specific needs could choose from chassis-and-cab, chassis-and-cowl, and chassis-and-windshield offerings in the 3100, 3600, and 3800 series that were intended to be fitted with aftermarket specialty bodies.
Exclusive to the 3100 series was the Suburban Carryall, a two-door station wagon based on the ½-ton panel body. Suburban buyers could choose between twin side-hinged panel doors or a two-piece tailgate. With the middle and rear seats in place, a Suburban could carry up to eight people. The bodyside crease that ran down the pickup cab spanned the full length of the new Suburban and panel truck bodies.
Chevrolet totally changed chassis frames when going from the First to the Second Series trucks. The former's frame was tapered: 26 inches wide at the front and 46 inches between the rails in the rear. The 1955 frame, on the other hand, had perfectly parallel siderails in plan view: 34 inches across at both ends.
Solid axles were retained fore and aft and used longitudinal leaf springs and tubular shocks at all four corners (although rear tube shocks were optional on 3800s). The I-beam front axle was widened and lowered for 1955.
Meanwhile, the front springs were lengthened in each light-duty series. The rear springs now attached to special outboard brackets, and the six-cylinder engine had a four-point mounting system instead of the previous three-point.
Buyers could take their choice of the traditional 235.5-cubic inch inline "Stovebolt" six or the new 265-cubic inch V-8. The V-8 was still so new that some people wanted to wait until Chevrolet worked out the bugs. And word soon got out that, yes, early Chevrolet V-8s did have one big bug: their rings were slow to seat, so the engines tended to burn oil. Mechanics soon learned to pour a little Bon Ami in water down the carburetor, which speeded break-in and ultimately solved the oil-consumption problem.
The Second Series six produced 123 horsepower at 3,800 rpm and 207 pound-feet of torque at 2,000 rpm. The optional Trade-master V-8, a detuned version of the hot new passenger-car engine, made 145 horsepower at 4,000 rpm; its peak 238 pound-feet of torque arrived at 2,000 revs. A one-barrel carburetor fed the six while a twin-throat unit served the V-8. Both engines had a 7.5:1 compression ratio.
Explore the available options for the 1955 Chevrolet light-duty truck line on the next page.
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1955 Chevrolet Light-Duty Truck Options
There were four transmissions among the 1955 Chevrolet light-duty truck options: a three-speed manual, three-speed with overdrive, heavy duty four-speed, and four-speed Hydra-Matic. Trucks in the 3100 through 3600 series came standard with the column-activated three-speed; 3800s used the floor-shift four-speed.
The switch from torque-tube drive to an open Hotchkiss driveshaft freed the transmission tailshaft from its previous role as a load-bearing member of the drive train. (With the torque tube, the entire driveline, including the transmission, was subjected to shock loads with each shift, each brake application, and each bump encountered by the rear axle.) Also, the tail housing grew longer and was now detachable. This made repairs easier and also provided space for the optional overdrive unit.
In the standard three-speed, another big improvement was the heavying-up of the transmission mainshaft. Making the mainshaft thicker gave it greater torsional rigidity and minimized gear misalignment. Synchronizer drums became larger for easier, more positive shifts. And the ends of the sliding gear teeth and the mating ends of the counter gear and reverse idler were now rounded rather than chamfered, so there was less likelihood of chipping. If teeth did chip, the engineers provided a "chip collector" near the drain plug at the bottom of the transmission case to catch metallic debris.
While the manual three-speed remained the most popular transmission, Chevrolet made Warner Gear overdrive available for ½-ton trucks for the first time in 1955. Warner overdrive was, in effect, a two-speed planetary gearset inside the transmission tailshaft housing. Standard differential ratio with overdrive was 4.11:1 versus 3.90:1 with other transmissions. The 4.11 ratio gave an excellent launch, acceleration, and pulling power, yet the overdrive kept the engine quiet and rpm low during cruising.
The driver could upshift into overdrive at any speed above 31 mph by simply lifting his foot off the gas pedal. To downshift, he engaged a switch by flooring the accelerator. Or the unit would downshift automatically at speeds below 27 mph. Overdrive reduced engine speed by 30 percent so that at 60 mph, the engine would typically turn 2,100 rpm in overdrive as opposed to 3,000 rpm without it. Fuel savings were equivalent.
The only automatic transmission offered in 1955-1957 Chevrolet light duty trucks was GM's four-speed Hydra-Matic, and it was available with the six and the V-8. The truck Hydra-Matic was the same unit used by Cadillac and Oldsmobile. The manual four-speed was a heavy-duty unit with a stump-puller low gear; it wasn't the sort of performance four-speed that became popular soon afterward.
An add-on-type power steering unit became available in 1955, with the hydraulic pump bolted to the rear of the 12-volt generator. The power cylinder was anchored firmly to the beam front axle and applied power directly to the tie rod. Normal "manual" steering was always available if the engine quit, because the pump was an open type that allowed easy recirculation when not powered. Vacuum power drum brakes were also available in light duties.
"Flite-Ride" pickup cabs came in standard and custom versions. The standard cab had a small rear window; the custom cab's glass wrapped around to give 902 square inches of viewing area versus 386 for the small 1955 backlight. Gone were the rear corner windows of 1954 and previous models. (The wraparound rear window could be had as an option in the standard 1955 cab.) Total glass area was up 25 percent for the small-backlight cab and 37 percent with the wraparound rear window.
To explore the 1955 Chevrolet trucks' interior features, continue to the next page.
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1955 Chevrolet Light-Duty Truck Interior
Seat cushions and backrests in the standard 1955 Chevrolet light-duty truck interior were done up in plastic and rayon fabrics with an oak-bark texture. Seat springs were standard, with foam padding optional. Black vinyl seat facings contrasted with the beige trim, black and beige being the only available colors inside standard cabs.
There were no armrests in the standard interior, and the inner door panels contained a ribbed embossment in the beige sheetmetal, with a corrugated metal section below that. The corrugation added strength and prevented drumming. Floormats were black rubber. The head-liner consisted of a waffle-pattern black vinyl material in a beige sheetmetal "halo." Noticeably absent from the instrument panel was provision for a radio speaker. Pickups with optional radios had their speakers in the header bar above the windshield.
The custom cab was not a whole lot fancier than the standard one. Seats were upholstered in a dotted nylon-and-vinyl fabric, this time in brown and beige. Custom cab seats got foam cushioning. The headliner and rubber floormats were beige instead of black. The door-panel insert was done up in a textured brown paint.
The Cameo Carrier interior went the custom cab one better. Cushions and backrests were upholstered in a red, nylon-faced pattern cloth, with contrasting beige vinyl on the sides of the backrest and seat bottom. The door trim panel was covered with the same red fabric as the cushion, but again you got an armrest on the driver's side only.
Unique to the Cameo was textured, low-gloss red paint on the top surface of the instrument panel and windshield garnish molding. The lower portion was painted beige, as were the door panels, garnish moldings, rear and roof halo. The headliner used a waffle-pattern red vinyl, the Cameo's floormats were red rubber, and the steering column, wheel, and hub were painted Commercial Red.
All the new trucks used the same instrument panel. Designer Drew Hare based the cheese-wedge shape of the gauge cluster on the similar design of the 1955 passenger car which, in turn, was based on the 1953-1955 Corvette. But the custom dash sported chromed knobs, twin sun visors, a cigarette lighter, plus an armrest on the driver's door. The engine starter for the six was a round pedal above the accelerator, and models with manual transmissions still used a hand choke.
There was an armload of options to jazz up the 1955s. One popular item was the chrome package, which added brightwork to the otherwise painted grille and headlamp bezels. Chromed bumpers constituted another option, as did the accessory hood ornament, backup lamps, shields for the fuel filler and door handles, and door-edge guards.
A special grille guard consisted of a welded network of heavy-gauge spring steel strips finished in Bombay Ivory. A custom package for panel trucks added bright metal window trim and some of the niceties of the custom pickup interior.
Exterior paint choices consisted of 13 solid colors or as many harmonizing two-tones. (Suburbans were restricted to single colors, though.) All two-tone schemes except those using Russet Brown had Bombay Ivory as the second color; Russet paired with Sand Beige. Trucks in solid colors used black wheels, while those with two-tones came with wheels in the accent color. The Cameo borrowed wheel covers from the 1955 Bel Air series.
Inside, Chevrolet offered two heaters for 1955, a standard unit with a two-speed fan and defroster, and a high-capacity recirculating heater with a variable-speed blower. You could also buy an optional parking-brake warning flasher.
Follow the Chevrolet light-duty truck story into 1956 on the next page.
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1956 Chevrolet Light-Duty Trucks
The 1956 Chevrolet light-duty trucks underwent only minor changes. Most revisions were cosmetic, but this was the year Chevrolet made tubeless tires standard throughout the line.
Subtly relocated series designation spears began to say more about what went on under the hood and floorboards. Along with the numeric series designations, trucks with manual transmissions proclaimed simply Chevrolet. Those with automatics said "Chevrolet Hydra-Matic ". Vehicles with the eight-cylinder engine continued the V-8 badge below the series spear plus a vee on the revised hood emblem.
The Cameo came in eight two-tone combinations for 1956. With an Arabian Ivory base (base meaning the main body color), you could specify Ocean Green, Empire Blue, Regal Blue, Crystal Blue, Cardinal Red, or Granite Gray. With a Cardinal Red base, the trim option was Sand Beige. With a Jet Black base, the trim color was Golden Yellow -- very striking.
Interior colors were also expanded for 1956. Combinations included red/beige, dark blue/light blue, light green/gray, and charcoal with all colors. Cameo knobs were again chrome while other models got black knobs. Cameo wheel-covers were the same as those used on the 1956 Chevrolet Bel Air.
Chevrolet's big news for 1956, though, had to do with the small-block V-8. The four-barrel 265 now delivered 205 bhp, but this top version of the V-8 was available only in Chevrolet passenger cars. Even so, to underscore the small-block's performance and enhance the pickup's sporty nature, Chevrolet had racing mechanic and engine builder Smokey Yunick set up a Cameo with the four-barrel V-8 for Daytona Speed Weeks.
Smokey not only tweaked the Cameo's non-production V-8 but also drove it at the beach. With the heavily modified engine, he managed to set a new Class 5 record for standing-mile acceleration: 89.524 mph. A Cameo also took honors at Daytona that year through the flying mile, but apparently no records exist of the driver, modifications, or speed.
Motor Trend, meanwhile, did a quick test of a McCulloch-supercharged 1956 Cameo and published a 0-60-mph time of 8.7 seconds and a run through the quarter mile in 17.6 seconds.
Still, there was more power on tap for every workaday Chevy light-duty truck. A compression boost to 8.0:1 helped the six harness 17 additional horses (140 total) and the 265 V-8 was shown at 155 horsepower, though compression was still advertised at 7.5:1.
Chevrolet trucks were more radically changed for 1957 than they'd been for 1956. For the 1957 season, Chevy offered a 4×4 option in a dozen 3100, 3600, and 3800 models. The division also introduced the 283-cubic-inch V-8, a bored-out version of the 265, but its use was restricted to the car-based sedan delivery and several medium- and heavy-duty truck series. (Light-duty engine and transmission choices stayed unchanged, though sales materials listed the Trademaster V-8 as having an 8.0:1 compression ratio.)
See the next page to read about the 1957 Chevrolet Cameo Carrier.
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1957 Chevrolet Cameo Carrier
The 1957 Chevrolet Cameo Carrier's accent trim now included a horizontal band on each side of the pickup box, with a chrome bow-tie emblem at the leading edge and the word "Cameo" inside the painted strip.
The Cameo Carrier turned out to be something of a lame-duck vehicle in 1957, because only 2,572 were sold that year. This was partly due to the Cameo's competitors catching up. Ford introduced the Ranchero, a car-based pickup with all the amenities of a coupe; Dodge launched the D-100 Sweptside with a finned pickup box and flashy two-tone paint treatments; and International marked its 50th anniversary with a new smooth-sided A100 Custom pickup.
The 1957 Chevrolet truck line came with twin windsplits on the hood (like the passenger car) plus a more intricate double-trapezoid grille on light-duty models. Chuck Jordan didn't care for the overall effect. "The 1957 pickups, in my opinion, came out poorly," he comments. "I was out of the Chevy truck studio by the time the 1957s were done. They were jazzy, chromed-up, contrived in the grille opening-fussy. The 1957 pickup sort of lost its purity. I didn't like it."
Buyers could shop among 15 solid body colors, five two-toning colors, and four interior color combinations. The Cameo's pickup bed had bright moldings above and below the accent color and bright hubcaps with fluted trim rings. In the 3200 and 3600 series, the pickup bed length was extended to 98 inches, an increase of eight inches. Panels and Suburbans adopted twin vertical taillights in place of the single lamp seen on 1955-1956 versions.
All 1957 trucks now came with a dished steering wheel plus safety door locks and strikers. The new lock had a rotor housing with an extended outer flange. This flange slid behind an overhanging plate on the striker. When the door was shut and the rotor and striker engaged, they couldn't come apart in a forward or rearward direction. So in a collision, even if the door gap was stretched or distorted, the door wouldn't fly open. Yet the new striker allowed the same ease of opening and closing as before.
For more on the 1957 Chevrolet light-duty trucks, continue to the next page.
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1957 Chevrolet Light-Duty Trucks
Chevrolet made several other mechanical improvements to their 1957 Chevrolet light-duty trucks. One had to do with a more rigid mounting of rear axles and the use of tapered roller bearings inside the differential. Spring shackles were now the threaded type instead of the center-draw-bolt shackles used for 1956. The new system didn't pinch the shackles and allowed freer movement.
Chevy's 4×4 option for 1957 used a four-speed gearbox and a two-speed transfer case. The two-speed control lever stood to the right of the transmission tunnel, and the driver could select direct drive or underdrive. Underdrive gave a 1.87:1 ratio and provided eight forward and two reverse speeds. The front drive axle could be engaged with this same lever, but only in direct drive, not in underdrive. The front axle was virtually the same as the rear one, the only difference being constant-velocity joints at each end so the front wheels could steer.
"When operating on a solid surface," said that year's Chevrolet literature, "with traction equal at each wheel, engine torque is equally distributed by the power transfer case to front and rear axles, thus resulting in a maximum propelling effort. If traction is reduced or lost at one axle, all the engine torque not used is automatically transferred to the other axle."
Included in the 4×4 package were heavy-duty seven-leaf front springs and eight-leaf rear springs. Tires, too, had more plies than standard to deal with the heavier loads that 4×4 usage implied.
During the mid-1950s, light trucks were working-class, blue-collar vehicles and surely not the darlings of housewives and business executives. No one could have guessed back then that Cameo style and 4×4 capability would become as widely popular as they are today.
But here we are, more than 50 years later, and the designers who style passenger cars now seem to be following the lead of those who labored so successfully in the truck studios back in the 1950s. Chuck Jordan seems to have gotten it right; he was just several decades too early. How oddly different the motoring world has become!