“The best thing about a picture is that it never changes, even when the people in it do.”— Andy Warhol. so we tip our hats to the next generation of TriFive enthusiasts those who are keeping the Chevrolets on the road. Photo credit @fokal.point.imagery
Sometimes something is famous enough that you assume everyone knows its story. Very few old cars - maybe MGBs, 2CVs, early Mustangs, and Beetles - are as familiar today as the #TriFive Chevies. Because they’re still everywhere 62 years after the last one left the factory, it’s easy to forget how exciting they were in the fall of ‘54 and what a change they were from previous Chevies. Most are hot-rod 2-doors these days, and while this one has 2 doors, it’s a horse of a different color - a rare 210 2d wagon. 1.7 million ‘55 Chevies were made, a number almost unfathomable now, but it was the right machine for its time and place.
Work started on the ‘55 in mid-1951, but really got underway in the spring of 1952 when Ed Cole swapped places with Chevrolet’s chief engineer Ed Kelley. Cole had come from Cadillac, where he’d engineered that division’s modern OHV V8 in 1947-48. Ford had the low-price V8 world cornered but in the early 1950s V8 were arriving everywhere. Chevrolet’s cars were a good value but had been humble sixes for decades. They were not performance cars and without a re-think, GM worried Chevrolet might fall behind. Cole was first promoted to manufacturing chief, but swapped places with Kelley to get the engineering job he really wanted. His plans for Chevy were much more ambitious - and none other than Alfred Sloan approved Cole’s request to expand Chevy’s engineering staff from 850 to 2,900 to design a clean sheet car and engine for 1955.
Kelley’s team toyed with a V6 and a 231-cid V8 design, but Cole found it too small and too heavy - he had his staff, including ex-Packard man Al Kolbe, design a new V8, which became the 265 small block, in just four months. His lieutenant from Cadillac, Harry Barr, oversaw the new chassis and structural engineering. The styling, at first inspired by the ‘49 Ford and the European Ford Consul, morphed into what we know today under the eyes of Chevy’s ace Clare MacKichan and his staffers, including Carl Renner and Joe Schemansky (who later led Holden styling). Aside from the old base six, everything was new and daring - and the car drove as good as it looked - not floaty, not too big, not too small - just right.