1955 was Chevrolet's renaissance year, helped by a smart new body style but especially by the hot new V8 engine, it launched in the Bel Air with 162/180 bhp on tap. Facing restyled and redesigned competition, Chevrolet managed to pull out all the stops for the biggest changes in its history. In one fell swoop, Chevy brought out a brand new powerplant, all-new styling on a new chassis, and a look that took the division from the conservative "mom and pop" car to the youthful and sporty side.
The most important event for 1955 Chevrolets is arguably the introduction of a modern, overhead valve, highcompression V8 engine. The "Turbo-Fire" 265 CID V8 made its debut in all models this season. While the basic V8 setup offered adequate power output of 162 horsepower at 4400 rpm for spirited driving, it would not take long for engineers to build on this fabulous engine, and it would soon be the powerplant others strove to beat. Having a basic design lifespan of nearly 50 years is a testament to how well the engine was originally designed and constructed. To transmit the new power, the transmissions were improved and rear axle ratios changed to take advantage of the V8 powerplant. Helping to further promote the new V8 power, a 1955 Bel Air Convertible was selected as the official pace car of the Indianapolis 500 race. Also noteworthy under the hood, Chevrolet changed to a 12-volt electrical system which allowed better engine performance and the ability to power more accessories; however, the 6-cylinder Corvette would continue to use the 6-volt system for one more year.
After more than five years of having to compete with more modern slab-sided designs, Chevy and Pontiac abandoned the last vestiges of a rear fender line. At the same time, a wraparound windshield made its first appearance on a Chevrolet, and the hood and fenders finally were at nearly the same height. Other sporty touches included hooded headlights and a smaller rectangular grille, often referred to as "Ferrari-like," set directly under the hood opening. Above the new grille were a revised Chevrolet hood emblem and a new dual-finned "jet" hood ornament. Bumper ends, front and rear, bumped out to accentuate the fender tips. Around back, the trunk height was level with the quarter panel height, and was squared-off to maximize luggage space. Taillamps and backup lights were mounted high on the trailing edge of the quarter panels, and a chrome "bowtie" and "V" emblem below the taillamp indicated that there was a V8 under the hood.
Body side trim was simple and tasteful on the highline Bel Air, with front fender trim beginning off the crease of the hooded headlamp, and extending rearward to the mid-point of the front doors. Trim for the rear quarter panel began a few inches below and forward of the taillight bezel, and ran straight forward to a point just short of the front end side trim. A vertical "louvered" piece of trim connected the beltline dip at the rear window to the rear quarter trim. Also, the Bel Air featured stainless steel trimmed front and rear windows, stainless steel beltline trim, C-pillar molding, and side window surround trim. Two-Ten models lost the C-pillar molding, side window surround trim and the front fender trim. The One-Fifty model did not have any of the stainless trim, but was still a pleasing looking car. Interior changes began with a new instrument panel that was described in advertising as an "airliner look," with instruments grouped together in a sweeping cluster over the steering column, balanced with a similar area containing the electric clock on the passenger side, and a centermounted glove compartment. Fabrics were more stylish, and were on a par with some higher-priced cars.
Making its way to showrooms after appearing in a GM Motorama as an experimental model was the Bel Air Nomad 2-Door Station Wagon. Fashioned after the Corvette-based Nomad show car, the production Nomad retained the unique forward sloping B-pillars that would characterize the Nomad through its brief three-year production run. Other distinctive features of the Nomad included horizontally sliding rear compartment side windows, forward slanting tailgate (with seven vertical chrome trim strips and Nomad script) and rear window styling, and for the 1955 model year only, a full rear wheel opening cut-out. The concept would immediately be imitated by Ford, but without nearly the flair and success of the Nomad.
After much-improved sales for 1954, it was hoped that the new V8 powerplant in the Corvette would continue the momentum for 1955. Unfortunately, with the advent of the much more traditionally styled Ford Thunderbird, sales went downhill. Styling for the Corvette remained the same as the original 1953 version, but there were many improvements. Color choices expanded also, with new top colors in white and dark green along with last year's beige, and interiors of red, yellow, light beige and dark beige now offered, depending of course on exterior paint color.