During 1955 the American automotive industry broke all records with a total production of 9,204,049 vehicles. Passenger car sales accounted for nearly eight million. Most manufacturers introduced entirely new cars for the 1955 model year, incorporating such features as panoramic windshields (wrap-around windscreens).
Chevrolet, Packard, Pontiac and Plymouth offered OHV V8 engines. There was a host of new experimental cars from Buick (Wildcat III), Cadillac (Eldorado Brougham), Chevrolet (Biscayne), Chrysler (Flight Sweep), Ford (Mystere and Futura), General Motors (La Salle II with V6 engine and Firebird II with gas turbine), Oldsmobile (Delta) and Pontiac (Strato-Star).
Kaiser Motors Corporation was reorganized as Kaiser Industries Corporation, with Willys Motors, Inc. a wholly-owned subsidiary. Both firms announced plans to discontinue passenger car production in the US and concentrate on the manufacture of civilian and military Jeep vehicles.
Ford followed GM's Corvette with its Thunderbird two-seater in 1955, which grew into a four seater three years later, never quite capturing the cachet of the original smaller version but growing into an eminently popular personal car - while the Corvette turned into America's only true sports car after all. During 1954-55 most car makers changed over from the traditional 6-volt to 12-volt electrical systems.
American V8 Lineup
The outstanding feature of the 1955 American engines was the almost universal swing to overhead valve V8 design. As we all know now, an overhead valve design results in a more compact engine, with stronger crankshaft and con rods on account of their short, stubby dimensions. Greater piston displacement for a given weight of crankcase was possible with the V8 design in comparison to the straight in-line 6 or 8. It was siad that the 1955 US V8 designs were engineered to still be up-to-date 10 years later, so the huge cost of the re-tooling could be "written off" over a long period - and history was to prove them right.
interesting to note that in order to supply the demand for extra power and acceleration a number of American manufacturers made available "power package" versions of their standard models. This was usually achieved by fitting double-barrelled carbys, a dual exhaust system, and other - modifications, usually resulting in around 20 extra brake horsepower.
The 1955 Buick range comprised Series 40 Special, 50 Super, 60 Century and 70 Roadmaster models. Model availability per Series was six, three, five and three resp. All models now had four "port-holes", except the Series 40 Special, which had three as before. The wheelbase was 122 inches for Special and Century models, 127 inch for Super and Roadmaster. Sales were up almost 50% over 1954, at 738,152. Shown is the Series 60 Century Riviera Sedan, Model 63.
All Chevrolet models
were entirely new for 1955 and an OHV V8 engine was available for most (the previous Chevy V8 was in 1919). Other features included Hotchkiss drive rear axle, ball-jointed steering swivels, swing-type pedals, optional overdrive and air-conditioning, etc.
The Chrysler C-300 was the first of a new breed of Chrysler high-performance cars. It was named 300 since it was (at that time) the only stock car wielding 300 brute horsepower. An Imperial grille and wire wheels were its trademarks. One of the C-300's won NASCAR's 1955 Grand National at an average speed of 92.05 mph for 160 miles.
The DeSoto SP-26 Diplomat and Diplomat Custom were technically similar to Plymouth Six Plaza and Belvedere respectively. There was also a Diplomat Six with 217·8 (vs 230) CID engine, designated SP-26X, and SP-27 V8s.
The DeSoto S-21 Fireflite was a new higher-priced addition to the line. It shared the 126-inch wheelbase chassis and 291 CID V8 engine with the S-22 Firedome but output differed (185 bhp for Firedome, 200 bhp for Fireflite). Power Steering and Power Brakes were optional on both. The Six engine was discontinued for home market models.
Pictured left is the Dodge 0-55-3 Custom Royal with 183-bhp Super Red Ram V8 engine. Other 1955 models included the Kingsway Six (0-54, 0-54X) and V8 (0-59), Coronet Six (0-56-1) and V8 (0-55-1), and Royal V8 (0-55-2). All except Kingsway (see Plymouth) had a 120-inch wheelbase.
Ford introduced entirely new models for 1955. The Crestline name was dropped for the top-line models and replaced by Fairlane. Pictured left is the Fairlane Fordor (73C). The basic Mainline and intermediate Customline had the same bodywork but less luxurious trim. All had 115½-inch wheelbase and 272 CID V8 (Y-block) engine with 162 or 182 horsepower rating or the alternative 223 CID Six which now developed 120 bhp. Conventional, overdrive and Fordomatic transmissions were available.
Pictured left is the Ford Fairlane Crown Victoria, Model 64A. On the Model 64B the front section of the roof was made of transparent plastic. Note the tiara-like chrome strip arched over the top of car.
Pictured left is the Ford Fairlane eight-passenger Country Squire, Model 79C. Ranch Wagons (59A. B) had two doors, Country Sedans (79B, D) four. For extra performance all V8-engined wagons had dual exhausts.
Ford Thunderbird two-seater was beginning of a long line of 'T-birds', as they became popularly known. The engine was a 292 CID
Y-block V8, and the wheelbase was 102 inches. There were convertible (Model 40A) and hardtop (Model 40B) versions.
In 1955 Hudson production was transferred from Detroit to Kenosha, Wisconsin, as one of the results of the forming of the American Motors Corporation which took place in 1954, combining Nash and Hudson. 1955 Hudsons were, in fact, variants of the Nash and Nash Rambler cars, with different front end and trim.
Imperial, Chrysler's most luxurious line, was now a separate marque and, as before, competed with Ford's Lincoln and GM's Cadillac. The 1955 line consisted of C-69 Imperial and C-70 Crown Imperial models with 130 and 149½-inch wheelbase resptively. Both had 250-bhp 331 CID V8's.
The Kaiser's were the same as 1954 models and were also the last in the line, the company deciding to concentrate on Jeep vehicles. Pictured left is a 1954/55 Kaiser Special two-door Sedan.
The Kurtis 500-M Sports Car was named after the lndianapolis 500-Mile Races where in 1954 cars designed and built by Frank Kurtis won all but seventh of the first ten places. The car was made by Kurtis Sports Car Corp. of Los Angeles, California and powered by a stock Cadillac V8 of 250 bhp. Top speed was 135 mph. A modified engine, good for 175+ mph, was optional.
Lincoln's 1952 type chassis and bodyshells were retained but many detail styling changes were made for 1955. Technical features included a new Turbo-Drive automatic transmission, and improved larger-bore 341 CID 225-bhp V8 power plant with dual exhausts. A new air-conditioning system and tubeless tyres were introduced also. There were standard and Capri models, while the name Cosmopolitan was dropped.
In 1955 Mercury introduced new models which were longer, wider and lower and featured a 'full-scope' windscreen, new interior styling and more powerful engines (OHV V8, 188 and 198 bhp). In three series, Custom, Monterey and Montclair, there was a total of ten models. The Montclair Coupe was the top of the line.
The Meteor Rideau four-door Sedan was a Ford-based Canadian product. The radiator grille featured heavy V-motif in the centre.
The Nash Statesman and Ambassador lines were reduced to four-door Sedans and two-door Hardtops. In addition to the OHV Six engine, a 208-bhp V8 with Ultramatic Drive was offered for the Ambassador. The Ultramatic automatic transmission was bought from Packard.
The Oldsmobile 1955 models featured new two-tone styling, redesigned front suspension and a 202-bhp Rocket engine. The first four-door Hardtop in the industry, the Holiday Sedan was introduced in March. Soon the Holiday two and four-door hardtop models accounted for almost two-thirds of Olds' production. Super 88 models were similar in general appearance to the 98 but had slightly shorter wheelbase.
Packard, now merged with Studebaker, again offered regular and Clipper models, the latter being the lower-priced line. Pictured left is the luxurious Packard 400 Hardtop. In addition to new body styling and a new 260-bhp V8 engine it featured Torsion- Level ride, a revolutionary new suspension system incorporating long torsion bars interconnecting the front and rear wheels with automatic load-sensitive height/level control.
The 1955 Plymouth models were entirely new and available with a V8 for the first time The new Hy-Fire engine came in two versions: 157-bhp 241 CID and 167-bhp 260 CID. With optional four-barrel carburettor the 260 CID gave 177 bhp There were Plaza, Savoy and Belvedere models, all with 115-inch wheelbase. Series designations were P-26 for the Sixes, P-27 for the V8s.
The Pontiac Series 27 Chieftain 870 Sedan had entirely new body styling with panoramic windscreen and a new overhead-valve V8 engine of 180 bhp rating. There were eight models in this Series and the wheelbase was 122 inches.
For 1955 Studebaker revived the old President name for its top-line models. Presidents had a 185-bhp Passmaster V8 engine which was, actually, the Commander's Bearcat with four (instead of two) barrel carburettor, and 120-inch wheelbase. Pictured left is the special Speedster version of the Hardtop Coupe, one of the immediate predecessors of Stude's famed Hawk sports-type cars.
Willys 4 x 4 Jeep Station Wagon and derivations. The last Aero-Willys cars were the Bermuda and Custom with the Hurricane 6 F-head engine. They had a new grille and various minor trim changes. The name Aero-Willys reappeared, however, in Brazil where Willys-Overland do Brasil SA had commenced Jeep production in 1954 and later introduced the Aero-Willys 2600 Sedan, the Willys-Interlagos Sports Car, and others.
1955 Chevrolet Sedan.
The smart styling of the 1955 Chevrolets was carried through to the rear bumper, with trunk-deck and tail lamps emphasising the longer lower look. This angle also illustrates the special two-tone colour scheme that was available on Bel-Air convertibles and Sports Coupes...