One of the most notable aspects of the Tri-Five was the company’s recent creation of the 265 cubic inch V8 engine, which was introduced in 1955. It was a high compression, short stroke overhead valve design that continued in production in various configurations for decades. The original V8 was equipped with a two-barrel carburetor and produced 162 horsepower, but the “Power Pack” option included a four-barrel carburetor and additional improvements that resulted in 180 brake horsepower. Later models received a “Super Power Pack” option that increased compression and added 15 brake horsepower.
1955-1957 were watershed years for Chevrolet, which spent a million dollars in 1956 alone on retooling to make their less priced Bel Air vehicles appear more Cadillac-like, culminating in 1957 with their most opulent tailfins and Cadillac-inspired bumper guards.
Americans purchased 7.1 million new automobiles in 1955, including 1.7 million Chevrolets, giving the manufacturer a whopping 44 percent of the low-price market and outselling Ford by 250,000 units.
The Bel Air was an instant hit with buyers, with entry-level One-Fifty versions starting at less than $1600 and fitted with a six-cylinder engine.
With the addition of the optional 162 horsepower Chevrolet 265 cid V8 and the Powerglide automatic transmission, the car rapidly gained the moniker “The Hot One.” The oil filter was considered an option during the first year of manufacturing, despite the fact that its absence resulted in drastically shorter engine life.
Additionally, the Chevrolet Nomad sport wagon was introduced in 1955. Introduced in the middle of the year, 1955 produced between 6103 and 7886 units, making them increasingly scarce. It was only offered in the Bel Air trim level, which had the V8 as standard equipment. It was priced at $2500, which was on the higher end of the Chevrolet pricing scale, but included plush carpeting, two-tone paint, headliner trim, and other features that distinguished it from the 150 Series’ most basic models.
1956 was a carryover model with slight modifications to the grill, trim, and other accessories. Chevrolet benefited significantly from the increase in sales, selling 104,849 Bel Air vehicles, owing in part to the new V8 engine launched a year prior. By this time, their 265cid V8 had gained appeal with hot rodders, who discovered how easy it was to alter the engine for increased horsepower. This was not lost on Chevrolet’s engineers, who increased the horsepower to 225 hp with available add-ons in 1956. For 1956, the 265 cid V8 engine received an inbuilt oil filter and a range of power options ranging from 162 horsepower for the standard V8 to 240 horsepower for the R.P.O. 411 “Super Power Pack” released mid-year.
In 1956, the average two-door Bel Air sold for $2200, a price that was deemed reasonable at the time. Prices range from $1865 for the 150 sedan with a six-cylinder engine to $2543 for the 150 convertibles with a V8 engine, with Nomad variants significantly more expensive.
Zora Arkus-Duntov set a new time record for ascending Pikes Peak in 1956, taking 17 minutes and 24.05 seconds in a pre-production 1956 Bel Air equipped with the 265 V8 engine, beating the previous mark of 19 minutes 25.70 seconds set 21 years earlier.
The final of the Tri-Five Chevrolets included various improvements, including larger tailfins, a “dual rocket” hood design, increased chrome, tri-color paint, and a choice of no fewer than seven V8 engines. While Ford outsold Chevrolet in 1957 for the first time in a long time, secondhand 1957 Chevrolets would sell for hundreds more than their Ford counterparts years later. As the horsepower race continued, Chevrolet released a new small block engine with a displacement of 283 cubic inches and 245 horsepower. Additionally, they launched a limited number of Rochester fuel-injected 283 engines, the first production engine to achieve one horsepower per cubic inch. This effectively transformed the 1957 Bel Air into a “hot rod” right off the assembly line. It was available exclusively with a manual transmission. Additionally, the standard 265cid engine’s horsepower was increased from 170 to 185. While not as popular as the previous year’s model, Chevrolet sold 1.5 million automobiles in 1957. Even today, the 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air is one of the most collectible automobiles ever made.