Member’s Feature
Glenwood & Mildred Sowers, Member #117
1955 Chevrolet Bel Air
Sheffield, New Brunswick

Story & photos by Gary Porter

The story of the 1955 Chevrolet probably begins in 1932. That was the year that Henry Ford introduced his famous flathead V8. Soon guys with names like Weiand, Edelbrock and Iskenderian were making parts to make these motors even faster. I’ve read where Bonnie and Clyde’s getaway car of choice was the flathead V8 powered Ford. And what did the moonshiners drive? Flathead V8 Fords. While there was a break in the evolution of the automotive industry during World War II, when it resumed production after the war, the manufacturers realized that younger people were buying V8 Ford for the performance they offered. Therefore, for them to get a piece of that market, they needed a V8. So, in 1949 General Motors introduced new high compression, overhead valve V8 engines for the Cadillac and Oldsmobile divisions.

In 1952, Ed Cole, who had been instrumental in the development of the new Cadillac V8, became the chief engineer for the Chevrolet division. Interestingly, before becoming chief engineer, Ed had been asked to take over as manufacturing manager for Chevrolet. He declined the job stating that he didn’t think “the product was exciting enough.” As the G.M. brass had just made the decision to “turn Chevrolet around,” Ed Cole became the obvious choice to do that job. His assignment was not only to design and build a V8 engine for the Chevrolet line, but to also design and build a car to go with it. At that time Chevrolet had several V8 designs in the works, one being a 231 cubic inch version. When Ed Cole took the helm, all work to that point on the proposed ‘55 Chevrolet was stopped and he started with a fresh piece of paper. We all know the result of his work.

His design for the 1955 Chevrolet carried over little more than the name from the 1954 Chevrolet line. Along with the new V8, there was a new frame, new ball joint suspension and the old torque-tube drive line was replaced with a Hotchkiss drive. The body was lower, the electrical system was upgraded to 12 volts, and there was a new wrap around windshield. More luxury items were available such as air conditioning, power windows (although this was available in ‘54 on the front windows) and a power seat. And let’s not forget the great colours and two tones that were available.

The 1955 Chevrolet was a hit with the buying public. Chevrolet sold 1,704,667 cars that year, outselling Ford by some 230,000 vehicles. This resulted in Chevrolet capturing 45 percent of the low-price market.

Two milestones occurred for Chevrolet during the 1955 model year. General Motors produced its 50 millionth car on November 23, 1954. The vehicle chosen for that honour was a Bel Air sport coupe which was appropriately painted gold.

It also sported some 716 gold-plated parts. The whereabouts of this vehicle is unknown today (or at least I have never read anything on the subsequent history of this historic vehicle). It is not in Chevrolet’s collection.

The second milestone, which was overshadowed by the above vehicle, was the thirty-two millionth Chevrolet. This time a convertible bore this honour. Again, I have never heard of this car in later years. I’m sure if it still exists, it would fetch a hansom price.

In the racing world, a ‘55 Chevrolet convertible was chosen to pace the Indy 500.

Bel Airs accounted for 44.5 percent of Chevrolet production in 1955. The sport coupe was the second most popular body style in the Bel Air line with 185,562 copies produced. This beautiful gypsy red and shoreline beige Bel Air sport coupe featured in this article is owned by long time club members Glen and Mildred Sowers of Sheffield, New Brunswick.

In 1983 Glen decided that he wanted a ‘55 Chev. He always liked the looks of a ‘55, particularly a Bel Air sport coupe. So that is what he set his sights on. Originally built at the Los Angeles, California plant, this ‘55 eventually was brought to Ontario where it resided for a while before taking up residency in south eastern New Brunswick. Fellow club member, Royden Stewart, spotted it for sale in Penfield Ridge. Knowing Glen was looking for such a car, Royden let him know and soon the ‘55 was sitting in Glen’s garage. Although, as purchased, it was driveable and in good condition, Glen started the restoration process right away. He began by stripping the car to bare metal and repainting it himself in the same paint code 615, gypsy red and shoreline beige acrylic lacquer that it rolled down the assembly line with some 28 years previously.

Although it was originally a six-cylinder car, it now has a 265 under the hood, installed by a previous owner, backed by a powerglide transmission. The car also has EZEye glass, windshield washers, chrome exhaust extension, dual outside rear view mirrors, fingernail guards and a gasoline filler guard.

The interior was replaced by Glen using a kit supplied by the Classic Chevy Club in Florida. Glen and Mildred have enjoyed their ‘55 logging more than 40,000 miles around the Maritimes, sometimes even towing a camper trailer. As a favour to a friend, Glen granted a gentleman’s last wish, which was to take his last ride in a ‘55 Chevrolet. Glen drove the urn to the cemetery in the ‘55.

Glen reports that upon arrival at the cemetery, the contents of the urn were transferred to an electrical box, as the gentleman was an electrician, by trade, and he was laid to rest in the electrical box.

Glen and Mildred have been members of the Classic Chevy Club of Nova Scotia for more than 21 years, making them the senior members from New Brunswick They also belong to Classic Cruisers, a local club in the Fredericton area, and the New Brunswick Antique Auto Club. Keeping the ‘55 company, Glen and Mildred also own a 72 Chevelle and a ‘52 Pontiac. When the time comes, Glen has promised the ‘55 to his son.