1956 CHEVROLET TOTALLY RESTYLED
As was the practice back in those days, cars were often completely reskinned for each new model year. Of course, the cost was easier to justify considering each carmaker really only produced one basic car in a dozen different body styles (and maybe one limited-production “special”), and the sheer numbers that they were building in those days (Chevy
built over 1.7 million cars in 1955
). The changes made in the ’56 were significant in the fact that they signaled the beginning of the move away from the rounded bulbous shapes of the 40s and early 50s and toward the square, flat-sided shapes and wider-lower-longer look of the 60s. Where the 55’s
front grille was narrow, rounded and organically-shaped, the ’56 had a bold straight grille running side-to-side across the entire front of the car. It made it look wider and lower than the ’55, even if it wasn’t. There was also more chrome on the outside, and a cool new gas cap that was hidden behind the taillight, instead of having a conventional door on the quarter panel as did the ’55. A very novel feature that would carry over to the ’57. Front suspension tweaks were made to improve handling over the ’55 models. Despite all the improvements, sales actually went down from their high in 1955. Here’s what Chevrolet
writes about the new-for-1956 Chevrolet cars:
”Extensive styling changes in all three series are made immediately apparent by a massive, lattice-pattern grille, plus restyled headlight hoods, rectangular parking lights, new bumpers and guards, fender lines and wheel openings also distinguish the 1956 Chevrolet. Within each series, too , important exterior and interior restyling make identification easy."
”Incorporating many significant styling and engineering developments, the Chevrolet line for 1956 is highlighted by the addition of two new body styles which expand the line to a total of 19 models plus the Sedan Delivery. In addition, a 140-horsepower high-compression six-cylinder regular production engine is offered, while both 2-barrel carburetor and power package versions of the V8 engines are again available for 1956."
1956 Chevrolet INTERIORS
INTERIOR TRIM LEVELS
Each series had its own interior, and this (below) is the BelAir's interior, replete with chrome, gold lettering, a fan-shaped speaker and a clock in the right dash, and much nicer upholstery, door and side panels and carpeting.
1956 Chevrolet ENGINES
While the standard engine was the 235 cubic inch "Stovebolt-Six", we're here to talk about V8s. In '56 that was the one-year-new 265 cubic inch Small Block V8
. This one has aftermarket add-on AC, a modern alternator and an Optima battery, but is otherwise stock.
”Mechanically, the 1956 Chevrolet features more agile performance made possible by a 140-horsepower 6-cylinder engine that is used not only with the conventional 3-speed transmission, but with the optional overdrive and Powerglide transmission. Other improvements are the more durable aldipped extra-alloy exhaust valves and a compression ratio of 8-to-1, increased from 7.5-to-1."
”A new high-lift camshaft in the V8 engine used with the Powerglide transmission increases output to 170 horsepower. The 162 horsepower rating of 1955 remains unchanged in vehicles with 3-speed or overdrive transmissions. All V8 engines, however, feature a new optional full-flow oil filter. When equipped with the optional power package, the V8 engine is rated at 205 horsepower which marks a new high in Chevrolet history. A high-lift camshaft and 9.25-to-1 compression ratio cylinder heads are added to the 4-barrel carburetor and dual exhaust equipment of the power package to achieve this rating."
”Other new features common to all 1956 models are a more durable 12-volt battery, waterproof voltage regulator, improved headlights, electric temperature gauge, and the inclusion of direction signals as regular equipment rather than optional equipment at extra cost.”
1956 Chevrolet BODY STYLES
”The newly introduced body styles are a 4-door “Hardtop” Sport Sedan and a 4-door 9-passenger Station Wagon which are feature in both the 2400 (Bel Air) and the 2100 (210) Series. First introduced in mid-season 1955 and carried over to the 1956 line are the 2-door 6-passenger Nomad Station Wagon offered in the 2400 Series (Bel Air), and a 2-door “Hardtop” Sport Coupe available in the 2100 Series (210)."
ONE-SIZE FITS ALL
Unlike today, where every carmaker must build a dozen different cars to compete, back in 1956 most big car companies really only made one model, and perhaps one special. Ford, for instance, built it's Ford
in various trim levels, but they were all the same basic car, then they also built the Thunderbird. Chevy did the same, with its special being the Corvette
. But everything else was essentially the same 1956 Chevrolet, in one of 3 trim levels, and one of several body styles. But from the firewall forward, they were all identical. Talk about economies of scale! Below is a collection of photos we have available of several of the body styles for 1956. We are missing some, but will fill them in as they become available. Below these is a breakdown of the 3 Trim Levels, BelAir, 210 and 150.
This 1956 Chevrolet BelAir is a 2-door Hardtop. These differ from the 2-door Coupe in a number of ways. First off, there is no center post, or B-pillar on the Hardtop (above). when you roll the windows down, it's all air. On the Coupe (below), even with all the windows down, there are is still a large post. Second, the Hardtop had frameless door windows, which again gave it the open-air look when rolled down. These were the same doors as used on the Convertible. And lastly, the back window is pushed forward on the Hardtop, making for a shorter, sportier-looking cab and a longer trunk deck. The proportions are just better, visually. Although it's not as practical as the Coupe. These "Postless 2-doors" are extremely popular today.
The Convertible was only available with the premium BelAir trim level. They were well-done convertibles, with graceful lines and a useful soft top. They looked equally good, top-up or top-down.
This was the practical 2-door, not that the 2-door Hardtop (above) wasn't practical, the Coupe was simply more practical
, if that's possible. They were all such huge cars by today's standards, how could they not be practical. But the Coupe gave you a bigger back seat, and while the trunk was smaller, it was still huge. The Coupe is distinguished from the Hardtop by its "Post" or B-pillar, between the front & rear side windows. It also has framed windows on the doors, so that when the door is open with the window rolled down, there is still a substantial metal framework in the shape of the window. The back window is also pushed toward the back of the car, compared to the Hardtop, creating a longer rear cabin and shorter trunk deck. More practical perhaps, but not as visually attractive...to most people at least. However, these "Posts" have a big following, and some prefer them over any other body style. It also helps they they were lighter than any other body style and more rigid, because of the post, so they were popular with racers.
4-DOOR STATION WAGON
The lower trim level (Series 150) got a 2-door wagon. But for a 4-door wagon, you graduated up to the more lushly appointed Series 210, and the top-of-the-line Bel Air.
2-DOOR STATION WAGON
This is not a 4-door wagon, and its not a Nomad. And it differs from the Panel Delivery (below) because it has windows, and the rear sides roll down like a normal 2-door.
These were intended for use by businesses, contractors, and servicemen. They filled the roll that today is filled by the van or minivan. Very practical, available only in the lowest trim level, the 150-series, and stripped of all creature comforts. Still popular today.
More body styles will be added as the pictures become available.
BEL AIR NOMAD
At the top of the Chevy passenger car pecking order was the Nomad. The Nomad differed from other wagons in several important ways. First off, they had front doors from a 2-door hardtop, not a coupe, so they had frameless windows. Then, the rear-side windows slid forward and back, rather than up and down. The entire rear of the greenhouse was canted forward at an agressive angle that carried through to the tailgate. And what a tailgate! Seven vertical chrome spears dressed it up nicely. Always in top level Bel Air trim, the Nomad was Chevy's most expensive car in 1956, other than the Corvette. But it was close. As handsome as they were, the high price held back sales. Fewer than 8,000 were built in 1956, they're fairly rare today and much sought-after by collectors and enthusiasts.
1956 Chevrolet TRIM LEVELS
1956 CHEVROLET BEL AIR
The BelAir was the top-of-the-line for a Chevy
. They got lots more trim, better choices of body styles, and a much nicer interior. They had more chrome than the other two, and are easy to spot by this double chrome trim that boomerangs back against itself at the front of the car, and widens up in back. Many got 2-tone paint scheme like this one.
1956 CHEVYROLET 210
The middle-of-the-road 210 combined comfort with value. It wasn't as expensive as the BelAir, but it wasn't as stripped-down as the 150 either. Note the single chrome spear running forward on the door and front fender with a similar shape in the rear quarter, creating the opportunity for 2-tone paint schemes, like this one.
1956 CHEVROLET 150
The bargain-basement '56 Chevy, the 150-series was stripped of all uneccessary content, and trim, but the price was low. Note the only side trim is a single spear on the front two-thirds of the car. No 2-tone here.
1956 Chevrolet PRODUCTION NUMBERS
150- 2 door Sedan
150- 2 door Utility Sedan
150- 4 door Sedan
150- 2 door Sedan Delivery
150- 2 door Station Wagon (Handyman)
210- 2 door Sedan
210- 2 door Club Coupe (Del Ray)
210- 4 door Sedan
210- 2 door Hardtop Sport Coupe
210- 4 door Hardtop Sport Sedan
210- 4 door Townsman Station Wagon
210- 2 door Wagon (Handyman)
210- 4 door Beauville Station Wagon
Bel Air- 2 door Sedan
Bel Air- 4-door Sedan
Bel Air- 2 door Hardtop Sport Coupe
Bel Air- 4 door Hardtop Sport Sedan
Bel Air- Convertible Coupe
Bel Air- 2 door Nomad Station Wagon
Bel Air- 4 door Beauville Station Wagon
Tri-Five Chevys YEAR-BY-YEAR
The 1955, 1956 & 1957 Chevrolets were major watershed cars in their era. Numerous body styles & 3 trim levels.
The 1955 was the car that changed it all. Major technical innovations & flashy new styling + that hot little small block V8 made it a hit.
The 1957 was the last of the Tri-Fives & maybe the best. The 265 V8 got punched out to 283 & with Fuel Injection became the first production engine to achieve one horsepower per cubic inch.
Chevy's 'Sport Wagon' started out as part of the original Corvette concept car, but when the Vette was produced as a Roadster, the Nomad became a limited-production, high-priced 2-door wagon loaded with unique features.
Check out these TRI-FIVE CHEVY BOOKS
A Guide to Building a Tri-Five Chevy
Tri-Five Chevy Handbook: Restoration, Maintenance, Repairs and Upgrades for 1955-1957 Chevrolets
Tri-Five Chevrolet Data and ID Guide: 1955, 1956, 1957
Chevrolet's Hot Ones: 1955, 1956, 1957
Chevrolet 1955: Creating the Original
Chevrolet, 1955-1957 (Enthusiast Color)
Chevrolet 1950-1959 (American Classics)
Chevrolet History, 1955-1957 (Pictorial History Series, No. 3)
Original Chevrolet: 1955-1957 (Original Series)
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