OPINION

What happened to the new cars?

Ed Rood

When is it time? Time for the new car presentations? Time for unveiling the new looks and gadgetry? It doesn’t seem like a big deal anymore. Heck, car dealers hardly even mention it.

Back in the mid-to-late ‘50s, it was a big deal. I mean a REALLY big deal. Being the son of a newspaper publisher, I had a little insight into the new cars – especially the Chevys.

Ruth and Clarence Ryg owned the Chevrolet dealership in Slater and so my parents would get advanced publicity from General Motors on the yet-to-be-introduced new Chevys. Naturally, it was all supposed to be kept strictly hush-hush, but I knew where my folks kept all their press releases and … well, you know how teenagers are.

Kids and parents were more enthusiastic about the new cars back then. I felt pretty important having access to a press release that contained a couple of grainy black-and-white photos of the new models. This would satisfy most of my friends, but the real motorheads lusted for the latest information about the new motors, carburetors, transmissions and drivetrains.

Chevy hadn’t been much of a challenger in racing until 1955, when they introduced their V8 engine. Things changed fast. Chevy went from unexciting family car to exhilarating fast car overnight.

Two weeks before the new 1956 car debut, Chevy ran big newspapers ads showing a blurred car racing up the Pikes Peak Highway in Colorado with the inscription “The Hot One’s Even Hotter!” It went on to declare that the new 1956 Chevrolet had set a new record flying up to the top of Pikes Peak.

Talk about a turn-on. My friends and I could hardly wait to see the new Chevys. The information in the press kit didn’t tell that much and the photos were so bad we had no idea what the car really looked like.

On Nov. 4, 1955, the new Chevrolets went on display. A cordial invitation was printed in the paper to all who might be interested. Free coffee and donuts, plus balloons and treats for the kids, were all offered. We teenagers didn’t need any enticements to get us there – the cars were enough.

It’s hard to believe. but back in 1956 Chevy offered only a three model series: Bel Air, Two-Ten or a One-Fifty. They were all the same size, but some had a little more chrome, fancier upholstery and extra paint.

Outside of the new look, the 1956 Chevrolet sported a sport sedan (which meant there were no doorposts on the four-door model.) That might have been a big deal for some of the older folks, but no one my age wanted anything to do with a car that had four doors.

Chevrolet listed all kinds of little goodies, including wonder-bar radio, hideaway gas cap, 12-volt electrical system, ball-race steering and many automatic power features. That was all fine and dandy but what we kids were interested in was under the hood. The “Super-Turbo-Fire V8” with 205 horsepower and 9.25 to 1 compression ratio was music to our ears.

That was nearly 60 years ago and there’s been a lot of new car unveilings since then, but none I can remember nearly as well. Must have something to do with my age.

One thing about it though - that new 1956 Chevy sold for less than $3,000. Today, if you are lucky, you can find one for, say, $30,000.

Ed Rood is former publisher of the Tri-County Times. He and his wife, Sharon, live near Cambridge.