1957: It Was A Very Good Year!
Continuing the Car Lust lust list of memorable automotive years, whether good or bad, we now come to the era of the Drive-In theater, the Drive-In restaurant, the sock hop, Marlon Brando, leather jackets, greasy hair, Inspiration Point, short skirts, and, oh yeah, some pretty amazing cars and stuff!
•1957 Chevrolet Bel Air• Has there ever been a more iconic American car than a '57 Chevy? You see them now at large and small auto shows, sometimes trailered to the event. They are a favorite restoration vehicle on Hot Rod TV shows. Today, you can buy a brand new one, ready to roll, for just $180,000.
I guess my favorite '57 Chevy would be the Nomad. It's a big car that looks like a small car, at least to me, anyway. I really wish the Corvette had been offered as a Nomad variant. Speaking of the Corvette...
•1957 Corvette• The 283-cubic inch V-8 was offered with a revolutionary fuel injection system that gave the car one horsepower per cubic inch, maybe more. A full 240 cars were sold with it. A 4-speed manual was offered, and suspension tweaks made the car truly world-class. The Corvette, as a serious sports/performance car, had finally come of age.
•Elvis Presley• Was Elvis a car or even a trim package? No. But he liked them and he had them. 1957 was the year the 22-year-old wrote a $100,000 check for Graceland to shelter his family from the invasion of well-meaning but increasingly overzealous fans. He built a garage behind the mansion to house his growing collection of Cadillacs, motorcycles, a Bronco, Jeeps, a Stutz or two, and eventually a snowmobile with special tracks just for the Whitehaven lawn.
•1957 Cadillac Eldorado Brougham Series 70• A 4-door Cadillac with rear suicide doors? Yes! Only 400 of these were ever made, and each one commanded a king's ransom of $13,074 (a 1957 Cadillac limousine with passenger divider was "just" $7,586). One was featured briefly in "Driving Miss Daisy."
These cars had stainless steel roofs, no center post, and dual horn outlets, each mounted under a pair of headlights, which were very rare in 1957. Cadillac did everything they could to make this the finest car ever produced. They may have succeeded.
•Ford Skyliner Retractable Convertible• So, so far ahead of its time! Where would today's Mazda Miata, BMW 335i, Mercedes-Benz SLK320, and others be without it? This is a '58 model, but it was introduced in 1957.
In the pre-transistor era, its mechanism with 10 power relays, 10 limit switches, four lock motors, three drive motors, eight circuit breakers, and 610 feet of electrical wire could raise or lower the top in about 40 seconds—when it worked.
•The Edsel• On Sept. 4, 1957, Ford rolled this icon out to the world. The unique grille and push-button transmission did little to woo buyers, and the rest of the story speaks for itself. What makes this a great event? Why, all the great jokes, of course!
•Toyota/ Toyopet• On October 31, 1957, Toyota came to America with just two models, the truckish Land Cruiser and a car, the Crown. Daihatsu tried the same approach 30 years later with the Rocky and Charade, but perhaps we can say that Toyota's venture has been much more successful.
Over on the east side of The Big Pond, a little company named Lotus was getting its feet wet. Their first production street car, the Type 14 Elite, came about. Some call the car the "Most beautiful road car ever built," and with good reason.
It was also the first car built in monocoque fiberglass without a steel frame to tip the scales as lightly as possible. In 1984, it was "Where's the beef?" In 1957, it was "Where's the frame?"
Lotus' Seven was also introduced in 1957, and remains in production today, known since 1973 as the Caterham. This car pioneered the kit car type being offered as completely disassembled vehicles, and did not need a donor car. They were offered in kit form to avoid "new car" taxes.
Earlier, I mentioned Marlon Brando, leather jackets, and greasy hair. Well, to make your image complete and become a true "Wild One," you could now add a brand-new Harley-Davidson Sportster to your ensemble. 1957 gave birth to this truly all-American legend, whose name and tradition still stand proudly today.
The only Japanese motorcycles sold in America back then were ... well, there weren't any that I can find. In 1957, Honda introduced their first twin-cylinder motorcycle, the sophisticated 250cc OHC four-stroke C70 Dream, to overseas markets, but they did not open shop here for two more years.
•The Mackinac Bridge• Opened on November 1, 1957, it connects the Upper and Lower Peninsulas of Michigan. The "Mighty Mac" took 3½ years to build, since construction had to be halted during the winters. Five men were killed building it.
Though the bridge looks impressive from any angle, it's a little-known fact that 75% of this structure is actually hidden under water. From shoreline to shoreline it is 5 miles long, and cost $100 million to build.
Another famous bridge opened in theaters in 1957. "The Bridge on the River Kwai" whistled its way to receive seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture.
By the way, QANTAS stands for Queensland And Northern Territory Aerial Services, should you ever be asked about that while you're on "Jeopardy."
1957 was an All-American Year, hopefully the type we'll see again as soon as this economic mess clears up.
Happy New Year!
--That Car Guy (Chuck)
Wikipedia provided information and images for this post. The Eldorado Series 70 photo is from Cadillac Photos-1957, and the The Sportster image is from "How Things Work," which also supplied technical knowledge. The Corvette image is from www.usedcorvettesforsale.com