1955 Changed America's Motoring Landscape
"1955 was a fabulous year for the automotive industry," said H.A. "Humpy" Wheeler, president and general manager of Charlotte Motor Speedway. "Just nine years after the conclusion of World War II, the automotive industry rebounded with great creativity and introduced what would turn out to be one of its most significant innovations-the Chevrolet V-8 engine."
Automobiles during the early 1950s still carried the simple straight lines and the bulging wheel wells that were standard in the 1940s. But in 1955 that antiquated brand of styling was replaced by sleek new models, including the two-seat Ford Thunderbird, the two-door Chevrolet Bel-Air and the Chrysler 300. Phrases such as Chrysler's "100 Million Dollar Look," DeSoto's Forward Look" and Dodge's "Flair Fashion" became familiar advertising themes.
In celebration of that remarkable time, a special Food Lion AutoFair display will include an Oldsmobile Series 98 Starfire; a two-door Chevrolet Bel-Air; a four-door Buick hardtop; a Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz; a Ford Thunderbird; and several other 1955 beauties.
"A majority of the race cars in the world today are powered by the big brother of the 1955 Chevrolet V-8," Wheeler noted. "Prior to 1955, Chevrolet did not have a performance heritage. The company's engines were primarily inline six-cylinders coupled to vacuum shift transmissions which were not something you used to set speed records.
"However, the '55 V-8 engine in the new two-door Chevrolet Bel-Air proved to be one of the best performance cars ever built," Wheeler continued. "But to a certain extent, it was overshadowed by the mighty Chrysler 300s driven in NASCAR by such greats as Tim Flock, Speedy Thompson and Buck Baker. These big 300s featured a massive hemispherical engine which is now known as the Hemi.
"If I could have purchased any car in 1955, it would have been a '55 Chevy Bel-Air or a Chrysler 300. I thought the Chrysler 300 was one of the greatest cars ever built since it was so massive and powerful," Wheeler said. "The 300 was an offensive tackle and the Bel-Air was a running back."
Wheeler, who was 16 years old in the summer of 1955, explained that while the numerous new models and innovations where revitalizing the automobile industry, the Southern California hot rod craze was also sweeping the country.
"The automotive industry was really booming in 1955 and the hot-rod phenomenon was moving east," he said. "Teenagers wanted a hot rod, which to me was a 1928 to 1934 roadster without fenders and with a modified flathead engine. It was also a booming time for customs-cars whose bodies were significantly modified, probably lowered, with crazy paint jobs.
"Nobody had much money back then, so we did most of the work ourselves. We all learned how to do things like take the chrome off and fill the holes with lead to make a 'smoothie.' Engines were also easier to work on since there were no computers and components were simple, even with the new overhead valve engines."
Food Lion AutoFair is the nation's largest automotive extravaganza. The four-day event includes a car show featuring various makes and models from more than 50 clubs, thousands of parts and memorabilia vendors and a collector car auction conducted by Tom Mack. A car corral, located on the 1.5-mile superspeedway, features nearly 2,000 vehicles of all makes and models that are available for sale or trade.
Food Lion AutoFair hours are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Thursday through Saturday, and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., on Sunday. Tickets are $10 for adults. Children under 12 are admitted free when accompanied by an adult. Parking for the event is $5.
Contact the Charlotte Motor Speedway events department at 704-455-3205 or visit www.charlottemotorspeedway.com for additional information.