Everyone knows about the 1955 Chevrolet.
Its svelte all-new sheet metal, new small block V8 — the first modern V8 for the brand.
The advertising slogan described it as “the hot one” and freed Chevrolet from its dowdy image.
Over the decades it has become an iconic classic around the world.
While the folks at Chevrolet were loudly shouting out about their new car, the same was happening in America’s Plymouth dealerships.
They too had an all-new car.
It could be ordered with a V8 for the first time and boasted styling that was, as the advertisements described it: “Startling New” and a “For The Young in Heart.”
The new styling was part of an overall revamp of every Chrysler passenger car design.
It was called the “Forward Look” and its champion was Chrysler’s vice president of design Virgil Exner.
He was determined to establish Chrysler as style leaders across all market segments.
Plymouth was key to this aim.
It was the company’s biggest selling brand.
1955 Plymouth two-door.
Gone were the doughy, rounded shapes, stubby profiles and high roof lines — high enough that men could wear hats while driving — that had characterised successive Plymouths of the post war era.
These shapes had seen Plymouth fall from 3rd to 5th place in US car sales since 1951.
The new models had sleek lines, two-tone colours, loads of chrome trim and fins projecting from the rear fenders.
The brand’s fuddy-duddy image was well and truly blasted into outer space.
Exner did everything to make the cars longer and lower, physically and visually.
The changes meant the Plymouth was longer and wider than the Chevrolet.
The obligatory wrap around windscreen was featured, but Exner’s design ensured it left an unobstructed door opening.
Plymouth advertisements pushed hard that the new 260 cu.in/4.3 litre V8 was the most powerful in its class.
Inside, the driver was greeted with by a “Flight Deck”.
And get this, the PowerFlite automatic transmission was operated by a small lever — called the “Flight Control”— that protruded from the dashboard.
This set up lasted just one year before it was replaced by push buttons.
The American automobile industry set a sales record in 1955, shifting over 7 million units.
Plymouth sales were up 52 per cent from 1954, to 700,000 units and 4th place.
Buyers responded to Plymouth’s re-fresh.
Mind you, Chevrolet sold 1.7 million cars.
And that’s why the 1955 Plymouth has never enjoyed the same iconic status as the 1955 Chevrolet.
By the time the Chevy had become a cheap and cheerful third hand used car for teenage baby boomers in the early 1960s, there were just so many more of them around.
Plus, the small block Chevrolet V8 had become the darling of the aftermarket speed shops.
Affordable go-faster parts abounded.
But, for me, the ’55 Plymouth beats the Chevy for looks any time.
David Burrell is the editor of retroautos
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