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The Golden 1955 Chevy

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GM Scene Magazine®

50 Millionth General Motors Car

In the world of iconic Tri-Five Chevys, the tale of the Golden ‘55 unfolds in the early 1950s, an era when General Motors reigned supreme as the world’s largest industrial enterprise. This elusive auto takes the form of a gleaming 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air Sport Coupe, bathed in a resplendent coat of gold. This extraordinary vehicle, however, was not a mere flight of fancy – it was a reality, born out of General Motors’ triumphant celebration of producing its 50 millionth car.

It was a crisp November day in 1954, and the city of Flint, Michigan, birthplace of GM, was abuzz with anticipation. The Golden CARnival, a mile-long parade, unfolded with grandeur, featuring nine brass bands, 18 floats, and a procession of 72 remarkable GM vehicles. The star of this automotive spectacle was a one-of-a-kind golden 1955 Chevy Bel Air, the 50-millionth production car crafted by General Motors.

As the vehicle rolled off the assembly line just an hour before the parade, the city paused – schools closed, and traffic came to a halt. Harlow Curtice, the president of GM, bestowed his blessings on this golden marvel as its body was lowered onto a chassis bathed in gold. Every conceivable exterior and interior trim piece, from bumpers to badges, was meticulously plated in 24-carat gold, creating an automobile that was nothing short of a rolling work of art.

Little did the spectators know that this Golden ‘55 was just one of three distinct siblings. The first, assembled a month before the parade, took center stage in promotional photos and Motorama shows before finding a home with a fortunate buyer. The second, featured in a GM film titled “Achievement U.S.A.,” vanished without a trace, leaving its whereabouts shrouded in mystery. The third, the actual 50-millionth car, paraded through Flint with pride but ultimately faded into obscurity.

Decades later, the quest for these elusive golden Chevys would unfold, sparked by a call to Joe Whitaker of Real Deal Steel. The caller possessed a pair of Trico gold wiper arms and blades, adorned with a corporate shop order that confirmed their connection to the 50-millionth GM car. Joe’s social media post of these artifacts led to a revelation – there were not one, but three golden ‘55 Chevys.

The first of these legendary cars, traced to North Carolina, met a tragic fate in a garage fire in 1996. Burned and scattered, its remains became a testament to the ephemeral nature of automotive glory. Yet, out of the ashes emerged an audacious plan – to resurrect the spirit of the 50-millionth car through a painstakingly crafted tribute.

In the year 2024, the tribute car took its place in the limelight, a dazzling recreation born from the collaboration of Real Deal Steel, Snodgrass Chevy Restoration, and a cadre of restoration industry suppliers. This Golden ‘55 was not a mere reproduction; it was a meticulous reconstruction, marrying reproduction parts with carefully sourced components.

Golden Star Classic Auto Parts supplied the sheet metal, creating a foundation for the resurrection of the iconic body. Shafer’s Classic Reproductions contributed brake lines, fuel lines, exhaust components, and other vital engine compartment elements. American Autowire brought life to the wiring system, ensuring the car’s internal organs pulsed with authenticity. Auto City Classic provided the glass and chrome metal frames, while Gene Smith Parts added the finishing touches with the grille and other chrome adornments.

The crowning achievement of this resurrection lay in the hands of Snodgrass Chevy Restoration, a team that invested over 1,800 hours in meticulously assembling, fitting, and painting the tribute Bel Air. Every detail, from the radiant gold paint to the 24-karat gold-plated trim, was a testament to the commitment of these craftsmen.

The journey to recreate the Golden ‘55 unveiled unexpected twists in the tale. The discovery that there were, in fact, three golden ‘55 Chevys added a layer of complexity to the narrative. The first, known as the Motorama car, served promotional purposes with its custom paint and gold-plated embellishments. The second, created for a film, vanished into the annals of history. The third, the true 50-millionth car, rolled off the assembly line on that momentous day in 1954.

However, the lack of GM documentation on these elusive cars left the trail cold. Archivists collaborated with Joe and his team, but the consensus leaned toward the North Carolina car being the first, the second disappearing, and the third evaporating into the unknown.

In crafting the tribute car, the team meticulously followed the history of the actual 50-millionth car, leveraging the expertise of restoration enthusiasts like Steve Blades, who contributed date-coded parts from his collection. The result was not just a replication but a work of automotive art that surpassed the mass-produced originals of the 1950s.

The attention to detail in recreating the gold paint, using a custom Axalta mix, underscored the commitment to authenticity. Five coats of basecoat, four coats of clear, and hours of wet sanding and buffing transformed the Bel Air into a radiant embodiment of its liquid gold, each gallon costing a staggering $5,000.

The pièce de résistance, however, lay in the more than 600 pieces of trim, handles, switches, nuts, bolts, and screws meticulously plated in 24-karat gold. Omar Asad, a Southern California Chevy enthusiast with a gold-plating operation, dedicated three weeks of twelve-hour days to apply the beautiful finish.

As the tribute car emerged from the restoration cocoon, its golden sheen captured the essence of a bygone era. Every nuance, from the recreated radiator support to the swing-arm oil pickup, spoke of a commitment to authenticity that bordered on reverence for automotive history.

The debut of this resplendent tribute car at the 2024 Detroit AutoRama marked a moment of triumph. The Golden ‘55, once lost to time, now stood as a symbol of perseverance, craftsmanship, and a love for the golden age of American automobiles.

Yet, the journey was not without its share of poignant moments. The original golden ‘55s remained shrouded in mystery and loss. The first, a victim of fire, scattered in ashes; the second, a cinematic star, faded into obscurity; and the third, the true 50-millionth car, slipped through the cracks of history.

As the tribute car took its place in the automotive spotlight, the hope emerged that it would find a permanent home in institutions like the GM Heritage Center, the Henry Ford Museum, or the Sloan Museum of Discovery. The ultimate goal was for this golden resurrection to be seen, admired, and cherished by generations to come.

In a world where cars are often seen as mere modes of transportation, the Golden ‘55 Chevy Bel Air Sport Coupe stood as a testament to the magic woven into the fabric of automotive history. It wasn’t just a car; it was a golden symphony, echoing the grandeur of a bygone era. As enthusiasts marveled at its radiant presence, they couldn’t help but feel a connection to a time when automobiles were more than machines – they were icons of an age defined by innovation, celebration, and the timeless allure of the open road.

  • NOTE: This car sold at Mecum Auction in May of 2024 for $395,000
GM Scene Magazine®