GM’s 50 Millionth Gold Car Returns
The Golden 1955 Chevy Bel Air Sports Coupe

February, 2024

GM 50 millionth Golden Car

The Golden Touch

The year was 1954, Ike was in the White House, and a young upstart from Tupelo, Mississippi was blasting out “That’s All Right.”  Meanwhile in Detroit, GM realized a very special milestone was approaching that not only warranted a major celebration but was also a great marketing opportunity – the production of the company’s 50 millionth vehicle.

The car selected to represent the achievement was the newly designed 1955 Chevy Bel Air Sports Coupe*.   Although the Bel Air was the top-of-the-line Chevy model, the 50 millionth car needed to be extraordinary.  So, a directive came down from the “brass hats” that all the brightwork (every piece of the car that would normally be chrome or stainless steel) should be plated in 24 karat gold.  After all, this was a golden milestone for GM, so it was only fitting that this celebratory car receive the golden touch.

Gold Chevy On GM Assembly Line Golden Chevy Travels Down GM Assembly Line

GM Celebrates its 50 Millionth Car

In the mid-50s, many people in the Greater Detroit area were involved in automotive manufacturing in some way.  Because of this connection and GM’s extensive marketing leading up to the to the 50 millionth car, the stage was set for a major event.  On November 23, 1954, the 50 millionth GM car, the specially built Golden Chevy Bel Air, rolled off the assembly line and onto a parade float.  Crowds lined the streets of Flint Michigan to watch, not only because of GM’s success, but also because the Golden Car was a source of pride for the community.

After the parade, the car was placed in a convention hall and a grand dinner was held for dignitaries.  However, after all the fanfare, the car seemingly vanished, without a trace.   It remains a mystery to this day as to what happened to this golden Bel Air Sports Coupe.  Although there have been exhaustive searches by experts and the Tri-Five community at large, for now the original 50 millionth GM car is MIA.

Parade Home Town Parade in Flint, Michigan

Lost But Not Forgotten

When a car as significant as the 50 millionth Golden Car goes missing, it isn’t surprising that Chevy loyalists would eventually start thinking about recreating this piece of GM history.   One group of Tri-Five guys (“The Team”), who had been tossing the idea around for years, finally decided to pull the trigger.

Ahead of them would be hours of research to not only determine as many details about the 50 millionth car as possible, but also to source the most correct parts possible.  Snodgrass Chevy Restoration then used the information from this research to painstakingly create a worthy tribute to the GM’s iconic car, the 50 millionth Golden Car.   Here’s more on the how the Project started.

The Team:

Real-Deal Steel
Joe Whitaker – Auto Historian
Randy Irwin – Special Fabrication Work

Avid Tri-Five Enthusiast
Steve Blades – Parts and Promotional Work

Snodgrass Chevy Restoration  – Award-winning Chevy Restorations
Dave Snodgrass
Kenny Snodgrass
Mike Wisnewski

The Return of the Golden Car

Because of the abundance of parts available for the popular 1955 Chevy, creating one from scratch is usually not a problem, but the 50 millionth Golden Car wasn’t just any ’55 Bel Air. The priority for this Build, which required only the most accurate pieces possible, was to use New Old Stock (NOS) parts**.  If NOS parts weren’t available, original period-correct parts would be used.  If neither of these options were practicable, like the one-off interior, the items would be outsourced to a specialist in the field.  And for certain aspects of the Build, top-quality aftermarket products were used to enhance the finished project.

Research determined that the Golden Chevy was built at the start of the 1955 model year (November 1954).  Since there are differences in early ’55 Chevys and mid-year ’55s, the Golden Car needed the “early treatment.”  For example, the 265 V8 in the Golden Tribute car doesn’t have the later optional top-mounted oil filter.  Also, close attention was paid to replicating the early design features on the radiator supports, cable routing in the engine compartment, and the use of screws vs. spot welds to secure clips, all of which are unique features of the earlier ‘55s.

Another challenge was re-creating the paint color and upholstery color/design.  Since documentation on the one-off Golden Car is scarce, and when available, the photos are mostly in black and white, considerable time was spent researching the GM archives to get this right.

Of course, the most distinguished part of the car is all the gold trim.  Fortunately, The Team was able to find a specialist to gold plate the 300+ pieces, so that, just like the original, all the brightwork on this re-creation of the Golden Car is plated with 24 karat gold.

Adding to the uniqueness of this already extraordinary car are the many rare original parts used. These include four NOS parts that had been gold plated in 1954 for the Bel Air model – the two Chevy side emblems, the steering wheel center Chevy emblems, and the Bel Air script on the passenger side dash.   This Build also received a  period-correct engine/transmission, AC spark plugs, correct light bulbs for the gauges, and other similar hard-to-find original parts.

First Stop – Detroit

This is obviously the show car of show cars, so don’t expect it to spend much time on the streets.  Its first stop is the annual Detroit Autorama in early March, where a prominent display spot has already been reserved.  Then, it goes on a grand tour to other major auto shows where it is also expected to be the center of attraction.  Ultimately, the goal is to find a permanent home in a facility where it can be viewed by the public as a significant piece of automobile history.

In the following video, Mike Wisnewski of Snodgrass Chevy Restoration gives a walk around the recently completed 1955 Golden Chevy Tribute.

Because of the wide interest in the Golden Chevy Tribute, a new Facebook page has been created for this special car.  To join in the conversation on the car’s journey, follow this link and then click on the “Request to Join” button.

The Gold ’55 Chevy Trilogy

Tri-Five buffs may know that GM built multiple ’55 Chevys, referred to as “Gold Cars,” BITD. Here’s the background on all of GM’s Golden Cars.

Two Golden Cars Built Before the 50 Millionth Car

There were two ’55 Chevy 2-door Golden Sport Coupes built ahead of the 50 millionth Golden Car. One of the cars, which The Team calls the ‘’Motorama Car,” was used in promotional events leading up to the rollout of the actual 50 millionth car. It was also used later in the famed GM traveling Motorama shows. Unfortunately, this car was extensively damaged in a fire, and only a few charred parts remain. The other 2-door Sport Coupe, which The Team calls the “Movie Car,” was built and used by GM to create promotional video footage for the upcoming 50 millionth car celebration. Its location is unknown.

Golden Cars Sent to Dealers After the 50 Millionth Car

GM reportedly produced 5,000 of these “Gold Cars” to capitalize on the buzz created by the 50 millionth Chevy Gold Car celebration. These cars, which were provided to dealers after the 50 millionth Golden Car, were all 4-Door sedans, painted a gold color with regular chrome trim. Fortunately, a group of these 4-Door sedans have survived, as they are also historically important.

Why Build the 50 Millionth Tribute Car

At the center of this historical landmark event, the actual 50 Millionth GM Car, seemed unfairly absent and that is why The Team felt “…the tribute had to be built.”

* Production of the 1955 Chevys actually started in the third quarter of 1954, as is the common practice for automakers.
** New Old Stock parts are made in the time frame when the vehicle was built but remain in their original packaging, unused.  Some NOS parts still exist even for cars that are 69 years old, like the 1955 Chevy.  They are obviously extremely rare, but obtainable for a price.