While the ’57 Chevrolet got songs written about it and appears at every car show ever produced, the ’58 is a rare sighting at a show. What happened? After all the ‘58s were a totally new car with an available big block for the first time ever and pushed more luxury into the mainstream than ever.
Reacting to Chrysler’s “Forward Look” cars of the time Chevrolet had planned for all-new cars to hit the market in 1957 but production delays and other difficulties pushed these back so Ed Cole, design chief of Chevrolet at the time, dictated a number of changes to the existing platform and pushed the radical new models forward a year to 1958.
When they hit the market a number of external factors influenced sales including a big recession in 1958 dropping sales from 1.5 to 1.2 million. But these were all-new cars (mostly) so Ford’s warmed-over ’57 models sold fewer than a million giving Chevy the crown for ’58.
At the time these were a significant departure from their predecessor. They were almost 150 pounds heavier with a longer wheelbase and almost 10” more length plus almost four inches more width. Underneath was a new x-type frame that allowed the cars to sit lower without reducing interior space so the greater actual width plus lower overall height made these cars look really low and wide - a statement that would continue in car design for many years to come.
Another big development was the first availability of a big block V8 under the hood - the 348. While most might opt for the returning Blue Flame 6 or 283 “Turbo-Fire” V8 the “Turbo-Thrust” 348cid V8 was at the top of the line giving this big, heavy car even more optional gusto. Oh, and you could also get fuel injection, although not many did. With the right options and combinations of engines and features you could roll out the door with a 1958 Chevy sporting some 290 horsepower.
The entire stable of cars at GM was new in ’58 and Oldsmobiles, Buicks and Pontiacs suffered from extraordinary amounts of chrome styling details which looked particularly gaudy, even compared to the Chryslers they were competing with that sported giant fins and huge curves.
Chevrolet also started to create more luxurious models within their line which prompted the designation of their cars as “baby Cadillacs.” Not far from the truth, actually.
The Bel Air Impala was now at the top of the line, available as a two-door hardtop and convertible only with exclusive trim such as an air vent over the rear window along with simulated air vents on the rear quarter panels, six taillampsand tri-tone interiors. Baby Cadillac indeed!
Instead of numeric designations the lower models also got names with the mid-level trim being called Biscayne and the most affordable being the Delray.
Wagons had their own designations with Nomad representing the top of the line but this time in the form of a four-door traditional wagon rather than the unique model in the past. Down line models were Brookwood and then Yeoman (yo, man!) models. Much different indeed from the previous tri-five Chevrolet Nomad.
But Chrysler was still wowing people with their styling so the 1958s were one-year only models. In ’59 GM went even lower in height with more radical to counter the competition and it worked. For collectors, the ’58 is a unique car that is a hit with some but not as popular as the 1957 counterparts.