The end of the 1950s was one of major
transition at General Motors, and no division reflected those changes
more than Chevrolet. From 1955 to 1957, the "hot ones" had ruled the
roost, topping off two of those three years as America's best selling
car, and coming so close to first in the third year that many consider
the race a virtual tie with Ford. 1958 saw a totally new Chevrolet, new
chassis, new sheet metal, new engine choices, and one-year only styling
that came and went.
design standards were set, with most all General Motors full-size
passenger cars being placed into two basic envelopes. Chevrolet,
Pontiac, and some models of Oldsmobile and Buick, were to share basic
body envelopes, which led to some radical and interesting restyling for
most GM models.
The 1958 models had smooth rounded lines,
but 1959 brought a mix of rounded and sharp lines dominated by the huge,
flattened tailfins, wide expanses of aluminum and stainless steel, and
decorated at the rear with giant "cat-eye" taillights.
Despite the radical new styling that year, Chevrolet did manage to
maintain (barely) its sales leadership over Ford. Even so, Chevy knew
the styling was too much and before the new 1959 Chevrolet hit the
showroom floor, the studio was busy toning things down a bit while
retaining the same basic body shell. The front end with its faux-scoops
and a very busy grille and the rear, with its deeply caved in rear
quarter panels were lightened up a bit. Two (Biscayne and Bel Air) or
four (Impala) taillights and two back-up lights replaced the giant red
plastic lenses from 1959 giving the car a somewhat more conservative
There were a couple design elements of the 1959-1960 Chevrolet that
worked well. The interior, especially on the upscale Impalas, were quite
attractive. Patterned after the Corvette, the instrument cluster and
passenger side dash pods managed to evoke the sporty look of America's
only real sports car. New, airy (vista) rooflines that featured lots of
glass looked especially nice on the 2-doors and allowed a commanding
|Style and power were
in for America, and it was reflected in the over the top styling in
Chevy's '59 lineup, which looked like nothing that came before.
One area where these Chevys didn't have any design controversy was under
the hood. Standard in all models was the tried and true in-line six.
Whether you called it the "Blue Flame-6" or the more affectionate
"Stove-Bolt-6", it was a design that had held up for nearly 30 years by
the time these cars came to market, and would be around for many years
afterwards. However, for collectors, the six is usually a big minus.
More customers of the day, as well as collectors of today, wanted V8
The base V8 both years was
the Turbo-Fire 283. Equipped with a single two-barrel carburetor, it had
a 8.5:1 compression ratio, and was rated at a modest 185hp. This engine
was also available with a four-barrel and dual exhausts which bumped the
horsepower rating to 230. Fuel injection systems were also available on
the 283 and served up either 250 or 290 horses. Several choices of
automatics or standard shift three-speed transmissions could be obtained
for the base engine, while the fuel- injected versions also had the
option of a four-speed.
Introduced in 1958, the big-block
"Turbo-Thrust" 348 V8 came in several different power ratings. The base
four-barrel belted out 250 horses, while a tri-power (three two-barrel
carbs), was rated at 280hp. A "Special Turbo-Thrust" 348 featured high
compression heads and a single four barrel and was rated at an even 300
horsepower. The ultimate 348 used a tri-power set-up and was rated at a
whopping 315 horses. With the exception of the last engine, most
transmission choices were available across the board, with the largest
big block limited to three-speed standard, close-ratio, or four-speed
For 1960 Chevrolet
engines were about the same except that the fuel-injection system was no
longer available from the factory on passenger cars. This year's Special
Turbo Thrust 348 was given a compression boost to 11.25:1, which
increased the power rating to 335 horses.
In both years, the full-size Chevrolet was offered in three basic trim
levels, or series. The base models were assigned to the Biscayne series,
marketing two and four door sedans, as well as very rare "utility
sedan", a two-door model with no rear seat and fixed quarter windows. In
1960 an even cheaper version of the Biscayne was offered, the
Fleetmaster, designed for taxi cabs, police cars, and sales
Moving up the line
was the Bel Air which offered two and four door sedans, and a four- door
hardtop in 1959, adding a two-door Sport hardtop for 1960. The Impala
line carried a four- door sedan, two and four door hardtops, and a
convertible. Station wagons were marketed in all three series with the
Brookwood assigned to Biscayne trim level, Kingswood and Parkwood
assigned to Bel Air, and Nomad reserved for the Impala.
|Chevy toned things
down a bit for 1960, and this was the last year for the fins.
These cars survived in good numbers due
to their general durability and their early recognition as being
somewhat different from Chevy's traditional balanced styling. As
expected, when equipped with a big-block 348, values can jump 30-45%
over the small block cars.
Chevrolet marketed and profited well from sales of options and
accessories, which were very desirable during the period and today add
to the value of these cars. Most sought after are original factory
convenience items like power-windows and seats, factory air
conditioning, and deluxe appointments. Exterior trim items like factory
issued continental spare tire kits, fender skirts, spotlights, rear deck
antennas and other typical add-ons can add to the overall value of a
car, as well as to the enjoyment of showing off your car.
Get The Right One
Like most any collector car there are a couple areas of to be aware of.
Rust-out is a major concern, especially near the windshield posts and
cowl areas where water and moisture can become trapped and eventually go
through the metal creating its own drainage system. Also look for this
condition around the rear window. Repairing original sheet metal and
getting the contours properly aligned can be a difficult job, so check
for past collision damage and allow for a lot of labor for body work.
While many reproduction and restoration items are available for the
top-line Impala series, Bel Air and Biscayne fans, as well as those of
the station wagons, will have to look for original new-old-stock parts
to make their cars new again.
One of the biggest drawbacks to
authenticating a Chevrolet is trying to figure out which engine came in
the cars from the factory. The serial numbers in these years only
identified the car to the extent that it was either a six or a V8, but
did not show the actual engine selections.
The '59 dash
(shown here) changed little for 1960.
For 1959, Chevy used a ten-digit ID that
reflected the series and engine class with a single letter, year model
with two digits, showed the assembly plant with a single letter, and
unit sequence numbers starting with 100001 at each plant. In 1960
Chevrolet switched to a 12-digit ID that reflected the model year with a
single number, the engine and series with two numbers, the body style
with two more numbers, the assembly plant with a single letter, and the
unit sequence as in 1959. If you have an interest in these cars,
learning these simple codes is a must.
While not considered a muscle car, when
equipped with the big-block 348 Turbo Thrust V8 in any dress, these cars
had more than enough "go-power". This, coupled with their unique
styling, has enabled these models to enjoy a steady increase in value
over the past several years and will undoubtedly serve it well in the
future. While customized or modified versions of these vehicle
have some intrinsic value, the real appreciation potential is in the
- end -
This profile first appeared in the September 2000 issue of Collector Car & Truck Market Guide