Thursday, October 29, 2015

1958 Chevrolet Impala Sport Coupé

"Newest heartthrob in sight — the Impala Sport Coupe. Longer by over nine inches, lower by more than two, the Impala, like every '58 Chevy, wears the look of a car just naturally born for the road. Begin at its massive new grille and multiple roadlights . . . sweep your glance along its taut, sleek length. This is the newest — that's for sure!"

In light of the well-proportioned 1955 - 1957 Chevrolets, the design of their successor seems like an odd deviation from a winning formula. Yet, when the development of the 1958 models began in mid 1955, nobody knew that the just introduced Tri-Five Chevys would once become a Fifties classic. The forward-looking zeitgeist of the 1950s aroused rapid change rather than refinement, and thus, the divergent look of the 1958 lineup is the somewhat logical consequence of Harley Earls push for ever more glamour on all GM cars.

Especially Virgil Exner's stunning "Forward Look" Mopars of 1955 had surprised the GM designers which were used to be the undisputed trend setters in American automotive styling since the 1930s. Now, the competition began to catch up and overtake. Harley Earl's answer to the threat was simply more flash and more flamboyance. Thus came the 1958 model year, in which the previously decently styled GM models changed into heavy looking chrome monsters.

Although showing the most sedate design of all GM models for 1958, Chevrolet clearly aimed at the lower end of the luxury field with the new Impala. This was a daring move from GM's budget division, even if moving up was a general industry trend these days: Ford had just introduced the upscale Edsel brand with much fanfare and with the same goal. Edsel failed miserably, but the pudgy and pretentious 1958 Chevrolets reclaimed the perennial number one sales rank that Chevy had lost to Ford in 1957 with the very models that are today acclaimed icons of American car styling.

To make the Impala Coupe stand out in Chevrolet’s lineup, the designers under studio chief Clare MacKichan employed some interesting trickery. A shorter and tighter cabin effectively altered the car's proportions: the extended trunk and the lower roof, down by 1.4 inches (35mm), made the coupe appear much longer than the other 1958 Chevrolets, even if they shared the same wheelbase and overall length. Additional chrome trim, faux air scoops and six tail lights instead of four clearly showed you who was the boss in the economy class.

Fortunately, the hefty 1958 Chevrolets should last only one summer as GM's bean counters had anyway planned to set all GM models on a redesigned common platform with many more shared parts for 1959. This gave the GM stylists the opportunity to correct their styling mishap and, through subtle but definite insurrection against Harley Earl's design decree, develop much leaner looking shapes for the 1959 lineup. Read more about that here.

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