As the 1950s drew to a close, the American automobile industry had reached a fever-pitch. Designers from Ford, GM and Chrysler were constantly trying to out-do one another with ever more flamboyant style, their Jet Age and Space Race inspiration realized in the form of rocket-like tail lights, huge fins, and highly stylized flashes of chrome. The competition had become so fierce that styling was being heavily reworked for every model year. It is difficult to imagine in today’s world of indistinguishable, homogeneous cars that manufacturers would invest in retooling every single year for a new model.
It can be argued that under the guidance of Harley Earl, GM led the way in terms of style through the decade. Chevrolet’s 55, 56 and 57 Bel Air become icons of the period and still feature heavily in pop culture references to the era. In spite of the iconic stature these cars enjoy today, it was in fact Ford that was the sales leader in 1957 and Chevrolet did not take kindly to being knocked from the top spot. So for 1958, Chevrolet completely redesigned their passenger cars with an all new look, where the slab sides of previous models were replaced with a quad-headlamp face, deeply scalloped quarter panels in the rear, subtle “eyebrows” that flowed into the front fenders and a longer, lower and wider stance. The Bel Air range was enhanced by the addition of a new trim level: Impala. The Bel Air Impala sat atop the Chevrolet lineup and was the sportiest and best equipped model available. Offered only as a hardtop or convertible, the 2-door Impala was loaded with style and equipment. From the A-pillars back, the exterior sheetmetal differed from lesser models and the Impala was recognizable by its triple-taillight arrangement. The new X-frame chassis design allowed for a lower passenger compartment and sleek roofline. Power came from various versions of the smallblock 283 cubic inch V8 (ratings from 185hp to 290hp) or the big 348 cubic inch W-block V8, with versions producing between 250 and 315 horsepower. The Impala and its lesser-equipped siblings helped to reestablish Chevrolet’s dominance in the segment and launched a nameplate that would serve as the brand’s performance and luxury leader for many years to come.
Our featured 1958 Bel Air Impala convertible is an outstanding example of this iconic and highly desirable classic Chevrolet. Finished in beautiful Glen Green over a multi-tone green interior it is simply stunning from top to bottom. This Impala is a very highly optioned example, featuring power steering, power windows, continental kit, power top, and certainly not least – the 348 V8 with Tri-power induction. It has been further enhanced with 4 wheel power disc brakes and a high-quality Vintage Air A/C system that is both reliable and very efficient.
The quality of the restoration on this car is exceptional. Bodywork is beautifully straight with panel fit and detailing executed to a “better than factory” standard. The factory correct Glen Green paint is a wonderful match for the Harley Earl styling – a fabulously flamboyant shade from an era when designers weren’t trapped in grayscale. It rides on factory steel wheels with “spinner” wheel covers and bias-ply tires for the correct look and handling.
One of the most costly areas to restore on a 50’s American cruiser like this is the chrome and stainless brightwork. Judging by the quality and fit on our feature car, it is safe to assume a princely sum was spent ensuring the flash was up to original standards. The bright trim carries over to the interior which has also been beautifully restored using correct and original-type materials. Again, we marvel at the colors which are bold and daring, yet without being garish. The darker aqua green of the dash, door panels and seats complements the Glen Green exterior brilliantly, with gray, silver and green seat inserts tying the two colors together. From a design standpoint, it is a wonderful thing to behold. The dash is dominated by a flash of patterned alloy trim, and all switchgear works brilliantly. A wonderful oval clock is fitted to the passenger side and the Vintage Air A/C console blends unobtrusively under the dash. Carpets and door panels are excellent and up to the high standard of the rest of this fine car.
Under the big hood is a very well-detailed 348 cubic inch Tri-Power V8. Chevy engine orange, correctly detailed carburetors, air cleaner and oil breather decals, and very high quality finishing on the sheetmetal define this as a beautiful, yet functional car that is meant to be driven. While the modern Sanden A/C compressor and compact brake booster are not concours correct items, they enhance drivability and are presented in a concours-level of cleanliness.
While this outstanding 1958 Impala is finished to a standard worthy of show and mid-level concours, it is how it performs on the road that makes it truly shine. We enjoyed nearly 1000 miles of cruising with this car and it performed flawlessly – remaining solid, tight and totally reliable, with every feature working as it should. Top down cruising in a 1950’s American convertible is an experience like no other and we can’t think of a better car to enjoy that sensation than this outstanding 1958 Impala.