After seeing the above crash test video from the IIHS comparing the ‘59 Chevrolet to the new ‘09 Chevrolet Malibu, I was shocked to say the least. Say what you want, but automobile safety has come a long way! However, on the other hand, seeing the ‘59 really sends me back to that year, the styles and the pizzazz that so many cars from that era seemingly possess. Let’s take a closer look at Chevrolet for that year.
With many of the Chevrolet’s assembled in the Tarrytown plant we see above, it was a decade of style, of Earl and a rapidly see-saw race between Chevy and Ford to see who could win the annual auto production race.
Two inches longer than the ‘58 model according to Popular Science in November of 1958, the style of the ‘59 is amazing. Said the magazine:
The Chevrolet is positively startling in appearance…establishes a new high in daring styling….
The opinion of the styling by regular consumers was pretty much all over the map. Some liked it, some didn’t. A high percentage really didn’t seem to like the excessive length the cars had grown to, nor did they like the fins! They actually said the everyday use of the car and the styling made it hard to get out of, to see and I have yet to mention the abysmal quality that many of them reported.
A lot of the folks quoted in the popular magazine such as Popular Mechanics actually said they were going to buy a foreign car such as Volkswagen because the automobiles coming from Detroit really didn’t seem to make much sense!
Regardless of how they felt, sales figures for the ‘59’s were impressive with Chevrolet topping Ford by just a shade over 71,000 vehicles. According to the Jan. 1960 Popular Mechanics, the sales were:
Chevrolet: 1,471, 071
Ford: 1,394, 684
The fact remains that the ‘59s, and in particular the Chevrolet models were the last twilights of the excessive designs that the automobile makers had become associated with. The upcoming ‘60s would reflect the change back to a more muted design and the first shuddering of the industry as foreign competition began to heat up!
I’ve assembled some good links below, particularly to the primary source material from the years we’ve spoken about. There is also some good sites for general information on the design and building of the ‘59 Chevrolet. Take a look at the Google Life Archive noted in the sources…there are truly some amazing photos!
Have a great day!
Chevrolet—>Jim’s 59 (Excellent automobile details)
Chevys59.com (Good Background Information!)