Revamped Impala cruises in style

BY Larry D'Argis. May 26 03:00 am

In 1958, Chevrolet showrooms were humming. New from the ground up, the ’58 Chevy featured a low-slung X-member safety girder chassis with coil spring suspension on all four corners. Wheelbase increased by 2.5 inches to 117.5 inches and the overall length grew by a whopping nine inches. The ’58 models were also five inches lower than the ’57 versions.

Styling cues borrowed from past General Motors show cars appeared, including dual headlamps and sculptured gull-wing rear fenders sporting bullet tail lamps. Sales literature lauded the new ’58 Chevrolet with its “low thrusting silhouette” as “beautifully moving.” New model names Delray and Biscayne replaced the familiar One-Fifty and Two-Ten series, with the popular Bel Air returning, yet slipping from its top billing spot, now occupied by the posh new Impala.

An exclusive model marked by a distinctive badge, the Impala was more than a trim option and it differed structurally from other garden variety Chevrolets. Available in only two body styles, convertible and sport coupe — the sport coupe had a slightly shorter roof and longer rear deck, distinguishing it from the Bel Air hardtops. Chrome rocker mouldings and dummy rear fender scoops were added to give the quarter panels a unique look. Longer, lower and wider, the new Chevy was also 200 to 300 pounds heavier, but with a look that was downright luxurious for a car in the low-price field. Inside the passenger compartment there was room for six, with tri-tone fabric and vinyl upholstery, rich carpeting and a full-function instrument panel with easy-to-reach controls.

More good news could be found under the ’58’s long, flat hood. The 145-horsepower, 235.5 cubic-inch, six-cylinder was available as the base engine with the venerable 283 V-8 two-barrel and four-barrel coming in with 185 and 230 horsepower, respectively. For those with a yen for even more performance, Chevrolet’s new optional “W” head 348 cubic-inch Turbo-Thrust V-8 was available in 250, 280 and 315 horsepower states of tune.

After Arthur Adam of Steinbach sold his vintage 1956 Monarch in 2006, he knew just what he wanted as a classic replacement.

“I was trying to find a Impala convertible I had seen years before,” says Adam.

What he found was that same ’58 convertible he looked at years before had been purchased by a friend in Swan River. After speaking with the owner, Adam found the car was for sale, but the price was a bit high.

“I planted the seed that I was interested and the following spring he let the car go for what I had offered,” Adam says

Nicely optioned including power steering, power brakes, dual side-view mirrors, windshield washers, AM radio with rear speaker, tinted glass, electric windshield wipers, red/black and silver deluxe upholstery, tissue dispenser, continental rear spare tire, it was a great-looking cruiser.

Powering the Impala is the 283-cubic-inch, Turbo Fire V-8. Equipped with a Rochester four-barrel carburetor and dual exhaust system, it produces 230 horsepower at 4,800 r.p.m. Backing the V-8 was the two-speed Powerglide automatic transmission leading to a 3.08:1 final drive ratio rear axle.

The gloss-black beauty was a great driver, but Adam wanted to take it to the next level and had the car totally restored from end to end. To upgrade the powertrain, a new 350-cubic-inch V-8 from GM performance was paired with a three-speed Turbo 350 automatic transmission. The upgrade included electronic ignition and exhaust headers, leading to a full custom dual exhaust system. Adam had the original numbers-matching powertrain put in storage in case there was a desire to return the car to factory condition.

A new white convertible top joined the all-new interior upholstery and the body was repainted in the original Onyx Black paint finish. Rolling down the road in style included a new set of wheels. Adam installed 17-inch polished Riddler wheels shod with Firestone 50-series performance radial tires. There’s also a new AM/FM/CD player hidden in the glovebox to take care of the tunes on the road.

With the restoration completed, “driving the car now makes you feel like a king,” Adam says. He and his wife, Edith, like to use the car as an actual cruiser when the weather is great and they like to hit the road for local and long-distance cruises.

The 1958 Chevrolet is a true representation of the later ’50s fin and chrome era. Another detail is the single-year styling. Generally, cars from the ’50s followed a two-or-three-year styling cycle with modest updates in subsequent years, yet Chevrolet switched to a somewhat radical bat-wing finned model for ’59, leaving the ’58 as a stand-alone classic.

Impala convertible production for ’58 was 55,989 convertibles and 125,480 Sport Coupe models. Impressive numbers for a model in its first year, the Impala name would go on to be almost synonymous with Chevrolet and serve as a marketing success for many years.

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