Although recognized as an icon today, the 1957 line of Chevrolet standard sized cars got left in the popularity and newness dust by both rivals Ford and Plymouth. The remarkably upright and befinned Bel-Airs and below saw themselves trying to peddle modest virtues and technological updates compared to time-traveling Plymouths and Fancier Fords.
Of course, this didn’t sit well with USA-1, as they found themselves in the #2 spot by the end of the year, nor did it make General Motors feel comfortable about any upsurge with rivals. What to do? Bulk up your bargain offering for the next season. American consumers tend to associate value with bulk, what possibly could go wrong?
General Motors, having the resources, was able to put a new frame, new suspension and a fully new body underneath their 1958 Chevrolet offerings. Larger in just about every dimension, they grew to a bulk formerly associated with junior Buicks only a decade before.
Ever so slightly lower, longer and wider, when they were planned in 1955-56, they had no awareness that their main rivals would grab Googie details by the dozen and crowd America’s streets with interstellar dreams and marketing terms never to be found in any edition of Merriam-Webster.
The 1958 Chevrolet was decidedly more glamorous, but it also wore the costume jewelry face that spread like bacteria throughout the General Motors line. It had an uncanny resemblance to Cadillac offerings of the same year. Indeed, the rather juicy hirsute bulk common with Harvey Earl lead general motors efforts found itself swimming counter to trimmer trends espoused by Detroit rivals, nevermind the drifting of some Foreign design.
The starting to be stale design languaged cloaked an ever more sophisticated Chevrolet, however, with options a plenty. Fuel Injection still sat as an option upon the most muscular of the Mighty Mouse small block V8s, as the new Big Block 348 V8 became an option.
Both the Powerglide and a struggling to improve Turboglide Automatic backed the variety of engines. All of this was strapped to a new cruciform X-frame that either suspended 4 coil springs or 4 Level-Air Air Springs for an ever softer ride.
It should come as no surprise in America that folks took to the bigger is better Chevrolet to the tune of just over a Million examples, re-establishing the assured confidence General Motors expected of its volume brand. With the ability to cast the cars as miserly appliances such as our mid grade Biscayne Sedan to near-luxury coupes like the Impala set the trend of spreading the special sauce to a broader spectrum of the American Automotive market.
It foretold the future of all Big 3 entry level brands; through careful selection, the decline of more premium offerings accelerated at the end of the 1950’s. Why go to a different store when all of your favorite flavors are in one store, on one set of shelves?
The 1958 Chevrolet started the one-stop shopping we’ve learned to love, for better or worse, to this day nearly 60 years later.