MotorCities National Heritage Area
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By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images Courtesy of Robert Tate's Collection
Published 08.22.2018

1959 Chevrolet ad illustration 1 Tate Collection1959 Chevrolet ad illustration (Robert Tate Collection)

 

The American automotive industry had a fantastic sales year in 1959. It was a year that was highlighted by the late Dinah Shore and Pat Boone introducing the all-new 1959 Chevrolets in television advertising. It was also a year that Rock and Roll music continued to rise in popularity, with Frankie Avalon’s hit song “Venus” starting a long run on the music charts in May.

 

1959 Chevrolet 10 Tate Collection RESIZED1959 Chevrolet Biscayne ad illustration (Robert Tate Collection) 

The new 1959 Chevrolet models were introduced to the public during the fall in 1958. During the launch of the new models, many consumers had a mixed reaction to the 1959 Chevrolets. Some Americans thought perhaps that the styling was just too radical. Most of the criticism was directed at the rear end design, with some automotive historians saying that the cats-eye taillight design was memorable. The taillight design was drawn up by GM designer Bob Cadaret.

1959 Chevrolet ad illustration Tate Collection1959 Chevrolet ad illustration (Robert Tate Collection) 

The 1959 Chevrolets were in direct competition with the all-new 1959 Fords. Both companies were competing to finish number one in sales for the 1959 model year. The styling of the 1959 Chevrolet models was a total departure from the previous year. In 1958, the all- new Chevrolet Impala was a popular car with the buying public, as consumers enjoyed the fresh styling. The 1959 model year ended with Chevy producing 1,428,962 units for the consumer market.

I remember as a young child during the late 1960s looking at 1959 Chevrolets parked on many Detroit city streets. By 1966, as the 1959 Chevrolet models aged, corrosion created a huge problem for older automobiles in Michigan.

 

1959 Chevrolet Biscayne Tate Collection RESIZED1959 Chevrolet Biscayne print advertisement (Robert Tate Collection) 

In 1959, Chevrolet dropped the Delray nameplate, and the Biscayne became the new low-price model.  The Bel Air series, which had been the top of the line nameplate since 1953, was now the middle-range series, and the Impala, which had been a sub-series in the Bel Air line in 1958, was now the top of the line model for Chevrolet.

1959 Chevrolet ad Tate Collection1959 Chevrolet ad illustration (Robert Tate Collection) 

General Motors introduced a new roof line design for Chevrolet in 1959. The overhanging rear roof design was called the Impala Sport Sedan. The model offered distinctive styling with a huge wrap-around rear window along and the overhanging roof design on the hardtop models. This popular roof design was also used on the Buick, Cadillac, Oldsmobile and Pontiac models for 1959 as well.

From front to back, the 1959 Chevrolet models resembled nothing else on the road; they were totally different designed cars. The most expensive 1959 Chevrolet model was the Nomad 6-passenger 4-door wagon with a price tag of $3,009. Other wagons in Chevrolet's lineup that year were the Parkwood and Brookwood nameplates.

 

1959 Chevrolet El Camino 6 Tate Collection RESIZED1959 Chevrolet El Camino (Robert Tate Collection) 

The Chevy El Camino was a totally new vehicle for 1959. It sold very well and became very popular among farmers. The El Camino also became an immediate hit for consumers who wanted a pickup-style truck with automotive style and performance features. Some automotive historians have said the 1959 Chevrolet El Camino was the answer and competitor for Ford's Ranchero model that was introduced in 1957. Some people called it a sleek passenger-style pickup.

In conclusion, the 1959 Chevrolet models were very popular among consumers. Michael Lamm and Dave Holls, the authors of A Century of Automotive Style, said this about the 1959 General Motors designs: “Several interesting sidelights on the 1959 body program: in their frenzy to come up with a new and different look, nothing seemed too bizarre to warrant serious consideration. In fact, any designer who couldn't produce ever-wider ideas risked losing his job.”  

 

Today, the 1959 Chevrolet Impala Convertible has become a true collectors model, and prices are not cheap.

 

 

Bibliography

Dammann, George H. “Sixty Years of Chevrolet.” 1972.

 

Langworth, Richard M. “Encyclopedia of American Cars 1930-1980.” 1984.

 

Lamm, Michael & Holls, Dave. “A Century of Automotive Style 100 years of American Car Design.” 1996.