Chevrolet first introduced the Corvette in 1953 during the post-war sports car boom. It was an optimistic time for the country, when anything seemed possible.
The first-year reviews, however, weren’t good. The car was called a “plastic bathtub” and was almost cut from the line. Chevrolet gave the car another chance, though, and as rock and roll music began catching on, the sporty, daring nature of the car did, too.
By 1958, the Corvette actually turned a fairly significant profit, for the first time. The car had gone through several changes by then, to somewhat “Americanize” its look, which had previously resembled a European race car. The bumpers were bracketed to the car’s frame in the conventional American style, for example.
It was popular at this time to design a car with four headlights, and the Corvette model quickly adopted this look. The car was said to have an “aggressive, almost mean” look. The ’58 model was physically larger, with an increased width and length, which also added nearly 100 pounds to its weight. The car’s performance suffered a bit because of this.
This performance issue was most important to those who had been racing Corvettes, but it was a timely change. The Automobile Manufacturers Association had issued an anti-racing policy recently. The Corvette was no longer promoted as a racing-level car. Instead, Chevrolet’s ads spoke of its “silken cyclone of a V-8 engine” and “a chassis that clings to the road like a stalking panther.”
In spite of this taming of the Corvette’s image, the fact remained that it could go from 0-60 mph in approximately 8 seconds and had been known to reach top speeds of 125 mph.
The interior of the car underwent a design change in ’58, placing all the major instruments in front of the driver so that they could be more easily and safely seen. Only the clock, heater controls and optional radio were placed on the center console.
A controversial interior addition was the “grab bar” for passengers to hold on to in case of higher speed. Many critics referred to it as a “sissy bar.”
The model shown in the photo has dual 4-barrel carburetors and a 4-speed manual transmission. Neither item was standard on the car and would have been available only as “extras.”The outward design had changed as well, in other ways besides the previously-mentioned bumpers. The hood sported what was called a “washboard” – a series of non-functional louvers placed there merely for design. The trunk had two chrome spears running the length of the panel. They came to be known for what they resembled – “suspenders.” The suspenders were not popular and only used on the ’58 model.
To add to the attention-getting appeal, the car’s paint was switched in ’58 from enamel to acrylic and lacquer.
At a $3591 base sticker price, the Corvette was considered a very good value, considering it was more than a match style-wise and performance-wise to its higher-priced, European competitors, the Jaguar and the Porsche.
Today, 1958 models needing major remodeling work sell for approximately $30,000 while a top-flight restored Corvette with original parts has been valued at $180,000.