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VINTAGRAPH • WPA • WWII • NORTH TUSCANY COAST, 1948

The New Chevrolet: 1957

The New Chevrolet: 1957

October 1957. "Assembly line with 1958 Chevrolets." 35mm Kodachrome by Phillip Harrington, one of 1,200 photos taken for the Look magazine assignment "GM's 50 Years of Men, Money and Motors." View full size.

 

The one year 1958

Dave, I too question the accuracy of the '57 being a last minute replacement. It would just not be possible on short notice to get all the tooling and parts in place, and the '57 was seriously different from the '56 - fenders, grille, bumpers, trim, it could not have been pulled together quickly.

The short life of the '58 model was likely due to Chrysler's new 'Forward Look' styling introduced in 1957. In fact it was Chrysler who dumped a whole design and moved ahead to what they had planned for a few years later. The '57 GM cars looked very stodgy compared to the long, low, yet light-looking Chrysler products. They looked like they could fly (almost). GM moved very quickly and probably left behind their 58 designs which might have been the basis of the next couple of model years at least.

Sort of a shame, the 58 Chevy was a really beautiful car.

Engines & Paint

The comment on the engines was incorrect, "235" is cu. in. Not horsepower, the same goes for the other two V8's also. Someone commented on '50's tricolor cars, GM did not do this, Chrysler Corp. was most apt to paint the three color schemes. My father bought a '58 BelAire, very nice car. 1958 Chevrolet was a 'one year only' design, must have cost them a fortune to produce this design for such a short time, they must have been making a TON of money in those days. Mr Mel sure had a beautiful Impala and girlfriend!
The first two cars are Sierra Gold and Desert Sand, I think. The top of the wagon is the same shade as the bottom. (not light blue)

Factory Tour

This takes me back as an 8-year-old in June/July ,1958, Flint Mich. where we were on vacation from Quebec visiting Dad's cousins. My father took me on a tour offered by GM of the Chevrolet assembly plant there and I was awed by the sight of bare frames to finished Impalas in 90 minutes, coming off the line every 90 seconds. That was the "high tech" of the era.

I also remember returning to Dad's 56 Chev after the tour in a downpour, only to find a flat tire.

Wow. A '58 Nomad.

The Nomad shown has a C-series paint code (two-tone, roof and lower molding area same color), in Cay Coral and Arctic White. We don't know if it's a V-8 (1800 series)or a 6 cylinder (1700 series), but we know it weighed roughly 3700 lbs and cost approx $2800 (factory price, BTW). It was produced in 11 different plants, so it's really impossible to tell if it's Tarrytown, NY or not - without seeing the VIN number, of course. There were 42 different combinations of engine-trans-carb you could order. The engines were the 6 cyl (235HP), a V-8 (283HP) and V-8(348HP). Trans were 3-speed, 4-speed, power glide, turbo-glide and overdrive. Carbs were 2 bbl, 4 bbl, and fuel injection - and the very rare engine that came with 3 two-barrel carbs. Those are pieces of wood on end for the floor. Here in Detroit, all of the old auto plants (the ones still standing anyway) have this flooring. I was just in the old Cadillac Stamping Plant in Detroit on Connor at Gratiot, and the floor is really amazing in itself. Almost 100 years of grease and oil have soaked into that floor. If the walls could talk.

[The wagon is a Brookwood, not a Nomad. -tterrace]

Rain test?

The first two vehicles are all wet, and maybe the third. The rest are too far out of focus to tell.

Is there some sort of "rain test" along the assembly line? Or did they just bring these cars in from a wet parking lot to stage this photo?

Color Error

I can recall tri-tone colors on the cars of the '50s, but I believe the 'turquoise' top on the wagon is actually white and colored by a film processing error. Note that the red paint surrounding the side windows is considerably bluer near the top.

[The red and blue appear come from strips of colored gel positioned a few inches in front of the lens, thus the soft edges - note the gradient on the cardboard carton. -tterrace]

That's possible, or the effect could have been added while making the print. It's a good rule in photography to get a clean image first and modify it in the darkroom - or these days, in the computer.

[This isn't a print, but a direct scan of the 35mm Kodachrome slide. -tterrace]

I stand corrected.

New For "58

Mr Mel, I had a Impala the same color as your convertible in '79 at the age of 17. Purchased from "the little white hair old lady" in Burbank for $400.00. 283, two barrel carb,oil bath air cleaner, a cast iron "Powerglide transmission. Sold it to a buddy for $200.00, still regret it to this day. A few months later I bought a '48 Oldsmobile "76 Dynamic Cruiser" for $700.00. But missed my '58 Impala.
I like all year Chevies and everybody has there favorites.
As the former owner of a '58 Olds "98" the Chevy was conservative. But this is what I love about Shorpy, these types of photos of a time that was, and never to be again.

PS... I'll drive off the line in that wagon right now. lol

Wood Block

Ford's Buffalo Stamping Plant in Buffalo, New York, also has a wood block floor. At least it did have when I retired, after 31 years, 2003.

57 vs 58

Well, I must be in the minority. I would sooo much more want a 1958 (especially the new Impala!) than a 1957. Yeah, the GM 58's were Harley Earl's swan song, but what a swan song. Almost baroque with detail, dripping chrome, lavish interiors.... the pinnacle of late 50's auto design to my eyes.I know Bill Mitchell's cars sold better, but to me, he didn't hit his stride until 1963.

[I agree with you about the '58. -tterrace]

Orange & turquoise

That station wagon would blend in perfectly at Howard Johnson.

Mine is green

I drive a two-tone green Brookwood wagon, like the orange and white one in the center of the photo. Its condition is not nearly that nice, but it behaves well enough for a 55 year old car.

The cobblestone floor

Is more likely wood block, common in auto plants of the era. By the way, I'll take the ragtop.

Hubcaps

The hubcaps were usually stored in the trunk until final delivery by the dealer. Could this have been an exception here just for the Look magazine photographer? There is a rack containing cardboard kick panels next to the station wagon. Seems a bit late in the line to be installing them. I hope you will post more photos from this series.

Wood floors

The floor is wood blocks placed on end so the grain shows and sealed. Kind of like industrial butcher block. I've seen it in WWII vintage factory floors. There is concrete under it.

Mr Mel aka Mr Lucky

I bought a new '58 Impala Convertible while I was still in the Army. It cost $2600. The downpayment was my '51 Chevy 4 door Deluxe. The payments were $72 monthly. My father made the payments until I came home and started making enough to handle them. He was one great guy. The attached a 1959 photo, is of my then new girlfriend and now my wife of 53 years, sitting on the boot covering the downed top.

Orange

Could the curious orange band at the top of the photo be a strip of gel placed in front of the lens to diminish the glare of the fluorescents?

Harley's folly

The 1958 GM line was the beginning of the end for Harley Earl. He had been the golden boy of the design department since the 20's, but the '58 models seemed proof that he had lost his mojo. By '59 he was gone, to be replaced by Bill Mitchell.

How I miss the days...

Back when cars had real color. The top, upper body, and lower body were all different, not to mention ample chrome accents to add even more eye appeal. Today's cars are monochromatic blobs. Even the bumpers are just part of the body, with the same color.

58 Chevy

I'd take anyone of those. I'm thinking the 1958 model (dual headlights) wasn't as desirable as the 1957 model but they still look awfully good.

North Tarrytown

Could this be the old GM assembly plant just north of New York City? The cobble stone floor indicates an older facility.

Classic!

I will take that first blue one.

Serendipity

This design was originally to have debuted in the '57 model year. When tooling problems surfaced, the '56 was hastily face-lifted and became the '57 model -- now venerated by many collectors as the most desirable Chevy ever -- while this design was pushed ahead to become the '58, a model generally held in much less aesthetic esteem.

[I question the accuracy of this narrative. - Dave]

This is a story I've read about in several sources, but the only ready reference I have is Wikipedia, which generally corroborates the story. A more reputable reference awaits my opening more book boxes, so barring a savior somewhere out there in Shorpyland, I guess I'll just have to endure the scorn of your skepticism.

 
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