Tuesday, June 28, 2011
1958 Bel Air Two-Door Hardtop
Even Second-Tier Status was Good!
Text and Photography by David W. Temple
For 1958, Chevrolet offered a nearly totally redesigned lineup of cars. The only major components carried forward from the prior model year were the power trains, but there was something new in that regard, too. Under the reshaped sheet metal was a new Safety-Girder X-frame with a four-coil spring suspension. An extra-cost air suspension (referred to as Level Air in Chevrolet literature) similar to the version used on the Eldorado Brougham was also offered. It proved to be just as leak prone and thus, as unreliable as the Cadillac version. Luckily, few were ordered with the trouble plagued system and the examples so equipped were in most instances refitted with conventional coil springs.
Furthermore, a new model dubbed the Impala (available only as a two-door hardtop and convertible) was added to the Chevy fleet. It displaced the Bel Air as the top-of-the-line model. (However, the Impala was a sub-series of the Bel Air line even though its sheet metal behind the cowl differed.) The name was chosen to convey the image of grace and speed and when equipped with one of the high output V-8s, the Impala was reasonably quick. As for the grace or elegance aspect, the Impala lived up to the image by having some of the styling attributes of a Cadillac, fancy interiors with tri-tone cloth upholstery inserts and plenty of chrome. A number of its styling features such as the reverse slant C-pillars of the two-door hardtop version were lifted from the 1956 Corvette Impala prototype exhibited at that year’s GM Motorama.
The base Bel Air series had a little less bright trim, but still had a side-spear molding similar to that of the Impala’s and a tri-tone interior (though it differed from that of the Impala). One feature not found on the Impala, but on the Bel Air was stainless trim with horizontal blacked-out recesses attached to the C-pillars.
Under the hood of the full-size Chevrolets was any one of the engines carried over from 1957 – the standard Blue-Flame straight six displacing 235.5 cubic inches, a 185hp Turbo-Fire 283 2-bbl., and the Super Turbo-Fire 283 4-bbl. Both the Blue-Flame and Super Turbo-Fire received an output boost; the six-cylinder went from 140hp@4,200rpm to 145hp while the Super Turbo-Fire increased from 220hp@4,800 rpm to 230hp at the same revs. Also, the 250hp (at 5,000rpm) Ram-Jet fuel injected 283 was retained, although in an improved form. The fuel injection equipment received upgrades for the purpose of improving reliability. With a price tag of $484 very few ‘58s were ordered with the Ram-Jet option, but it would continue as an option for the full-size Chevys for one more model year (although the option would be maintained for the Corvette for several more years).
The most important news regarding what could be had under the hood was a new engine displacing 348 cubic inches. The fresh 348 was offered in three versions – the Turbo-Thrust with four-barrel carb, a Super Turbo-Thrust with three, two-barrel carburetors, and a higher compression tri-carb type with a hotter cam. Their respective output ratings were 250hp@4,400rpm on 9.5 to 1 compression, 280hp@4,800rpm with the same with the same fuel/air mix squeeze, and 315hp at a high winding 5,600rpm and 11.1 to 1 compression. The 315hp engine was not available until about the last quarter of the model year. The hottest performing 348 got its extra gallop from a Duntov cam, solid lifters, and, of course, the trio of Rochester two-barrel carburetors.
In order to transfer the power to the pavement, several transmission choices were offered. A three-speed manual was standard issue with any engine. The three-speed manual bolted to an overdrive unit and a Powerglide automatic were options for the carburetor inducted 283s; a Corvette version of this two-speed automatic could be ordered with the fuel-injected engine. The Super Turbo-Fire, Ram-Jet, and Turbo-Thrust could be had with a close-ratio three-speed while the Super Turbo-Thrust came with only the close-ratio three-speed. The Turboglide automatic which was introduced in ‘57, was yet another transmission choice for Turbo-Thrust powered cars. A factory-installed four-speed for the big Chevys was still another model year away at this point.
The Bel Air Sport Coupe seen here is owned by Dick Nelson of Shreveport, Louisiana. He purchased it at an auction in Kerrville, Texas; a dealer was the seller. Unfortunately, there is no history available on this Chevy prior to this. However, the paint is suspected to be original and much of the interior is original. A number of options were ordered for this car including a 283 2-bbl., automatic transmission, two-tone paint (Cay Coral and Snowcrest White), radio, electric clock, wheel covers, whitewall tires, and fender skirts.
Even though the Bel Air Impala occupied the top spot in the hierarchy of the Chevy lineup, the number two position base Bel Air certainly was not second-rate. This one clearly shows why that’s true.