The Impala was introduced in 1958 as a sporty trim package for Bel Air coupes and convertibles. Unique to the model were its six taillights, a classic styling cue that became its trademark.
Named for an African antelope, the Impala became a separate model in 1959 in both two- and four-door versions and the best-selling car in the Chevrolet product line. In 1960, it became the best-selling automobile in the United States – period –and held that position for a decade. From 1958 until 1996, Impala sales exceeded 13 million units, more than any other full-size car in the history of the automobile. In 1965, the Impala set an all-time industry annual sales record of more than one million units, which has never been bettered.
An all-new chassis and fresh sheet metal allowed 1958 Chevys to be longer, lower, and wider than ever before. It was a one-year-only body style that incorporated quad headlamps and an impressive array of brightwork that would stand up against a Cadillac.
The new Impala had power to back up its styling. Most car experts will declare that muscle cars began in the mid 1960s, but others point out that high-performance engines were available a decade earlier.
This extremely well equipped ’58 Impala has benefited from a complete professional restoration. It has the correct coral exterior complemented by a coral, silver, and black interior.
It’s powered by the 348-ci Tri-Power engine, with posi-traction rear end, dual exhaust system, power brakes, original rear quarter exhaust ports, spinner wheel covers, wide whitewall radial tires, continental kit, dual antennas, power convertible top, and a factory clock, tissue dispenser, Autronic Eye headlights, air conditioning, and factory Level Air suspension.
- Years produced: 1958
- Number produced: 17,000 approx.
- Original list price: $2,841
- SCM Valuation: $50,000–$120,000
- Tune-up/Major service: $150–$300
- Distributor cap: $22
- Chassis #: Driver’s door
- Engine #: Right front of block
- Club: Vintage Chevrolet Club of America
- Alternatives: 1958 Buick Roadmaster conv., 1958 Ford Skyliner retractable conv., 1958 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz conv.
- SCM Investment Grade: B
The SCM Analysis: This car sold at The Worldwide Groups Houston Classic Auction on May 6, 2006, for $120,000 including buyer’s premium.
The “whole new look” 1958 Impala was Bill Mitchell’s pinnacle vehicle in the Chevrolet lineup. Mitchell, then heir-apparent to famed designer Harley Earl, sought to introduce “curves where before there were lines,” and achieved this in dramatic fashion. Visually, the 1958 Impala is a high-impact automobile, particularly when one considers the quantity of light its chrome reflects.
For 1958, no automotive surface was left untouched or unchanged. Coves and panel ridges are trimmed in brightwork; chevrons, flags and nameplates are emblazoned across most of the available surfaces. The departure from the lauded “tri-five” Chevrolets was welcomed, and contributes to the collectability of cars from Chevy’s ’58 model year. The one-year-only styling has come to represent the risk-taking, change-making zeitgeist of the late ’50s and early ’60s. It’s quite a contrast to the “What marque is that?” cab-forward family sedan of today.
The Impala convertible was the most expensive Chevrolet available in 1958, and buyers had a number of power trains to choose from. Available engines included a 235-ci, six-cylinder, a 283 V8 with a four-barrel carburetor, or a 348-ci V8. Carburetion options included a four-barrel, three two-barrel carburetors, or Chevrolet’s Ram-Jet fuel injection—for an additional $484. Dual exhaust was available on the 348 V8 cars. Transmission options included a three-speed manual transmission with overdrive, as well as Powerglide and Turboglide automatics.
The ’58 Impala can reasonably be said to be the first muscle car. While Impalas were big cars (the sport coupes weighed in at 3,540 lbs. and the convertibles at 3,635 lbs.), the 348-equipped Impalas made 250 to 315 horsepower depending on fuel delivery and transmission configurations. This translated to a pretty quick trip to the grocery store.
The market today values the powerful 348 V8 equipped Impalas more highly than others, with premium prices realized for fuel-injected cars. Two factors contribute to this car’s high price. It is a convertible equipped with the 348 V8 motor and triple carburetors, which make 280 hp. Impala convertibles have brought six-figure sale prices before; “348 Tri-power” seem to be magic words.
Prices have climbed steadily steady for these cars in the last two or three years with the best cars topping $100,000, about double the price of second-tier examples. While 348-equipped Impalas will continue to be the most highly valued, a good small block convertible or a sharp coupe would be a cheaper way to jump into the ’58 Chevrolet pool. Parts availability is good, and there is a network of enthusiasts, who can easily be found at any ’50s car show in your neck of the woods.
Of course, 1958 Impalas, like all American cars of the era, are evil-handling, have no brakes to speak of and restoration costs that can exceed the budget of a Saturn V launch. But then, if you’re looking for a cheap, crisp-handling car, you’re reading the wrong profile in the first place. As an icon of GM during its salad days, the ’58 Impala is a complete winner.
MARIT ANNE PETERSON would like the only Alfa Romeo B.A.T. in the Law Library lot, or maybe the only Eagle SX4. Right now, all her money is paying off her student loan.