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1959 Chevy Biscayne - The Last Masterpiece

Today, a fair number of '59 Impalas are still with us, but the Bel Airs and Biscaynes could almost be considered an endangered species

By , Photography by Henry DeKuyper

The great thing about buying a car on a budget back in the '50s and '60s was you still got the prime-rib-level styling of the more expensive model but at a hamburger-and-fries price.

The year 1959 was the second of the new trim levels for Chevrolet's flagship car. The Impala was at the top, the Bel Air in the middle (replacing the old 210 trim level), and the Biscayne at the bottom (in place of the 150 line). The '58 Impalas were distinguished by their six taillights, while the Bel Air and Biscayne carried only four. The all-new '59 was also the last Chevy designed under Harley Earl, the legendary head of GM styling.

Today, a fair number of '59 Impalas are still with us, but the Bel Airs and Biscaynes could almost be considered an endangered species. Most Biscaynes were the cannon fodder that supported taxi cab fleets, municipalities, government agencies, and any other large group that needed cars they could get cheap and literally run into the ground. And when their usefulness was at an end and a fresh fleet of budget line vehicles ordered, they met their end as either used cars, parts donors or they were crushed into scrap metal.

But a few managed to survive, like Ellard Lambert's '59 two-door post. It was one of the lucky few that didn't end up in the boneyard, plying the roads of California until its owner decided to post it for sale on eBay.

Ellard was on the lookout for a project, but wanted something that stood out at shows and wasn't on the normal bill of fare in the aisles at shows.

"Everyone has a two-door hardtop and/or Impala. I wanted something that would stand out and thought a two-door Biscayne would be perfect."

He came across the online ad for the '59, and seeing that it was a California car knew it would be in great shape body wise. It also had all its original trim parts and pieces. The car had seen a mild restomod job sometime in the '90s, with an airbag-equipped Scott's Super Ride front clip welded onto the Biscayne's frame. Between the new front framerails a Chevrolet Performance ZZ4 crate engine was installed with a TH350 trans. The stock interior had been removed and everything recovered in rolled and pleated vinyl. In all, it was a good driver that gave Ellard the foundation he wanted to build a cool cruiser.

Once the car arrived in his driveway, Ellard started looking everything over and figuring out what needed to be done. While the car had been repainted in a decent shade of red, he had no idea what that shade was, and it didn't have the luster and depth desired. So, a repaint was in order. The custom vinyl interior had a very dated look, so it was earmarked for replacement. The ZZ4 engine ran good but also lacked an element of polish.

First up was the paint. It was expected to only take two or three months, but after some scuffing to prep for fresh primer, some rust bubbles were found in the rear wheelwell areas. Using aircraft stripper, he took these areas down to bare metal so the rust could be repaired properly. The rest of the car was scuffed, and once the body repairs were complete, primered then repsrayed in Viper Red.

A call to San Jacinto, Texas-based mobile interior craftsman Charles Powell got the Biscayne the necessary interior trappings to match its fresh hue. The original bench seat was recovered in red leather, along with the rear seats and door panels. A custom center console was built to hold the stereo and a pair of cupholders.

For sprucing up the engine, Ellard first pulled the factory cam and replaced it with a Comp Cams Mutha Thumpr bumpstick. He also added a vacuum pump to help keep the power brakes working properly, an Edelbrock Air Gap intake with Endurashine treatment, along with an Endurashine-treated carb. The accessory drive was chromed up and polished as well. The TH350 trans was pitched for a Phoenix Transmissions 700-R4 and the rearend rebuilt with 3.73 gears and Posi-traction. The old drum brakes were replaced with discs, and the factory Panhard bar was also ditched in favor of a tubular, Heim-joint-equipped unit. To lower the car a bit, Ellard fitted cut-down Camaro coil springs.

Once finished, the '59 returned to the streets, fully refreshed and ready for some action. At shows it garnered lots of looks and attention, fulfilling Ellard's desire for something unique perfectly. Because it doesn't say Chevrolet anywhere on it many end up asking, "Which car company built a Biscayne?"

The '59 Chevy was Harley Earl's swan song before retirement and it took a lot of convincing on the part of its designers for him to sign off on its longer, lower, wider look. With its distinctive rear fins, cat's-eye tailights and rocket-inspired accoutrements, it was a car that turned heads and stood apart from its competition. Ellard Lambert's Biscayne keeps that statement alive and well.

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