The year 1959 was a pivotal one in the history of General Motors. Under development were its first compacts (the Corvair, Tempest, F-85 and Special), but before they'd arrive to take on VW and the other imports came the most radically redesigned models since, well, probably ever.
The '59s would be the last models styled under the reign of legendary design chief Harley Earl. The '58s were radically different, larger and more bulbous than the '57s, and Earl wanted to continue down this path. But the stylists under him had seen the future and a mini revolt took place in the palace. In their crystal ball was the Forward Look Plymouths, which the GM designers caught a sneak peak of. The Mopars were lower, longer and wider, and after a hard-fought battle in '57 (perhaps the only one he ever lost), Earl's underlings convinced him this was the direction GM needed to go.
What came out of this were some of the wildest, most completely different automobiles ever, including the '59 Chevy. It outdid the competition in the longer, lower, wider department and if the '59 Cadillac had the freakiest, tallest tailfins, the Chevy had what looked like gull wings from behind. Today, many people refer to the '59s (and the slightly more subdued '60s) as the batwing cars. Under these wide fins were bright red cat's eyes for taillights, a one-year-only feature.
Up front, the turn signals were mounted above the quad headlights and the grille was as wide as a football field. Wraparound glass ensured blind spot-free driving, though it hindered front seat entry for women wearing dresses. For years, urban legend had it that these fins would cause the cars to take off at speed, lifting from the rear if the wind was strong enough. Forget the fact that Junior Johnson won the Daytona 500 in 1960 with a '59 Chevy at an average speed of just under 125 mph and it never flew. Later aerodynamic testing proved quite the opposite-the '59 was a pretty slick design, especially for its time.
Under the hood, you had your choice of six- and eight-cylinder mills, the latter in either small-block (283) or big-block (348) configuration. As wonderful as the mouse motor was, people often wanted the 348 for its extra torque-how else could you get one of these gigantic sleds moving? Still, there was an option available for those who needed something completely different and had the bucks to pay for it: Fuel injection.
Introduced in '57, the injected 283 with high compression and a solid-lifter cam was heralded for its ability to produce one-horsepower-per-cubic-inch, a first in a lower-priced car. Few wanted to pay for the pleasure, however, and except for in the Corvette it never caught on with buyers. It was expensive ($550 in '57), few knew how to work on it, and more power and torque could be had by stepping up to a cheaper, simpler 348. Passenger car production declined to about 140 fuelies for '59, the last year it was offered in a full-size model. It soldiered on in the Corvette until '65 and became legendary on the street and in song ("Shut Down" by the Beach Boys).
Scott Chalk, a restoration shop owner from Maryland, owns the car you see before you. His father purchased it in 1976 with a mere 7,000 ticks on the clock and restored it two years later. But it was Scott who rebuilt it a second time in 2009. No, it's not a genuine, fuel-injected '59 Impala convertible, but Scott built the most faithful recreation of one you'll ever come across.
"It was a very long and hard search to find the parts specific to the '59 fuel injected cars," Scott told us. "This includes one-year-only front fender emblems, air cleaner adapter, air cleaner mounting hardware, and of course, the correct Rochester FI unit for the 290hp 283."