Feature Car ST Valentine’s day special matching the glamour of the upcoming New Zealand classic car Intermarque d’elegance concours show, this gorgeous 1958 Chevrolet impala is a real heartbreaker. 1958 Chevrolet Bel Air Impala Sport Coupe. In 1958, Chevrolet’s prestige car was the Bel Air Impala Sport Coupe — a model with some rather unique exterior trim features, such as ‘pitchforks’ ahead of the rear wheels, stainless-steel rockers, and distinctive wheel trims. Words: Ashley Webb. Photos: Adam Croy.
The Impala was first seen in 1956 at the Chevrolet Motorama — a travelling roadshow that hit New York, Miami, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Boston. This first Impala was a four-passenger coupé, with a strong connection to its stablemate the Corvette, and aptly named the ‘Corvette Impala’. The car even featured fibreglass construction just like the Corvette. At that time, the Bel Air was considered to be the finest Chevrolet on the market, but the Impala was about to change that.
When the first production Impala was introduced in 1957, it was only offered as a sport coupé or convertible, giving it a racey image that proved to be hugely successful. he Impala was over 23cm longer, 10cm wider, and 5cm lower than the Bel Air models and also came with some exciting new options, including the new 5.7-litre (348ci) V8 and Level Air suspension system. With Chevrolet’s new engine package, the Impala was quicker than previous Chevys, and this latest suspension system offered a much smoother ride than ever before. Another major change involved a new X-frame chassis design, which would be built into all new Chevrolets to improve overall stability and comfort. On the style front, the new Impala certainly looked the part, with chrome accents on the door and instrument panels plus a sport-style steering wheel, all giving the impression that the car was more luxurious than other ’57 Chevrolets.
Early Impala history
In 1958, the Impala was only offered as a two-door coupé or convertible, but, for 1959, there was a full line of Impalas that included two-door hardtops, twodoor convertibles, four-door sedans, and four-door hardtops. The 1959 Impala body was also sleeker and, most importantly, had a more contemporary look, enough for it to overtake the Bel Air in the sales stakes. Minor cosmetic changes were made to the Impala in 1960, including altering the tail lights from a massive cat’s-eye shape to six separate round lights — which would become a staple look for the Impala over the next few years — while the tail ins on the car were made less radical, as such design curlicues were becoming old hat.
Chevrolet decided to completely change the Impala in 1961. he new model lost the rear ins, and gained an improved instrument-panel layout but hung onto the iconic six-tail-light set-up. Many buyers were still crying out for options like Positraction; a heavy-duty battery; and heavy-duty brakes, springs, and shocks, and these demands finally caused Chevrolet to rethink its strategy, the result being the introduction of a Super Sport, or ‘SS’, package for Impalas. The Impala was the first Chevrolet to be offered with a Super Sport package that could be ordered in any body style; in the future, this option would only be available for sport coupés or convertibles. Until that point, the Corvette had been regarded as Chevrolet’s sports car, but, now, the Impala SS was right up there with the ’Vette.
Rivalling the Corvette’s performance was simply a matter of optioning an Impala SS with either ahigh-performance 5.7-litre (348ci) or the new monster 6.7-litre, 260kW (409ci/350bhp) V8 engine. All this, plus power steering and heavy-duty power brakes, shocks, and springs made for an impressive sports coupé. Chevrolet introduced its famous 5.35-litre (327ci) engine to the Impala line-up in 1962. This was a good year for the automotive industry, and the Impala SS was running hot nationwide as positive words about its merits started to spread rapidly. Chevrolet sold an impressive 832,000 Impalas in 1963 — it was, indeed, ‘America’s car’ and right up there with hot dogs and mom’s apple pie. The ’63 Impala didn’t change all that much, and was the only full-size two-door sport coupé and fourdoor sport sedan that Chevrolet offered that year.
Chevy’s old big seller, the Bel Air, was now only available in two-door and four-door sedan versions. In 1964, the Impala changed in several ways. In something akin to Cadillac style, the car received thicker bumpers that made it seem lower and heavier. The 1964 grille had a flatter profile than that of previous models, and other upgrades incorporated an electric clock, emergency brake light, and special sports steering wheel. That year, the Impala SS became its own model line (as opposed to being simply a package of options applied to a standard car), and, incredibly, more than 185,000 Impala SS models were sold, while 890,000 regular Impalas were sold. To put that into perspective, Chevrolet only managed to sell 550,000 Bel Airs during that same period.
One person who is definitely keeping the Impala tradition alive and well with his magnificent 1958 Chevrolet Bel Air Impala Sport Coupe is Jeff Matthews. As Valentine’s Day is just around the corner — and the theme for this year’s New Zealand Classic Car Intermarque Concours d’Elegance is A Classic Love Story — we were delighted when Jeff suggested that his daughter, Hayley, be involved in our photo shoot.
First, let’s pause to discover that Jeff’s first experience with classic cars was actually with those of English origin — although he soon discovered through experience that they were, as he put it, “unmotorable”, and so he decided to try something a little different, perhaps something like an American classic. First up was a 1936 straight-eight Hudson, which he purchased in the early ’80s, before deciding to move on to something a little more modern — a 1950 Chrysler and then a 1961 Dodge.
From then, Jeff decided that a convertible might be the way to go, so he placed an ad in a local newspaper to see if he could turn anything up. Sure enough, the owner of a 1964 Chevrolet Impala — a car that had been sitting in a shed in the Waitakere region for over 10 years — contacted him. On inspecting the Impala, Jeff realized that the car was basically sound and unmolested, and, with that in mind, he was undeterred by the level of work that would be required to bring this Chevrolet back up to scratch. A deal was brokered, and the Impala passed into Jeff’s hands.
Jeff has now owned the Impala for around 15 years, and, during that time, he’s treated it to a new coat of bright-red paint and a new interior and has also seen to it that all the car’s iconic brightwork got re-chromed. Looking to further enhance the Impala’s sporting pretensions, Jeff has replaced the originals with a set of chrome Cragar SS wheels. Other than that, the Impala remains completely original — sporting its original 4.63-litre (283ci) engine, auto transmission, suspension, and brakes. As a real point of Kiwi interest, General Motors originally brought this particular car to New Zealand in 1964 especially for the Petone Auto Show, and it is one of only 68 right-hand-drive 1964 Impala convertibles to have been built in Canada.
The ’58 Impala
The Impala fuelled Jeff’s passion and fanned a desire to increase his fleet of American cars. He went on to acquire a 1972 Pontiac Grand Prix, a 1961 Oldsmobile Starire, and, his all-time favourite, our featured 1958 Chevrolet Bel Air Impala Sport Coupe. A few years down the track, Jeff realized that owning four huge American cars was perhaps a little excessive, so he sold of the Pontiac and the Oldsmobile — but he wasn’t ready to part with his two Chevys.
Jeff has always admired the 1958 Chevrolet Bel Air Impala Sport Coupe, and, after watching a very nice example take out the coveted People’s Choice Award at the first Kumeu Classic Car and Hot Rod Festival in 1995, he simply couldn’t help thinking, Wow, what a car! If only…
In 2008, Jeff decided it was time to take steps to realize his dream. he search was on for a 1958 Chevrolet Bel Air Impala Sport Coupe, the trail eventually leading him to this fine example in Texas. he car was powered by a 4.63-litre (283ci) V8 engine, and, together with its gleaming red paint scheme and Continental kit, this was enough to entice Jeff to contact the Texan owner.
Jeff says that Paul, the car’s owner, was more than obliging, and only too happy to provide all the necessary information regarding the car. Jeff also learned that the Impala had been repainted: until then, the all cars Jeff had imported into New Zealand had retained their original paint, so he decided to carry out some more research. Paul also sent Jeff a copy of the Chevrolet’s title. Armed with this, Jeff was able to track down the car’s previous owner, Doug, in Florida, who was able to explain that the car had already been repainted when he got it, and that he’d sold it as it didn’t have air conditioning. In passing, he also said that he still had a set of 1959 Cadillac tail lights that he’d taken of the Impala. Doug had acquired the Impala via a car swap with a Texan named Gerald.
Eager to uncover the history behind the Impala, Jeff now sought out Gerald. When he finally found him, it turned out that he’d purchased the car from the son of the original owner, that person having had it for 40 years. Gerald had spotted the Impala for sale in a magazine, and it was exactly what he’d been looking for: a car in need of TLC but completely rust-free. He also told Jeff that the car’s first owner, who’d purchased the Impala new, changed the original transmission from manual to auto when he’d got older.
After acquiring the Chevrolet, Gerald had repainted and reupholstered the car — it was then that he’d done the swap with Doug, the swapped car being a 1959 Ford retractable.
After following this trail of ownership history, Jeff was convinced of the car’s authenticity and condition, so he contacted Paul again and proceeded with the purchase. he car finally arrived in New Zealand in August 2008. Jeff also got back in touch with Doug, who kindly sent him the 1959 Cadillac tail lights he’d held on to, and these have since been reunited with the car.
However, as they say in the TV commercials, ‘but wait, there’s more’. Jeff has been busy buying a few more cars since our featured Impala arrived and is also the proud owner of a custom 1965 Chevrolet Impala, complete with 51mm roof chop, shaved door handles, and tuck-and-roll upholstery, as well as a 1930 Ford Model A roadster nostalgia hot rod that was built in the US in 1959, this last car being something of a departure for Jeff from his Impala collection. Jeff’s daughter Hayley is involved in the fashion industry. As you can see by our photographs, she loves to dress up in period style and feels right at home in any of her father’s cars. She is also looking forward to the day when she can drive one of the Impalas to Beach Hop — maybe that’ll happen next year, so keep an eye out for Hayley in one of her dad’s Chevys.
LIKE FATHER, LIKE — DAUGHTER
Hayley was the only one of Jeff’s four children who enjoyed going to car shows with him from a young age, and, from that, she developed an interest in old cars. She also followed another interest of Jeff’s — antique ceramics — and has amassed her own great collection of ceramics from the 1920s and ’30s.
She enjoys the retro clothing scene, too, and regularly attends Beach Hop, the Kumeu Classic Car and Hot Rod Festival, and the Very Vintage Day Out, along with others. Hayley lives with her partner, Ashley, who also has a passion for cars — of a European nature. Their daughter Cordelia loves to dress up but prefers princess outfits, while two-year-old Layne loves cars and enjoys driving Poppa’s cars while they’re still parked in the garage.
Hayley has always had an interest in fashion, and has been in the clothing trade all her working life — she currently manages the Country Road store in Queen Street, Auckland.
Starring Richard Dreyfuss, Ron Howard, and Wolfman Jack, the movie American Graffiti featured a ’58 Chevy Impala — considered one of cinema’s great cars. It also proved to be the catalyst for ’50s nostalgia during the ’70s, which, of course, lead to the hit TV series Happy Days.
The search was on for a 1958 Chevrolet Bel Air Impala Sport Coupe, the trail eventually leading Jeff to this fine example in Texas.
THE PRICE OF STYLE
Chevrolet’s most expensive model in 1958 was the Bel Air Impala convertible, which was listed with a base price of US$2841. It was also the only convertible-style Chevrolet produced in 1958, excluding the Corvette, but, amazingly, production topped 60,000.
The Impala has become more than just a car since it was first introduced in 1958 — its unique combination of style, performance, and value has made it an off-the-charts favourite for millions of Americans. In fact, with sales in excess of 12 million from 1958 to 2002, more American households have chosen the Impala over any other full-size equivalent car in history.
|1958 CHEVROLET BEL AIR IMPALA SPORT COUPE
|ENGINE Chevrolet V8
|CAPACITY 4.63-litre (283ci)
|VALVES Overhead; two valves per cylinder
|COMP. RATIO 8.5:1
|MAX POWER 138kW at 4600rpm
|MAX TORQUE 372Nm at 2400rpm
|FUEL SYSTEM Two-barrel carburettor
|TRANSMISSION Two-speed Powerglide
|SUSPENSION F/R Independent with long and short control arms, coil springs and Delco shock absorbers, front stabilizer bar / Four-link with one upper and two lower control arms, Delco shock absorbers
|STEERING Ball-race steering gear with balanced linkage
|OVERALL LENGTH 5311mm
|KERB WEIGHT 1700kg
|MAX SPEED 164kph
|0–100KPH 13.5 seconds
|STANDING QUARTER-MILE 19.6 seconds