SI Vault
The new models wheel in
Kenneth Rudeen
October 20, 1958
The automobile editor and the camera examine Detroit's 1959 cars, and find them to be generally long, low and fancy, although compact cars are having their innings, too
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October 20, 1958

The New Models Wheel In

The automobile editor and the camera examine Detroit's 1959 cars, and find them to be generally long, low and fancy, although compact cars are having their innings, too

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Over at Chrysler, the prematurely white-haired Virgil Exner, a onetime GM stylist, has put his seal on another set of racily finned models. These will round out the three-year cycle begun so sensationally with the 1957s. The year 1958 saw very little change, but the new cars are noticeably different in detail while still faithful to the original concept.

American Motors and Studebaker-Packard are banking on the recently developed American taste, in some circles, for less size and more economy. AM's Ramblers were a rousing success in the recession year just past. This year the high tail fins are a bit different, and AM is taking its small 1955 station wagon out of mothballs to join the Rambler American sedan, de-mothballed last year. S-P will try to get out of the financial shallows with a new compact car, the Lark.

What's this about compact cars from the Big Three? Well, GM and Ford have spent about $500 million on development and can go into production on relatively short notice (Ford with a six-cylinder, front-mounted engine; GM with perhaps an aluminum rear engine). For the time being Chrysler will let its French Simca be its small car (both GM and Ford, of course, also import their own foreign-built cars). GM and Ford will wait until they are absolutely convinced the market is there before taking the plunge. Each company feels that it would have to sell upwards of 300,000 models to make such a venture worthwhile; meanwhile, they want to see how the bread-and-butter '59s are going to sell. There are a lot of ifs here, but informed Detroiters expect to see the new compact cars in production before the end of 1959.

Despite the annual hubbub over size and power, there is every reason to believe that Detroit will go right along putting most of its eggs in the long, low, wide basket. The 1960s will be every bit as hefty as the '59s—and a little lower. If the small-car market becomes big, Detroit will cater to it eagerly, but until then...well, turn the pages.

Like the Chevrolet (page 68) and the other GM cars except Cadillac, the Pontiac has a radically new body. Up to nine inches longer, three inches wider and three inches lower than the 1958s, it comes in three series, with engines of 215 to 345 hp available. The Chevrolet is slightly larger than last year's, with headlights lowered seven inches. A new six-cylinder economy engine complements the V-8 line. Delray name goes out.

The old model names are out, including Roadmaster, that famous symbol of material success. To point up the newness of the '59s, Buick now introduces these names: LeSabre, Invicta and Electra (Dynaflow, however, is still Dynaflow). Wildcat is the perhaps inevitable name of a new 401-cubic-inch engine, added to the current 364-inch V-8. Cadillac restyling (page 69), while not as drastic, is showy, especially in bright work between fins.

This is the Lark, the "compact" car with which Studebaker-Packard hopes to get back on its feet in the auto industry. Shown here at the Paris Auto Show, it will not be introduced in the U.S. until next month. Sedans will be 175 inches long, station wagons 184 inches. Two engines will be available, an economical six and a V-8. S-P says it already has a whopping 25,000 orders. The famous Packard line has been discontinued.

Lower-priced models are 10 inches longer, the "98" series six inches longer; all are slightly wider and lower—and cleaner than the chrome-hung 1958s. There is more glass area, as throughout the GM line, and an unusual headlight treatment. Better economy is claimed for the big V-8 engines, of 270 and 315 hp, through refinements to carburetion, choking and transmission systems. Brake drums are flanged to limit fading.

Unique among Detroit cars, the Corvette is a dual-purpose racing-touring sports two-seater with a fiber-glass body. Last year's basic styling is retained. The addition of radius rods to the rear suspension is expected to improve the handling qualities of an already nimble car. Brake cooling is improved, and engine options from 230 to 290 hp are offered. Transmission systems include a four-speed gearbox for sports car purists.

Having produced nearly 175,000 cars in the 1958 model year, double the previous year's production, American Motors offers more of the same. The four-year-old short-wheelbase station wagon is revived to join the Cross Country wagon (above). There are minor styling changes in the regular Rambler lines as AM girds for a bigger changeover for 1960. Unitized body-frames dipped in rust preventer are again a salutary feature.

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