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Let’s start conversation about a huge style change in GM cars between 1958 and 1959.


Neoflyer
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There was a huge style change in GM cars between 1958 and 1959. All of the different divisions’ cars went from boxy to rounded overnight. Look at Buick as a prime example. Can anyone give a little background on what was going on at the company at the time? I’ m intrigued by the sudden change in body styles and think this might be a good topic of conversation.

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55 minutes ago, Neoflyer said:

There was a huge style change in GM cars between 1958 and 1959. All of the different divisions’ cars went from boxy to rounded overnight. Look at Buick as a prime example. Can anyone give a little background on what was going on at the company at the time? I’ m intrigued by the sudden change in body styles and think this might be a good topic of conversation.

 

 

The jet age began. 

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I wouldn't characterize the GM styling idiom at the time as boxy.  Rubenesque maybe.   Bulky and thick for sure.  This is what Harley Earl liked.  And this didn't just start in 1958.  To my eyes, from the first post-war models, all GM cars had this rounded bulkiness.  Ford on the other hand had much tauter and more athletic surfaces that GM did.  Chrysler was stolid and boxy in a rounded off corner kind of  way.  By the time 1957 came around, GM's styling was far behind Chrysler and Ford.  Put a 1957 Ford or Chrysler product next to any 1957 GM product and the GM styling looks half a decade behind the times- with the benefit of hindsight.  I don't think most people would have agreed with that statement at the time though.  Because GM far outsold Ford and Chrysler,  GM styling is what cars looked like in the minds of most consumers at the time.  Even the crash GM redesign for 1959 (done in reaction to the Chrysler Forward Look) turned out overwrought and bloated in my opinion compared to Ford and Chrysler.  It wasn't until 1961 that GM styling became modern and competitive (again, in hind sight) with Ford.  But by then, Chrysler had hung onto the Forward Look too long, and their styling was a caricature of itself.

 

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The post-war "style change era" for the American big three (GM/Ford/Mopar) (and smaller companies as well) really began about 1949 (45-48 were largely pre-war design idioms/carryovers). The "bathtub Ford/Nash and the smoother all body GM's and MOPARS commencing about 1950 were the start. By early fifties, American post war "affluence" began to creep into the economy and car buying habits. The Big 3 recognized that "excess, glamour, big and opulent" would sell, regardless of technical weaknesses. So over the 10 year period from about 1953-1962 the design studios (including Harley Earl's) were focused largely on exterior cosmetics only, and "flash" was the soup de jour. As we are aware, this 10 year "cosmetic extravagance"  existed only in America. Thank goodness it was short lived, and while many nostalgically look back at the "bulky, chrome and finned" era as a pinnacle, many others see it as an awful example of waste and excess. Virtually none of the cars of that era (with a rare exception perhaps) are highly sought after because frankly they were terrible automobiles all things considered. In reflecting on why one year might differ dramatically from an earlier year (opening query late 50's), remember it usually took 3 years from concept design to production, so a guy like Halley Earl would have influence on style of GM products 2-3 years after he retired. Competition and sales were high, and every year the companies tried to have something new, translated as "something that looks totally different", even if the rolling chassis was identical to 3 or 4 years earlier. A period I have no taste for.

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Ok I am not a GM guy, and have a lot to learn about the cars of this era, but I do love cars of all styles.  Just looked at some pictures 1958 and 59 Impala, both nice looking cars, but side by side there are a lot of similarities in styling.  I would not want the chrome bill from either car, but the 58 overall looks more balanced, the 58 has the longer leaner look.  The scant C pillar on the 59 radically changes the look of the roof.

 

image.png.40c80d2b11f3133c4d1372a1f0d276aa.png

 

image.png.f25f68fd42f5cf1c34c7466c2eca601a.png

 

The bigger question is how did they stamp the 59 quarter panel? 

 

image.png.487b77c6eeab7391ebd2c79f07855ce3.png

 

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  My Dad bought a new 1958 Chevy. Four door Biscayne, 283, 3 speed stick,

radio, and heater.

   I was driving a ‘55 Ford Crown Vic and told him I thought the Chevy was 

the ugliest car I had ever seen. He just laughed and said the price reflected the ugliness. Said it was $200 cheaper than a Ford.

   Think he gave just under $2000 for it or about $20,000 today. 

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IMO 1958 was the year of chrome overload at GM applied to boxy cars. 1959 was the pinnacle year of fin car design and at GM they went way overboard with sharp edges and angry looking front ends. 1960 is my favorite year when fins still ruled but were dialed back and more tasteful. It wasn't just at GM, the one-year 1960 Ford was a great looking car. Unfortunately a lot of these cars were so wide and had so many blind corners they were a challenge to drive without scraping something - remedied by the dramatic pullback of 1961. 

20211129_130703.jpg

20211129_130741.jpg

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1 hour ago, Gunsmoke said:

The post-war "style change era" for the American big three (GM/Ford/Mopar) (and smaller companies as well) really began about 1949 (45-48 were largely pre-war design idioms/carryovers).

I disagree - the independents had new designs out before 49 - look at 48 Hudson, 48 Packard, Kaiser-Frazer, 48 Studebaker. 

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1 hour ago, Graham Man said:

Ok I am not a GM guy, and have a lot to learn about the cars of this era, but I do love cars of all styles.  Just looked at some pictures 1958 and 59 Impala, both nice looking cars, but side by side there are a lot of similarities in styling.  I would not want the chrome bill from either car, but the 58 overall looks more balanced, the 58 has the longer leaner look.  The scant C pillar on the 59 radically changes the look of the roof.

 

image.png.40c80d2b11f3133c4d1372a1f0d276aa.png

 

image.png.f25f68fd42f5cf1c34c7466c2eca601a.png

 

The bigger question is how did they stamp the 59 quarter panel? 

 

image.png.487b77c6eeab7391ebd2c79f07855ce3.png

 

A neighbor bought one of these 59s new.

I recall that there is a weld up in the underside of the fin.

I suppose that an over restored car may not have that visible weld.

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3 hours ago, Tom Boehm said:

Harley Earl retired in 1958. He was the GM vice president of design since 1927. Bill Mitchell was his replacement. 

 

That is true, but the 1959 and 60 designs were long done before 1958, Mitchell's influence was not until later on. When Earl retired the tooling was already getting designed for stamping and production. There was a matter of cost cutting and production logistics. GM wanted the full size lines that used the same body to share the same front and rear glass in beginning 1959. That was the reason why the 58 Chevy was a one year only design was to get Chevrolet on that glass platform in 1959. Now all think of the window moldings interior and exterior are shared, weather-stripping, windshield gaskets that are shared, yet the cars look so different.

 

2 hours ago, 28 Chrysler said:

One of the GM spy's look through a fence at the new Chrysler products for 1957 and went back to say that they were in trouble.

or maybe they decided what not to do

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3 hours ago, Pete O said:

I wouldn't characterize the GM styling idiom at the time as boxy.  Rubenesque maybe.   Bulky and thick for sure.  This is what Harley Earl liked.  And this didn't just start in 1958.  To my eyes, from the first post-war models, all GM cars had this rounded bulkiness.  Ford on the other hand had much tauter and more athletic surfaces that GM did.  Chrysler was stolid and boxy in a rounded off corner kind of  way.  By the time 1957 came around, GM's styling was far behind Chrysler and Ford.  Put a 1957 Ford or Chrysler product next to any 1957 GM product and the GM styling looks half a decade behind the times- with the benefit of hindsight.  I don't think most people would have agreed with that statement at the time though.  Because GM far outsold Ford and Chrysler,  GM styling is what cars looked like in the minds of most consumers at the time.  Even the crash GM redesign for 1959 (done in reaction to the Chrysler Forward Look) turned out overwrought and bloated in my opinion compared to Ford and Chrysler.  It wasn't until 1961 that GM styling became modern and competitive (again, in hind sight) with Ford.  But by then, Chrysler had hung onto the Forward Look too long, and their styling was a caricature of itself.

 

 Put a 1957 Ford or Chrysler product next to any 1957 GM product and the GM styling looks half a decade behind the times- with the benefit of hindsight.

 

OK, let's put a 1954 Chrysler and a 54 Mercury next to a 1954 Olds and see whose styling is old.

 image.jpeg.2483d37879215af9d47ff9d0a940b5f2.jpegimage.jpeg.030fd670082ea3f0635ab50fee0b69e6.jpeg1954 Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight Holiday Coupe for sale: photos, technical  specifications, descriptionimage.jpeg.b5596e6abb7b0ce6678b2c1c7ed1ccaa.jpeg

 Slab sided, Sweep cut fender styling front and rear. An "A" pilar that is swept back past 90 degrees with a vista wrap around windshield. This car makes the other two look like they are from another era. FYI, Buick shares that windshield and roof, and Cadillac won't get an "A" pillar swept back like that until 1957, Pontiac and Chevrolet until 1958.

Compared to Olds and Buick for 1954 The 1954 Chevrolet and Pontiac are two styling sequences behind Olds and Buick.

 

Edited by Pfeil (see edit history)
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GM had a mandate to rationalize the inner bodies between all divisions by the end of that decade; especially the greenhouse area.  For example, a front vent window from a 1959-on Chevrolet will also interchange with a Pontiac, Buick, Oldsmobile and most Cadillacs except the Eldorado Brougham hand-built in Italy.  And coupled with the fact, Exner's 1957 Mopar efforts made GM's 1958 line appear 'old' with a taller beltline was enough to make the '58's a one-year-only body.

 

Craig

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4 minutes ago, 8E45E said:

GM had a mandate to rationalize the inner bodies between all divisions by the end of that decade; especially the greenhouse area.  For example, a front vent window from a 1959-on Chevrolet will also interchange with a Pontiac, Buick, Oldsmobile and most Cadillacs except the Eldorado Brougham hand-built in Italy.  And coupled with the fact, Exner's 1957 Mopar efforts made GM's 1958 line appear 'old' with a taller beltline was enough to make the '58's a one-year-only body.

 

Craig

That decision on the 58 Chevy's was made long before Virgil Exner picked up his pencil, I guess you did not read my post prior

Edited by John348 (see edit history)
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3 minutes ago, John348 said:

That decision on the 58 Chevy's was made long before Virgil Exner picked up his pencil

Of course not!  The '58 design influence was clearly seen in earlier concept cars.  About the only major difference were the dual headlights which all the '58's had.

 

Craig

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  • Peter Gariepy changed the title to Let’s start conversation about a huge style change in GM cars between 1958 and 1959.
3 hours ago, John348 said:

Craig,

Let me clarify, the decision on the one year body style on the 58 Chevrolet was not influenced by Chrysler's design department  

GM was not prepared for the big changes at Chrysler and GM's styling dept. had to play catch up.  

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4 hours ago, 8E45E said:

GM had a mandate to rationalize the inner bodies between all divisions by the end of that decade; especially the greenhouse area.  For example, a front vent window from a 1959-on Chevrolet will also interchange with a Pontiac, Buick, Oldsmobile and most Cadillacs except the Eldorado Brougham hand-built in Italy.  And coupled with the fact, Exner's 1957 Mopar efforts made GM's 1958 line appear 'old' with a taller beltline was enough to make the '58's a one-year-only body.

 

Craig

For example, a 1959 Pontiac 2 door coupe front door will fit without any modification to a 1959 Chevrolet. A 1959 Oldsmobile door has a bolt on piece to the same door to extend from the front fender body crease to the extension which goes to the body crease in the rear quarter panel to the rear high mount tail lamp, Take that extension body piece off the door and it's the same as a Chevrolet/Pontiac. I think the same holds true for Buick with the Buicks extension bolt on piece for the door. I also think the Cadillac Coupe de Ville is the same.

See the door of a 59 Olds the top part of the door is a bolt on piece.

 405057-62.jpg 

For Sale: 1959 Oldsmobile 98

You can see at the top of the inside the two machine screws holding the piece on.....Very clever!

1959 Pontiac Catalina

^ 59 Pontiac door

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6 hours ago, John348 said:

 

That is true, but the 1959 and 60 designs were long done before 1958, Mitchell's influence was not until later on. When Earl retired the tooling was already getting designed for stamping and production. There was a matter of cost cutting and production logistics. GM wanted the full size lines that used the same body to share the same front and rear glass in beginning 1959. That was the reason why the 58 Chevy was a one year only design was to get Chevrolet on that glass platform in 1959. Now all think of the window moldings interior and exterior are shared, weather-stripping, windshield gaskets that are shared, yet the cars look so different.

 

or maybe they decided what not to do

1. Earl retired in 1958, before he retired his last project was overseeing the 61-62 models.

 

2. According to Ear's nephew. When some of Earls underlings told him (and had pictures) of Chryslers new cars for 57 Earl said he didn't want to see any of that at all. His explanation to these people was G.M. leads not follows! 

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I can understand where Mr. Earl was coming from looking at the designs that Mopar presented the public in 1961 and 1962. They went from what they referred to as the "Forward Design" in 1957 and seemed to have taken two steps backwards when these designs were on the drawing board at Chrysler in 1958/1959 as compared to what GM, Ford. Rambler and Studebaker presented in the 1961 and 62 model years. It is hard to believe that this is what they presented to the public in 1962. 

 

 

12516113-1962-plymouth-valiant-std.jpg

1962_dodge_dart-pic-3079050686471667513-1600x1200.jpeg

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8 hours ago, Gunsmoke said:

The post-war "style change era" for the American big three (GM/Ford/Mopar) (and smaller companies as well) really began about 1949 (45-48 were largely pre-war design idioms/carryovers). The "bathtub Ford/Nash and the smoother all body GM's and MOPARS commencing about 1950 were the start. By early fifties, American post war "affluence" began to creep into the economy and car buying habits. The Big 3 recognized that "excess, glamour, big and opulent" would sell, regardless of technical weaknesses. So over the 10 year period from about 1953-1962 the design studios (including Harley Earl's) were focused largely on exterior cosmetics only, and "flash" was the soup de jour. As we are aware, this 10 year "cosmetic extravagance"  existed only in America. Thank goodness it was short lived, and while many nostalgically look back at the "bulky, chrome and finned" era as a pinnacle, many others see it as an awful example of waste and excess. Virtually none of the cars of that era (with a rare exception perhaps) are highly sought after because frankly they were terrible automobiles all things considered. In reflecting on why one year might differ dramatically from an earlier year (opening query late 50's), remember it usually took 3 years from concept design to production, so a guy like Halley Earl would have influence on style of GM products 2-3 years after he retired. Competition and sales were high, and every year the companies tried to have something new, translated as "something that looks totally different", even if the rolling chassis was identical to 3 or 4 years earlier. A period I have no taste for.

Post war design first cars at G.M. were the 1948 Oldsmobile 98(the only Olds with this styling) and all 1948 Cadillac. This styling is call flow through fender styling where the high line starts at the front fender and with a body crease continues through the door-s and over the rear quarter panel pontoon fender. Buick turned down using it because it's Air foil styling was still successful. The airfoil Buicks started in 1942 and are different than the Pontoon style Buicks and other G.M. products. Air flow styling took the high line fender styling through the middle of the body (door) basically extended the front pontoon to the rear fender, through the fender and fender skirt, and exited at the end of the skirt. In Flow Through fender styling the air foil line was raised over the rear pontoon. Simply an evolution of a theme. All 1949 G.M. cars would have Flow through fender styling.

1942 Buick, Pontoon styling. 

image.jpeg.3860a28b68d84a56d72b02f623919ed1.jpeg

below 1942 Buick with Air Foil styling and you can see how a skirt is essential in this design.

1942 Buick Roadmaster Sedanet | T147 | Indy 2019

Below 1948 Oldsmobiles

image.jpeg.6065bccce401d114a8d58089baf76c67.jpeg>>>and the 98 with flow through fender styling1948' Oldsmobile 98 Futurmatic Convertible for sale. United Kingdom

Below all 1948 Cadillacs with Flow Through fender styling

1948 Cadillac Series 62 | Fast Lane Classic Cars1948 CADILLAC SERIES 62 SEDAN -1948 Cadillac Series 62 Club Coupe Photograph by Dave Koontz

And what is nice is that ALL G.M. cars will have this styling for 1949 and what better image and very great car for the money is this Chevrolet Coupe that has the styling features of the Cadillac above!

1949 CHEVROLET STYLELINE DELUXE COUPE – Daniel Schmitt & Co. Classic Car  Gallery

 

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I like the conservative "fin" approach Pontiac took in 1959. Other than the 1960 Pontiac, Pontiac of 59 started couple of themes that would stay with it until its demise. One the split grille, and "Wide Track". For example, in 1959 a Oldsmobile had a front and rear track of 61 inches, a 1959 Chevrolet had a front of 61.3 and rear of 59.3, Cadillac - ft. 61 rear 61. And Buick, front of 62" rear 60"

Pontiac had a front track of 63 7/8" and rear of 64".

 The new for 59 cars were longer and lower and wider and with those narrow front and rear tracks they looked funny, and as Pontiac's General manager said, " they looked like football players wearing ballet slippers" That was the start of wide track-in the styling studios. They found out later after they had done it that it made the car handle much better. 

Pontiac has my vote for the best 1959 G.M. car. Motor Trend thought so too, it was their "car of the year" winner.

Amazon.com: 1959 Pontiac - Wide-Track Wheels - Promotional Advertising  Poster: Posters & Printsimage.jpeg.74dd8ee7824d76cdf13ec565ffa9567e.jpeg1959 Pontiac Bonneville — Cascadia Classic - Portland Oregon1959 PONTIAC CATALINA

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12 hours ago, Graham Man said:

 

The bigger question is how did they stamp the 59 quarter panel? 

 

image.png.487b77c6eeab7391ebd2c79f07855ce3.png

 

Tortuously.

 

Undoubtedly there was a lot of metal finishing involved on these quarters. 

 

Re 59 Pontiac: I like the styling except for that sweepspear aft of the rear wheel opening. To me it was incongruous to the rest of the styling cues. I realize it was part of Harley Earl's last chrome-slathered styling gasp, but take it off and you have an incredibly cleanly styled automobile.

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I feel like it's not just 58 into 59, but pretty much every year from 54 to 55 to 56 . . . . all the way up to around 1962 or so when every year's cars had a pretty distinctive look.   Planned obsolescence, as the critics would put it; after a year, your "new" car is out of date.

 

Update: I see "Gunsmoke" above said something similar, although unlike him I really like the styling of these cars. A 1957 Chevy or a 1960 Buick may be overly styled, but I love the styling.  The flash and confidence of the era is pretty appealing to me, at least. To each his own!

Edited by 1935Packard (see edit history)
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10 hours ago, Pfeil said:

This styling is call flow through fender styling where the high line starts at the front fender and with a body crease continues through the door-s and over the rear quarter panel pontoon fender. Buick turned down using it because it's Air foil styling was still successful. The airfoil Buicks started in 1942 and are different than the Pontoon style Buicks and other G.M. products. Air flow styling took the high line fender styling through the middle of the body (door) basically extended the front pontoon to the rear fender, through the fender and fender skirt, and exited at the end of the skirt. In Flow Through fender styling the air foil line was raised over the rear pontoon. Simply an evolution of a theme. All 1949 G.M. cars would have Flow through fender styling.

1942 Buick, Pontoon styling. 

 

below 1942 Buick with Air Foil styling and you can see how a skirt is essential in this design.

1942 Buick Roadmaster Sedanet | T147 | Indy 2019

 

Austin thought it was influential enough to sell cars in North America:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Austin_A90_Atlantic#/media/File:Austin_A90_Atlantic_rear.JPG

 

Craig

Edited by 8E45E (see edit history)
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9 hours ago, Pfeil said:

 The new for 59 cars were longer and lower and wider and with those narrow front and rear tracks they looked funny, and as Pontiac's General manager said, " they looked like football players wearing ballet slippers" That was the start of wide track-in the styling studios.

 

Canadian Pontiacs DID!!

 

They were based on a Chevrolet chassis.

 

Craig

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2 hours ago, Bhigdog said:

58 was the year of ugly, stick more chrome on it, make it bigger,  "styling".........Bob

I agree but you could take the same basic car and order it the way you want. Look at these two 58 Pontiac's. You could have it either way.

A Star Chief below;

1958-pontiac-star-chief-7.jpg

Or a Chieftain Below;

1958 Pontiac Chieftain ConvertibleCarroll Shelby next to a 1958 Pontiac Chieftain, part of a new group...  News Photo - Getty Images Yes, that's Shelby

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