Whenever I read Letters to the editor in some magazines, people complain about the relevance of the Lamborghinis, the Enzo Ferraris and the SLR McLarens: no-one can drive these things quickly, so what’s the point of having them?
The late 1950s were an exciting time for the domestic automobile industry. Year after year, the challenge to continue being on top in sales fortified the need to bring out new and exciting models. Chevrolet and Ford fought tirelessly year after year for the top spot. In 1958, Chevrolet led in sales, out-selling Ford by over 272,000 units. Ready to compete again for 1959, both Ford and Chevrolet prepared to unveil their totally new product. Unlike today, it was yearly sheet metal changes that gave the public a reason to bring a new car home every September.
The year proved to be a unique at several levels. The 1958 Ford and Chevrolet designs were not received well by the public, and both companies were ready to show their new vehicles. Chevrolet’s goal was to refine their product line in an effort continue being number one in sales. And it was certainly refined. With the exception of its doors, all 1959 Chevrolet sheet metal was brand new, as was the new 348ci V8.
While sharing its basic body shell with Oldsmobile and Buick, the new Chevrolet looked futuristic, but not quite as bulky as in 1958. The Delray series was dropped, and the Biscayne, the Bel Air and the new Impala were left to fill the gap. A new “flat roof” four-door hardtop became available. The thin pillar roof provided outstanding visibility in both the front and rear. In an effort to lower the vehicle’s silhouette, headlamps were now positioned within the grille area instead of above it, and, in the rear, stylish horizontal fins and large “cat’s eye” taillights gave a wide appearance. Its chassis was now 1.5 inches longer than the previous year. Overall height was lowered about one inch lower on sedans and two inches on station wagons, improving the center of gravity and providing better handling.
The new 1959 body design provided enhanced interior space. Hip and shoulder room was increased by 4 inches in the front and 3 inches in the rear, while headroom increased about 1.5 inches. Legroom remained about the same as in 1958. A newly designed dash improved gauge visibility with a large circular center pod speedometer, with four smaller pods, two on each side, housing additional gauges. For the first time, electric windshield wipers were made standard equipment. The large wrap-around windshield offered 61% more visibility, and a revised heating system increased interior airflow by 30%. Other comfort features included an optional six-way power front seat and power windows.
Chevrolet’s X-box chassis was mostly carryover for 1959. While the front suspension remained the same, its rear suspension was improved with the use of a new horizontal stabilizer bar attached to the four-link system. Chevrolet’s optional, but trouble-prone, air-ride suspension continued through the model year, but was cancelled in 1960 due to quality issues. Braking distances were decreased with larger brake linings.
The sedan delivery was perhaps the most unique Chevrolet for 1959. Based on the two-door Biscayne station wagon, the sedan delivery was a vehicle for small businesses and for those people who needed to transport large items. The difference between the sedan delivery and the two-door station wagon was the area behind the doors, where glass would normally be on a station wagon. Instead, the area was covered with sheet metal, offering security for the contents inside. A one-piece tailgate lifted up, allowing large items to be placed on the floor. The standard sedan delivery featured one bucket seat. A passenger bucket seat or one bench seat was available as an option. Only 5,226 sedan deliveries were produced for 1959, making them quite rare today.
Specifications Number built– 1,436,954 total units, including 5,226 sedan deliveries Construction– Body-on-frame Engine– 235ci six cylinder, 283ci V-8, 348ci V-8 Power/Torque– 135/217 (six-cylinder), 185/275 (283 V-8 with 2bbl.), 230/300 (283 V-8 with 4 bbl.), 250/305 (283 V-8 with fuel injection), 290/290 (283 V-8 with fuel injection and special cam), 250/355 (348 V-8 with 4 bbl.), 280/355 (348 V-8 with tri-power), 300/350 (348 V-8 with 4 bbl. and high compression), 315/356 (348 V-8 with tri-power and high compression) Transmission– Three-speed manual, three-speed with overdrive, four-speed manual, PowerGlide, TurboGlide Suspension front– Coil springs with unequal length control arms Suspension rear– Four link coil and lateral control arm Steering– Recirculating ball/nut Brakes– 11-inch four-wheel drum front and rear 199.5 square inch total lining area Length/width/height– 210.9/79.9/56.3 inches Wheelbase– 119 inches Weight– 3,678 lbs. with V-8 0-60mph/quarter mile– 9.0 seconds/16.3 seconds at 83 mph (Motor Trend, February 1959) Top speed– 115 mph est. MPG– 11-16 est. Price– MSRP $2,689 (Biscayne Brookwood); Today – $4,550-$19,800
Fuel For Thought 814 units were produced with the 348ci engine The sedan delivery offered 93 cubic feet of interior space behind the driver’s seat Series 1107 vehicles were equipped with a six-cylinder engine, series 1207 Vehicles were equipped with a V-8 engine Rear fins were rumored to make the vehicle airborne at high speeds Last year for fuel injection
Engine While low on power, Chevrolet’s stovebolt six-cylinder was a proven and reliable powertrain. The 283ci small block was, without a doubt, the best engine on the market, offering over one horsepower per cubic-inch when equipped with fuel injection. The 348ci V-8, introduced in 1958, gave little added power with the disadvantage of additional weight. None of Chevrolet’s engines had any inherent mechanical problems.
Handling Handling was typical of cars during the 1950s, with excessive roll on hard turns, especially in cars equipped with the 348ci engine. Ride was, however, boulevard smooth, exactly what the American public wanted.
Strong Pois Improved styling from 1958 Outstanding performance Large number of available powertrain options One year only body style
Weak Points Poor handling The taillights and fins lack universal appeal Exterior trim and sheet metal parts not available in the aftermarket Many unrestored cars have major rust issues
What To Pay 1959 Chevrolet Biscayne Brookwood MSRP – $2,689 Low – $4,550 Average – $10,850 High – $19,800 *Based on prices from the Classic Cars and Parts Price Guide, fueled by NADA and available wherever Kustoms and Hot Rods magazines are sold.
Insurance cost Insurance cost is $127/ year for a stock 1959 Chevrolet Sedan Delivery valued at $10,850. For a modified vehicle, insurance cost is $250/year. This is based on 3,000 miles per year of pleasure driving. *Based on a quote from Heacock Classic Car Insurance, www.heacockclassic.com
Parts Prices Master cylinder - $90.00 Engine rebuild kit - $642.43 Fuel pump - $58.04 Carpet kit - $219.00 Exhaust system - $463.60 Outside mirror - $59.95 L/s front floor pan - $99.95 *Based on information from Classic Industries,800-854-1280
Alternative 1959 Ford Ranch Wagon Number built– 45,558 0-60/quarter mile– 10.5 seconds/18.0 seconds at 76.5 mph Top speed– 110 mph est. Price– MSRP – $2,685; Today – $5,600-$15,900
Alternative 1959 Plymouth Custom Suburban Two-Door station wagon Number built– 1,852 0-60/quarter mile– 8.5 seconds/16.4 seconds at 83.3 mph Top speed– 118 mph Price– MSRP – $2,814; Today – $5,725-$20,000
Vehicle Category Most 1959 Chevrolets are in the weekend driver category, regularly taken to cruise nights and formal car shows.
Books Standard Catalog of 1950s Chevrolet by Jon G. Robinson Bowties of the Fifties by James Moloney Pictorial History of Chevrolet 1958-1960 by John D. Robertson Chevy Muscle Cars by Mike Mueller Chevy 348-409 Hi-Po by R.M. Clarke
Review The 1959 Chevrolet sedan delivery offers something out of the ordinary for vintage cars. While based on a Chevrolet car, styling is quite unique. Rarely seen at car shows, the sedan delivery provides the owner the boulevard ride of a car but the advantage of a large carrying capacity.