Photos by Jerry Heasley.
A glance at the 1959 Corvette would suggest little had changed for GM’s sporty, two-seat roadster. Other than a few small styling changes, it appeared to be a mirror image of 1958. But some seat time would prove that looks can be deceiving.
Sports car purists were glad to see the bogus hood louvers and chrome decklid strips eliminated. Clearly they served no function, other than cluttering up Corvette’s clean design. Updates included a few new exterior colors, including black which had been on hiatus for one year. And for a mere $16.15, side coves could be painted a contrasting color; many buyers considered that money well spent. A frost blue convertible top made a one-year appearance. The full size hubcaps, while looking similar to 1958’s, now included 10 small, rectangular slots around the outer edges to aid in brake cooling. No other exterior changes were in the offering.
Interiors, on the other hand, were given special attention. Seats bolsters were slightly reshaped, and seat covers had horizontal rather than vertical pleats. Inside, door-opening knobs were moved forward at the request of Mr. Duntov, who, when driving an earlier model, noticed that the strap on the sleeve of his raincoat would get caught on the knob, resulting in opening the door whenever he made a left turn. For safety reasons, all four-speed vehicles received a reverse lockout T-handle below the shifter knob. Improved instrument panel lenses were concaved to reduce glare. With Corvette being short on places to put personal items, a fiberglass package tray was added on the passenger side, just below the grab handle. Sun visors finally became available, setting the buyer back an additional $10.80.
A number of chassis changes improved handling and braking. Trailing radius rods were added to the rear end, connecting the chassis to points above the axle at both sides and resulting in suppressed rear axle hop during hard acceleration. Shock attachments were relocated at the lower mounts to allow for longer shock travel and better spring damping. Shock internals were also improved, reducing fluid foaming. The heavy-duty brake and suspension option RPO 684 was enhanced with stiffer spring rates. New for 1959 was RPO 686, heavy-duty metallic brakes. Developed by GM’s Delco Moraine Division, each brake assembly had three pairs of lining segments riveted to the primary brake shoe and five slightly thicker pairs of lining segments riveted to the secondary shoe. While the option didn’t include finned drums, it did include special drums that were flared at the open end and honed to an inner surface finish, similar to that of the cylinder bore of an engine. The changes resulted in linings that were less harsh than the ceramic-metallic linings, and less sensitive when cold.
While braking and handling were certainly improved, Corvette’s powertrain options were carryovers. Horsepower of Chevrolet’s 283 cubic-inch small-block ranged from 230 when equipped with a mild hydraulic cam, 9.5:1 compression ratio and small four-barrel carburetor, to 290 horses when equipped with a Duntov solid lifter cam, 10.5:1 compression ratio and Rochester fuel injection. Transmission options included a three-speed manual, four-speed manual or two-speed Powerglide.
Sales improved slightly over 1958, with 9,670 Corvettes getting into customer hands, yet Chevrolet still hadn’t managed to crack that magic 10,000 sales number. GM would have to wait one more year for that to occur.
Fuel For Thought
Buyers appreciated the upgraded interior
Fastest production vehicle in America
Power windows available for $59.20
Heavy-duty brakes required dog dish hubcaps
Number built – 9,670
Construction – Body-on-frame
Engines – (5) 283 cubic-inch V-8s
Power/Torque – 230 horsepower, 245 horsepower, 250 horsepower, 270 horsepower, 290 horsepower
Transmissions – Three-speed manual, four-speed manual, two-speed automatic
Suspension front – Independent with unequal length upper and lower A-arms, coil springs and tubular hydraulic shock absorbers
Suspension rear – Live axle with semi-elliptical leaf springs, tubular shock absorbers and anti-roll bar
Steering – Saginaw worm and ball
Brakes – 11-inch, four-wheel drum
Length/width/height – 177.2/72.8/51.6 inches
Wheelbase – 102 inches
Weight – 2,912 lbs.
0-60mph/quarter mile – 6.6 seconds, 14.5 seconds at 96 mph (Road & Track, 1959)
Top speed – 128 mph (Road & Track, 1959)
MPG – 10 - 15 mpg est.
Price – MSRP - $3,875; Today – $28,500 - $76,200
Insurance cost is $352/year for a $44,100 1959 Corvette. This is based on 3,000 miles per year of pleasure driving.
*Based on a quote from Heacock Classic Car Insurance, www.heacockclassic.com
Engine – By 1959, Chevrolet’s small-block had matured to the point where it was considered indestructible. Fuelie cars easily revved to 6300 rpm without complaint.
Handling – Corvette’s handling was always considered best in class, and with the changes brought on for 1959, handling only got better. No other sports car could match Corvette’s combination of handling and performance.
1959 Austin Healey 3000
Number built – N/A
0-60/quarter mile – 10.2 seconds, 17 seconds at 76 mph
Top speed – 115 mph est.
Price – MSRP - $3,371; Today – $16,400 - $55,400
Number built – N/A
0-60/quarter mile – 14.0 seconds, 19.4 seconds at 70 mph
Top speed – 102 mph
Price – MSRP - $3,695; Today – $54,500 - $84,100
Parts readily available
America’s only true sports car
Expensive to purchase
Some restoration parts are expensive
Key components (floor pan, trunk pan, firewall) are not available
While Corvette’s values continue to increase, many are driven on a semi-regular basis.
What To Pay
MSRP – $3,875
Low – $28,500
Average – $44,100
High – $76,200
*Based on prices from the Classic Cars and Parts Price Guide, fueled by NADA and available wherever Corvette & Chevy magazines are sold.
Front suspension rebuild kit $399.99
Front grille $281.99
Weatherstrip kit $133.99
*Based on information from
Corvette Chassis Restoration Guide 1953-72 by Joseph A. Tripoli
Corvette Shop Service Repair Manual 1953-1962 by General Motors
The Complete Book of Corvette: Every Model Since 1953 (Hardcover) by Mike Mueller
Corvette Black Book 1953-2009 (Paperback) by Mike Antonick
Overall, the 1959 Corvette was an improvement from the previous year. Subtle changes improved ride and handling, as well as aesthetics. Though lacking a few comfort features, Chevrolet’s sports car was fun to drive with its owners being the envy of the neighborhood.
Our highly modified cover car is a wild 1959 fastback sporting a custom chassis, C4 suspension, and supercharged, 550-horse LS2 engine. It was built at Street Rods Only in Macon, IL (www.streetrodsonly.com).