Even Bill Mitchell, General Motors Design Chief, commented that the GM Styling practices of that era were too quick to “ladle on chrome with a trowel.” As the 1959 Corvette was nearing production, it was decided that, once again, the design teams would re-visit Corvette and clean up the overall appearance of the car.
Ironically, the 1958 ‘Vette, along with other Chevrolet models, had been the subject of more than a little criticism and ridicule for it’s excessive use of chrome plating and trim. As the previous model year began drawing to a close, Chevrolet basked ever so briefly in the fact that they had finally achieved sales and marketing success with the 1958 Corvette.
To the credit of all involved, the 1959 Corvette was “cleaned up” considerably. For one, the chrome “suspenders” were removed from the design, providing Corvette with a more swept-back look that was synonymous with speed.
For another, it was decided that the faux hood louvers would be eliminated, returning the Corvette to a semblance of its former self.
While these features were key identifiers of the 1958 Corvette, there was no question that the elimination of the excessive chrome would reduce weight and help increase performance.
Much like the exterior of the Corvette, the interior received minor, but significant updates as well. Both the door handles and the armrests were repositioned and a small-item storage compartment was added beneath the passenger side grab bar.
In addition, both the driver and passenger seats were redesigned to offer increased lateral support of their occupants. All tachometers now indicated up to 7,000 rpm and offered redline and safe limit indicators. Sun visors were introduced to the 1959 Corvette as a new option and concave instrument lenses replaced the flat covers of the 1958 Corvette, thereby reducing sun glare (and other reflections) that might cause a driver to become distracted.
Lastly, a T-handle manual transmission lockout was included to prevent drivers from accidentally putting their Corvettes in reverse.
As with the 1958 Corvette before it, the powertrain of the ‘59 Corvette was unchanged from previous years – with one exception: the addition of trailing radius rods.
These trailing rods were introduced to help counteract rear-axle windup, while also contributing to a softer overall ride and noticeably less rear-end shifting while driving on uneven or irregular surfaces.
In addition to the trailing radius rods, Chevrolet began offering even stiffer springs as part of the heavy-duty brakes/suspension option (RPO 684) that had been originally introduced as an option on the 1957 Corvette.
The addition of both of these new components helped produce consistently better handling and better handling also meant better overall performance, and the 1959 Corvette proved it at the test track. With quarter-mile times of less than 15 seconds and a 0-60 mph time of fewer than 8 seconds, the 1959 Corvette was considered to be remarkably fast – and notably fast even by today’s standards. The top-end “fuelies” (fuel injected) Corvettes were rated at 290 horsepower with a top speed of 128 miles per hour when mated with the 4.11:1 final drive.
DID YOU KNOW: The 1959 Corvette was the only production year where Chevrolet included an option of purchasing a turquoise soft top. Also, the 1959 Corvette marked the first year where consumers could purchase an all black interior. Lastly, 1959 marked the last year in which Chevy Corvette sold less than 10,000 units in a given model year.
Lastly, the braking system of the 1959 Corvette received some upgrades.
Several factory options including sintered-metallic linings (RPO 686) were introduced under the development of General Motors Delco-Moraine Division.
These new linings were comprised of three pairs of lining segments that were riveted to the primary brake shoe and five pairs of slightly thicker segments for the secondary shoes.
These sintered linings provided for smoother braking while requiring less time to heat up before providing maximum, effective braking.
Chevrolet sales of the 1959 Chevy Corvette totaled 9,670 units, a number that was just shy of the landmark 10,000 units that General Motors was now anxiously hoping to hit with its two-seater sports car.
Although Chevy was not yet making a significant profit from sales of the Corvette, it was no longer costing Chevrolet money either. The modest numbers continued to point in the right direction, and both Corvette designers and engineers believed that they were on the brink of surpassing the 10,000 units/year number.
Still, it was now clear that American car enthusiasts were finally embracing the Corvette as a serious sports car which meant that Chevrolet would continue moving forward with the development of an, as yet unrealized, second-generation Corvette.
With prototype designs like the exceedingly expensive “Q-Corvette” and Bill Mitchell’s “XP-700” already envisioned, anticipation amongst General Motors executives, engineers, and designers was on the rise.