Simanaitis Says

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I CAN UNDERSTAND MIXED VIEWS of the original Chevrolet Corvette (R&T, June 1954: “When first driving the car there is a tendency to keep reaching for the gear shift lever [the first Vette was 2-speed Powerglide only] and the total absence of a clutch pedal is disconcerting.” “Is it really a sports car?”).

The Latest Vette. Here it is, 1959, and R&T said, “In 1955 the fiberglass-bodied car started to come alive when Chevrolet’s new V-8 engine was offered as an option.” “In 1957 the performance potential was given a real boost when fuel injection and a 4-speed, all-synchromesh transmission were made available. A heavy-duty suspension kit (developed at the request of competition-minded enthusiasts) included stiffer springs, dampers and improved brakes.”

“These were all retained for 1958,” the magazine continued, “and the commercial artists inflicted quad headlights and fake hood louvers on the only production sports car built in the U.S.”

This and following images from R&T, January 1959

R&T observed, “The appearance of the 1959 Corvette has been improved by the simple expedient of removing the phony hood louvers and the two useless chrome bars from the deck lid.”

New Seating. The seats, R&T reported, “have been redesigned and are among the most comfortable seats in any car, sports or otherwise. They quite adequately do the job of holding driver and passenger comfortably in place during all but the most violent action. We do feel, though, that safety belts would be desirable if much hard driving is to be done.” 

This was a time that even competition-car seat belts were something of a controversial matter: Was it better to be thrown to safety?

“Heart of the Corvette is the fuel-injected, 290-horsepower, 283-cubic inch V-8 engine.”

A Fuel Injection Benefit. R&T observed, “Driving this course [Riverside Raceway] at high speeds also confirmed our earlier opinion of one definite advantage of fuel injection. It is claimed by many Corvette enthusiasts that a Corvette equipped with dual 4-barrel carburetors will outperform the FI model at the upper end. This may or may not be true, but the fuel injection has it all over carburetors for throttle response and lack of sensitivity to motion. There is no flooding or starving on hard cornering with fuel injection. (My italics to suggest a previous tradeoff of improved automotive handling.)

A Road Testing Curiosity. R&T recounted, “The first item on the check list, and one on which all results would hinge, was speedometer error.” 

This, note, was before independent fifth-wheel measurements: An observer punched a series of stopwatches based on the car’s speedometer readings. It also explains why Speedometer Error was cited in R&T Data Panels. In the Vette’s case, R&T “discovered the error to be about average for most cars tested, with the maximum error of 4 mph at indicated 100 mph.”

Tapley Readings and Acceleration. Tapley readings, as can be seen in the data panel, were somewhat lower than those obtained with a similarly equipped 1957 Corvette (R&T, August 1957).” The ’57 was “off-scale” in 1st and 2nd; 505 lb/ton in 3rd and 380 lb/ton in 4th.

R&T reported, “The subsequent acceleration tests indicated the newer car to be somewhat slower getting off the starting line, but the figures improved as the upper speed ranges were reached. This could be explained by the additional weight of the 1959 model and by the newness of the car (it had less then 500 miles on the odometer) when we took it out for the test.”

“All the Speed You Need, and Then Some.” The ’57 Vette got to 60 mph in 5.7 seconds, whereas the ’59 car did it in 6.6. To put the newer “slower” car in perspective, note the Mercedes-Benz Roadster’s 0-60 time of 7.0 seconds and the Jaguar XK-150-S’s 7.3. Or even more telling, the Ferrari Type 212’s 7.05.

R&T Summation. Taking everything into consideration,” R&T said, “the Corvette is a pretty good car. It probably has more performance per dollar than anything you could buy and parts are obtainable without sending to Italy, Germany, or England.”

Geez, only “pretty good”?? Only “probably”?? ds 

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2023 

5 comments on “’59 VETTE—ONLY “PRETTY GOOD”??

  1. Jack Albrecht
    February 9, 2023

    Amazing that a sports car only a little bit older than me came with no seatbelts at all. My first car had only lap belts (69 Charger) but I got shoulder belts from a junkyard. No automatic tensioning in those days!

    • simanaitissays
      February 9, 2023

      I installed them in my ’59 English Ford Consul convertible. I forget whether they were in my ’63 Falcon convertible or whether I installed them. My next car, a Volvo 122S on St. Thomas in ’69 had innovative seat/shoulder belts standard. I recall I added them to the Moke. (For once, the “getting thrown clear” might have had validity.)

      • Mike B
        February 9, 2023

        Dad installed front seat lap belts in our ’57 Chevy family wagon. And insisted that we wear them when learning to drive! Ditto (and probably more important, because the driver’s door had no inside lock) in the VW. My first actually owned car, a’71 Opel, had separate lap & shoulder belts – and when using the shoulder belt much of the dash was unreachable. When the ’74s came out with inertia-reel belts, I bought a set from the parts dept, but the dealer refused to install them; found a blacksmith to weld some mounting plates into the car, and drill & tap them, and installed the belts myself.

      • Jack Albrecht
        February 10, 2023

        I always think what a wonderful time it must have been in 1969 on St. Thomas for you. A young man on a tropical island with a steady, interesting job. How cool is that?

    • simanaitissays
      February 10, 2023

      Yes, Jack. I look back fondly at STT days. Patching the Volvo’s exhaust system with Malta Corona cans, hose clamps, and goop. Grocery shops lacking necessities (“Dat be ‘finished,’ mon.”).

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