Here's the story:
Illustrated Corvette Series No. 8 - 1958 Corvette
For better or worse, Chevrolet changed everything in 1958. The classic '57 Chevy was gone along with the simple and elegant '57 Corvette. Chevrolet was on a roll and styling was getting overdone.
From a business standpoint, the '58 Corvette was a huge success. Sales were up from 6,339 in '57 to 9,168 in '58. There were slight improvements under the hood also. The top-of-the-line fuelie was up 7 horses to 290 hp, while the base 283 4-barrel, was up 10 horses to 230 hp. The drivetrain and brakes were all carryovers from the 1957 model. The Corvette had finally shaken off its Motorama/European roots and was truly a high performance American classic.
Of course, Chevrolet was "officially" out of racing, thanks to the 1957 AMA factory ban on racing. But Zora Arkus-Duntov made sure that the Corvette order forms were loaded with almost everything needed to build a competitive Corvette. There were still those fortunate few who enjoyed a back-door friendship with Chevrolet. The most successful of these "privateers" was Dr. Dick Thompson, the "Flying Dentist." Thompson and his factory supported Corvettes dominated SCCA class racing in the late '50s and early '60s.
Where the 1958 Corvette took flak was in its styling. The 1956-57 design was simple yet elegant, while the '58 design seemed overdone, with too many add-ons. The most obvious addition was the extra set of headlights. Under each headlight was a large simulated air duct. The bumpers were larger and there was a chrome accent atop each fender. The hood had 18 fake louvers, similar to the SR-2. On the trunk lid there were two strips of chrome from the bumpers to the top edge of the trunk. The rear bumpers were also larger. And the side coves now had extra chrome trim.
All of these extra styling elements added 9 inches to the overall length and 2.3 inches to the width. Worst of all, the weight went up by 200 pounds to 3,030. The inside joke was how "Cadillac-like" the new Corvette had become. The interior did get good reviews. The instruments were in front of the driver and a console was added along with new door panels. But the seats lacked side support and were uncomfortable on long rides.
The styling excesses lasted only one year. The '59 Corvette was a much cleaner car. Best of all, the Corvette was now a performance icon. - K. Scott Teeters