1958 marked the second major revision to the Corvette since its inception in 1953. Although the chassis and running gear were essentially unchanged from the previous model, the body underwent a big makeover.
For the first time, the Corvette sported four headlights. The front grille was much larger and heavier. The front and rear “bumperettes” also were much larger, actually affording a bit of protection. Even the Corvette emblems on the hood and the trunk were larger than their ’57 counterparts. Side coves remained as a significant styling feature, but they were dressed up with a reverse scoop. Overall, the 1958 was more than nine inches longer and two inches wider than the nearly identical 1956 and 1957 models.
Less Concept Car, More Production Car
The interior was changed, too. The instruments were concentrated in a tidy pod, rather than strewn across the dashboard. There was a grab bar on the dash in front of the passenger. The familiar waffle pattern of the vinyl seat covers, door panels and hardtop liner was gone. It was replaced by a mimic of the popular “tuck and roll” interior treatment.
Most of the new design features were carried through to the following model years, such as the chrome strips that ran along the top of the front quarter panels from the headlight bezels almost to the windshield. But there were a few one-year-only items that make ‘58s easily identifiable. The hood had a “washboard” fake louver. And the trunk was adorned with two chrome spars. For years, the self-described purists among Corvette collectors looked down their noses at ‘58s, largely because they perceived these styling touches to be excessive.
That kind of snobbery didn’t bother Jay Orband when he found his ’58 in 1992. In fact, it may have helped keep the price down a bit. And Corvette owners didn’t seemed to be turned off by the glitz of the ’58 when it appeared on the showroom floors. 9168 were produced, far more than the 6339 Corvettes built the prior year, and just a tick over 500 fewer than the 1959 production. Today, ‘58s are valued every bit as highly as the rest of their first generation brethren.
Jay’s Panama Yellow ’58 side-by-side with an Aztec Copper ‘57
Just Ask the Man Who Owns One…
Jay is a past president of the Corvette Owners Club of San Diego and one of its most active members. His Panama Yellow Corvette is no trailer queen. It is a favorite at local car shows and is regularly driven in parades, on fun runs and other club events. It may be a bit of a challenge to keep up with the late models on twisty roads, but it is certainly no less fun to drive. In February 2010, Jay joined a group of Corvette owners at the Auto Club Speedway who were there to chauffeur NASCAR drivers on their pre-race parade lap. Because his ‘58 stood out from the sea of mostly C5 and C6 convertibles, Jay was selected to carry Danica Patrick prior to the Nationwide Series race and pole-sitter Juan Pablo Montoya before the Sprint Cup race.
For years, another Panama Yellow 1958 Corvette adorned the Corvette Diner in San Diego.
Equipped with the fuel-injected version of the Chevy small-block 283, Jay’s ride can be a bit temperamental at times. Anyone who has had the pleasure of owning a first generation Corvette knows that they are very high-maintenance. But over the years, Jay has mastered the ins and outs of the rare Rochester mechanical injector system and manages to keep it in tune.
For years, another Panama Yellow 1958 Corvette adorned the Corvette Diner in San Diego. When the Diner moved to a new, much larger location, restaurant owner David Cohn turned to the Corvette Owners Club of San Diego for assistance in refurbishing his ’58 in time for the Diner’s reopening. Because it would not run on its own, David’s ’58 was moved by forklift to a flatbed truck and transported to Jay’s place of business. For several days, Jay supervised the cleanup of the Corvette. A set of correct wide white Firestone tires were found and replaced the terrible all-weather radials that had been on the car. New gaskets were needed for the carburetors. And years’ worth of physical abuse was wiped away.
Some classic Corvettes spend their golden years as ornaments, but at least in this case, Orband's influence helped keep this particular example in a factory color.
When David passed the word that his interior designer didn’t like the Panama Yellow color, Jay convinced him to at least repaint it in a factory correct color. The designer selected Regal Turquoise from the ’58 color chart. The white coves remained. So visitors to the new Corvette Diner are once again welcomed by a familiar, if somewhat redone 1958 Corvette, placed on a pedestal just inside the front door.
Jay has no intention of selling his ’58 in the foreseeable future. And while one San Diego landmark ’58 may no longer be Panama Yellow, Jay isn’t about to change his colors.