MCG Car Spotter’s Guide to the 1958 to 1962 Corvette

1960 Chev Corvette ConvertibleOur latest MCG Car Spotter’s Guide features the last and best of the classic straight-axle Corvettes, the 1958 to 1962 models. 

 

 

It’s said that while the ’53 through ’57 Corvettes (Spotter’s Guide here) got the party started, the ’58 through ’62 models really put the brand on the map. These cars established the Chevy two-seater as America’s sports car, and burnished its record as one of the hottest performers on the road.

For car spotter’s purposes, the ’58 to ’62 Corvettes can be broken into two basic subgroups: the round-tailed ’58, ’59, and ’60 cars, and the square-ended ’61 and ’62 models. From there, some unique features make the ’58, ’61, and ’62 cars easy to differentiate. However, the ’59 and ’60 Corvettes are nearly identical with only some minor trim variations to tell them apart. Let’s take them from the top.

 

1958 CorvetteStyling for 1958 was similar in theme to the ’56-’57 models, but refined and updated with trendy quad headlamps. A triple grille opening was bracketed by bumperettes on each corner—the first real bumpers on a Corvette—while the center opening continued with the large chrome teeth of the previous models.

 

1958 Corvette deck strakesHere’s one easy and obvious tell for the 1958 model: two large chrome rails that run the length of the deck lid, trim pieces found on no other year. It’s said that 1958 was the gaudiest year in GM styling history, with chrome doodads laid on thick throughout the model lineup. Not even the Corvette was spared.

Overall, the ’58’s rear styling follows the general round-bustled theme of the ’56-’57 cars, but one key difference is in the taillamps. On the earlier cars, small, round lenses are nestled in chrome teardrop housings, while the ’58 through ’60 models employ the flush lenses shown here.

 

1958 Corvette washboard hood 18 louversAnother one-year feature for 1958 was this washboard hood, as it is known, with 18 simulated louvers molded into the fiberglass outer panel.

 

1958 corvette features panelThis factory illustration details some of the features for ’58: quad headlamps with chrome surround rings, and the all-new dash with passenger grab rail. Exhaust outlets pass through the rear bumper ends.

 

1958 Corvette left cove red-whiteThe familiar Corvette fender coves, first seen in ’56, were continued for ’58, but with a closing panel at the front to form a simulated air exit, set off with three horizontal chrome spears. Two-tone paint was an available option, with the coves finished in a contrasting color—for ’58, Inca Silver, Snowcrest White, and black.

 

1958 Corvette cockpitThe Corvette’s cockpit was thoroughly revamped for 1958, with a new instrument cluster and a center stack atop the floor tunnel for the clock and radio and heater controls. Three vinyl interior colors were offered: Blue-Gray, Charcoal, and Red. This was the first year for factory-installed seat belts—lap belts only.

 

1958 Corvette instrument panel graphicThis infographic breaks down the control and instrument layout for ’58. The ’59 to ’62 cars share this format with minor differences such as tachometer scale.

 

1959 Corvette white redAppearance changes were minor for 1959. Mainly, the hood and deck lid gimmicks were eliminated. Snowcrest White, shown here, was the most popular color that year. Wheels were painted black under the wheel covers in 1959. In the following year they were painted to match the body color.

 

1960 Chev Corvette ConvertibleAnd here’s a 1960 model, which is essentially identical on the outside. However, this one is Honduras Maroon, a color not available in 1959. If you look closely, Fuel Injection script is visible on the front fender. Two Rochester fuel injection packages were available for the 283 CID V8 that year: 250 and 290 hp.

 

 The easiest way to tell the ’59 and ’60 Corvettes apart, Corvette people say, is to look at the dash. Two items identify this one as a ’60: 1) The thick flange around the radio speaker grille and 2) the red and blue bars above and below the Corvette block script on the passenger side dash fascia.The 1959 models lack these two identifiers.

 

Corvette dash trim comparisonThis detail shot shows the difference between the 1959 passenger side dash trim, top, and the 1960-on piece at the bottom with its red and blue bars. Obviously, this tell is only valid if the parts on the car are year-appropriate.

1961 Corvette rearIn 1961 the Corvette was treated to a new rear end design patterned after the 1959 Corvette Sting Ray concept. This same squared-off look would also be shared on the ’63-’67 Sting Ray production cars. The dual exhausts were now routed under the car instead of through the bumper ends. Note the four round taillamps. No production Corvettes were equipped with six lamps, but it was a popular owner mod, mirroring the six lamps on the Chevrolet Impala. This kustom touch is mentioned in the Jan & Dean song, “Dead Man’s Curve.”

 

????????????????????????????????????At the front, the changes were more subtle but still easy to spot: the toothed grille was eliminated and the headlamp rings were painted body color instead of chrome.

 

1961 Corvette left cove beige whiteFawn Beige (a metallic pale gold) was a popular new color for 1961, here paired with an Ermine White fender cove. A new tri-bar fender badge replaced the former crossed-flags emblem, but the triple chrome spears were retained for one more year.

 

1962 Corvette silverHere’s the last model in our Guide, the 1962 Corvette, shown here in Sateen Silver with a black interior. The big mechanical change for ’62 was an increase in displacement for the trusty small-block Chevy V8 from 283 to 327 cubic inches. Passenger car-style, dog dish hubcaps indicate the RPO 687 Big Brake option.

 

1962 Covette right coveHere’s the simple tell for the 1962 model. The familiar Corvette fender cove is still present, but the chrome surround trim has been eliminated. Instead, there’s a raised character line molded directly into the fiberglass. With no trim to cover the parting line, two-tone paint was discontinued for ’62. Also, the three chrome spears at the leading edge of the cove were replaced with this 18-fin trim gadget.

In these guides, we don’t try to detail all the annual model changes, mainly just the most simple and obvious ones that facilitate car spotting. If you know any good car spotting tips for these or other models, we’d love to hear them.

 

9 thoughts on “MCG Car Spotter’s Guide to the 1958 to 1962 Corvette

  1. If I recall another difference between the 59’s and 60’s involved the stitching in the seat upholstery inserts. The 59’s were horizontal and the 60’s were vertical.

  2. Another fabulous job of diging and finding and showing more great stuff for us gearheads. Thanks, Bill!

  3. You mention 1958 as first with roll up windows. That improvement came in 1956. Only the early 1953-55 models had the bolt in plexiglas side windows. Ben

  4. Your help in showing me the difference in Corvette models was so helpful, thank you so much.

  5. Your illustration of the 1961 red & white car shows the small center area behind the wheel cover spinners painted red to match the body. This is incorrect. No Corvettes were so equipped from the factory.

    • Incorrect is a funny word here because that is an official factory photograph. As they say in the fine print, features are subject to change without notice.

  6. Entirely true – For instance, official factory photographs also exist of a 1956 Corvette with a white hardtop on a darker body – also “incorrect” for production cars. Never the less, anyone restoring a 1961 Corvette and deciding to have the center of the hubcaps painted body color would have a deduction in judging points, as no cars were delivered this way – factory photograph or not.

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