Car of the Week: 1958 Chevrolet Corvette

Story and photos by Brian Earnest

Kent Gibbs had been dreaming about owning a 1958 Corvette for most of his adult life. Once he met fellow ‘Vette enthusiast Randy McCarry, it only took him a few days to finally bring one home.

The two retired Waupaca, Wis., residents met two years ago in a concealed carry class put on by local law enforcement. Gibbs noticed McCarry’s Corvette jacket and the talk soon turned to their mutual admiration for the Great American Sports Car.

“It all happened at the right time,” laughs Gibbs. “It happened because I was going a little bit stir crazy in Wisconsin during the cold winters. I was fortunate to run into Randy, and when I ran into Randy he showed me what he has and we knew of a car that was available, and we went and got it and the next thing you know I’m into it.”

The two retirees acted a bit like impulsive teenagers when they hit the road to go see a ’58 Corvette out in Colorado. Neither put a lot of thought into the trip. They just hooked up a trailer and headed west. “My son [Andrew] out in Denver had told me that he was working with a guy who had one that was sitting and he didn’t know if he wanted to sell it or not. But the car was in relatively good shape. It had an engine in it. It was not the correct engine, but it had an engine. He said it would be a great car to play with (son Andrew). He’s always know that I wanted one — all three  of my sons have known that I’ve been looking for a ’58 for forever. [laughs].

“I had no idea what I was doing and Randy with his enthusiasm and especially when I came over to his garage and saw the ’58 he had, it kind of ignited the whole thing and the next thing I know just a week after I met the guy we were pulling the trailer behind my truck to Denver. I had no idea what the cost of the car was going to be. It was just, ‘I’m bored, it’s winter in Wisconsin, so we’re going.’”

The pair met up with the owner, looked the car over and took it out for a couple quick test drives. Gibbs didn’t know if he was ready to pull the trigger, but McCarry made sure the car didn’t get away. “He said, ‘Buy it, … I’ll guarantee it that the car is in good enough condition that we can improve it and make a nice vehicle out of it.  And he said you won’t lose a nickel on it.”

McCarry has a beautifully restored ’58 Corvette in his fleet of vehicles and Gibbs wasn’t going to argue with him. The car was soon home in his garage with its new owner facing more decisions regarding exactly what the future of the Charcoal-colored ’58 should be.

“We brought it back here with the idea at the time to clean it up and make it nice. It looked like a fun little car to drive around the neighborhood in. The more that I did and the more I touched the car, the more I decided we needed to do more than what originally [planned]. We wanted to certainly take it back to its original gloss, which was accomplished, and make it a reliable car that you could take to shows and stuff.”

 

1958: The quad headlights arrive

Perhaps the biggest change, at least in looks, for the Generation 1 Corvettes came when the 1958 models began heading down GM production lines on Oct. 31, 1957. There were now four chrome rimmed headlights with fender-length chrome strips running between each pair of lights. As if that weren’t enough litter, fake louvers were placed on the hood. The grille was similar to the previous year’s, but had four fewer vertical bars. Three horizontal chrome strips were added to the new cove. A couple of vertical chrome bars decorated the trunk. They detracted from an otherwise graceful rear end treatment. The wraparound front and rear bumpers were larger. The interior changed dramatically. The gauges were clustered together, rather than spread across the dash as before. A center console and passenger assist (sissy) bar were added. Upholstery was available in red, charcoal or blue-green.

The standard issue engine was a 230-hp 283-cid V-8 with a Carter four-barrel carburetor. Almost 11 percent of 1958 Corvettes were powered by the 283-cid/290-hp fuel-injected V-8. A 1958 Corvette with the standard 230-hp V-8 and 4.11:1 rear axle could go from 0-to-60 mph in 9.2 seconds. It did the quarter-mile in 17.4 seconds at 83 mph and had a top speed of 103 mph. A 1958 Corvette with the optional 250-hp fuel-injected V-8 and 3.70:1 rear axle could go from 0-to-60 mph in 7.6 seconds and from 0-to-100 mph in 21.4 seconds. It did the quarter-mile in 15.7 seconds at 90 mph and had a top speed of 120 mph. A 1959 Corvette with the 290-hp fuel-injected engine took only 6.9 seconds to go from 0-to-60 mph and got slightly better gas mileage.

Three-speed manual floor shift transmission was standard. Powerglide automatic transmission as $188 extra with a four-speed manual floor shift transmission available for an extra $215. Other items on the options list included: heater ($97); power top ($140); additional cove color ($16.15); detachable hardtop ($215.20); Signal-seeking AM radio ($144); power windows ($59.20); special 15 × 5.5-inch wheels (no charge); windshield washer ($16); whitewall tires ($31.55); courtesy lights ($6.50); positraction ($48.45); and parking brake alarm ($5.40).

Eight different exterior colors were available, including the one-year-only Charcoal option, which wound up on Gibbs’ car. Other choices were: Silver Blue; Panama Yellow; Tuxedo Black; Snowcrest White; Regal Turquoise; Signet Red and Inca Silver. White and Silver Blue turned out to be the favorite colors among buyers. The cove could be painted silver or white.

In all, 9,168 Corvettes were built for the model year at a base price of $3,591.

 

A Catholic past

Gibbs has ownership records for his car going back to its original purchase, and the car got off to a bit of an unusual start right out of the gate. “A Catholic priest bought it new in one of the New England states,” Gibbs laughs. “And it had fuel injection. I think he was defrocked about the same time he sold the car! He then sold it to another guy and that guy had it gosh, 35, 40 years in Pennsylvania. And then it went down in one of the middle states, I can’t recall which one, then it was sold to the fella that I bought it from in Denver. The fella I bought it from bought it for his wife.  He wanted to get it all fixed up for her and have her drive it into the mountains and stuff. It was carbureted at the time. The original car was fuel-injected… Anyway, she didn’t like it at all and that’s where it stayed. That’s where we found it… He wasn’t real excited about selling it until we pulled up in a trailer, then he said OK.

“Everything was original on it except for the engine. For some reason, the engine was different. One of the big problems with the 1958 Corvettes early on was the fuel injection wasn’t reliable and they kept blowing. In fact, if you look under the hood you can the see the rings where the fuel injection had been in there and had blown. They put a two-barrel in it with an engine that they had restored — it was a Chevelle engine.”

Gibbs decided to search for a correct engine for the Corvette about the same time he decided it needed bodywork and a new coat of Charcoal paint. Once he had the car apart, he just decided to go all out and make the car as nice as he could. He had waited a long time to acquire a ’58 ‘Vette, and he didn’t want to have any regrets about how he treated it.

“Randy is the brains behind the operation entirely. I put a lot of time and effort into it, too, and it wasn’t work. It was an absolute pleasure; just a great deal of fun,” he says. “We worked hard to match the color. We had to take the original paint that was on the car off, so we took it all the way down and had to refinish the fiberglass. Old 1958 fiberglass is pretty difficult to work with. So we spent about 7 months doing that, we worked with APS, which is a company over in Appleton, and they helped me find the original formula for this paint and we had it sprayed on locally and then finished it from there. We had a shop locally here that we worked with and the guy was very tolerant and only took months to get the car in and out because he had his business to run and he did my work kind of after hours.”

Gibbs thought finding a correct engine block to replace the transplanted Chevelle engine would be one of his biggest challenges. He found the answer in an unlikely spot right in his back yard.

“That’s an interesting story. You know, back in 1958 — everybody talks about stamping cars and knowing numbers and stuff. But there were no numbers stamped on the engine blocks back in 1958, so while the car has the original serial number plate, there was nothing that you could compare it to. If you’re at the point you want to talk about getting it judged and stuff, you try to find a date–specific block. The idea is to find an engine that was built within 2 months of the construction of the car. I searched all over the place. I’d go in magazines and I’d look and look and look. Interestingly enough, I found one here in Waupaca, and that was only because a guy started talking to me at a car show. ‘You ought to go see Leroy, he’s got his business right across the street from Fleet Farm here in Waupaca.’ I walked into this great big barn and here sits a 1957 Corvette that’s just immaculate. It’s got about and inch and a half of dust on it. He said yeah I’ve got a block back here. So I went in there and bought the block from him and picked up a bunch of other parts for next to nothing. I had the block rebuilt over in Appleton with new pistons and all that and a cam and the result is what I’m driving with it.”

Along the way Gibbs also replaced the cloth convertible top, swapped in a new windshield and re-did the dash pad, along with a few other things. The end result is mighty impressive. The first thing that jumps out in the immaculate paint job. The one-year-only Charcoal two-tone treatment screams understated cool.  “To find a Charcoal one is really unique,” he says. “They only did that for a short period of time. I think the problem might have been , and I’m on speculating, but I think it was so labor-intensive to put it on. It’s got kind of a metallic to it, and to get that done back in 1958 with the lacquer and every car was painted individually at that time. I think they just said, ‘Let’s just paint it black.’”

“The viability of everything and how much stuff should you get done all comes down to how much enjoyment you want to have out of the car. I’ve gotten a lot of enjoyment out of it. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”

Gibbs is already putting the car thought its paces. He’s only had the car on the road for the past year and has already driven Corvette to Michigan for an event and hits plenty of local car shows. The car gets plenty of exercise just around town in the summer, too, and that’s when Gibbs says he enjoys it most.

“I have a 2001 Corvette that is absolutely h compared to this. This is an early, early Corvette,” he chuckles. “It’s right back to the basics. It’s got a rough ride, but it’s a lot of fun. It’s a great ride!”

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