1958-59 Chevrolet Light-Duty trucks:
A New Mission for the "Task-Force"

by Tony Hossain


Collectible Automobile

 
With a new full-width Fleetside pickup box, the 1958 Chevrolet pickup was able to catch up to rival Ford's similar Styleside models. 
Trendy new quad-headlight styling and underhood power boosts updated what was basically Chevy's 1955-57 design. (Owner: David Meyer)

 

Updated styling, a new available pick-up bed configuration, and added power freshened Chevrolet's successful light-duty truck line for the late Fifties and helped continue the sales leadership the brand had enjoyed for 20 years.

    In the automotive business, sometimes it takes an all-new design to dominate the marketplace. Sometimes it doesn't.

    Nineteen fifty-five will forever be remembered as the year Chevrolet completely reinvented itself. A hot car with a hot new V-8 smashed all sales records and sent competitors scrambling to catch up. And it wasn't just cars that kept Chevy ahead of Ford and everybody else. It was trucks, too.

    A fresh series of "Task-Force" trucks, the first totally new Chevy trucks since the "Advance-Design" series that bowed in 1947, complemented the Chevrolet car line perfectly. These "Second-Series" '55s that arrived in March of that year were far more carlike in styling and features than any trucks for a long time. At the top of the 1f2-ton line was a new high-style image leader called the Cameo Carrier. Elaborately and colorfully customized inside and out, this new entry featured styled fiberglass panels attached to the sides of an otherwise conventional cargo box for a flush-sided look. Truly beautiful-but expensive (prices started at $2144 compared with $1670 for the base full-fendered pickup )--the Cameo predicted the coming "personal-use" era for the pickup truck, one in which looks would begin to matter as much as utility. Upon its introduction, Chevrolet presciently declared, "Cameo might just set an entirely new style trend in the light­duty truck field."

    Sales numbers told the tale of Task­ Force domination. In 1954, the last full year of the Advance-Design generation, Chevrolet retailed 293,079 trucks. Registrations jumped to 329,791 in 1955 for 31 percent of market share. In '56, share increased again to 32 percent, with Ford trailing by a wide margin.
    Weary of second-place finishes, Ford fielded a radically new line of cars and trucks for 1957. The trucks had an angular, straight-edged appearance that con trasted dramatically with Chevrolet's soft, rounded sheetmetal, which was unchanged from 1955. A significant new entry in the Ford line-and an innovation that would forever change the American pickup-was the Styleside box. Probably inspired by the Cameo Carrier, the Styleside was as helpful as it was handsome. It featured all-steel construction with straight-through "fenderless" styling that eliminated side steps. With wheel wells tucked inside the side panels, a wider load floor and tailgate were real benefits, and Ford made this added beauty and utility available for the same price as a base fender-side truck. The result was a big year for Ford dealers. The long and low Ford car outsold the lightly revamped Chevrolet for the first time since 1935, and Chevy's edge in truck demand shrank to some 14,000 units.
    With competition suddenly so intense, industry observers eagerly awaited the Chevrolet response for 1958. On Thursday, October 31, 1957, the new Chevys were unveiled in showrooms across the country and one thing was obvious: Chevy was back in the game. The Chevrolet passenger cars were radically restyled and reengineered. Headed by a brace of new Impala models, they returned the marque to the top of the car-sales charts.
    On the truck side of the business, Chevy pursued a less-ambitious strategy, albeit one that would prove surprisingly successful. "In a highly competitive industry that tolerates no complacency, Chevrolet trucks have outsold all others for many years. Customer confidence is the best measure of progress in the design, quality, and performance of our vehicles. The1958 models promise to strengthen that confidence," said Harry F. Barr, chief engineer at Chevrolet.

    The ladder-frame chassis with leaf­spring suspension front and rear, the power trains, and the cab of the 1958 Chevy trucks were clearly based on the 1955 design. Still, the '58s did look new and more muscular, thanks to some very successful face lifting. Chevy called it "Massive Functional Styling."

    Though it conformed to the carryover cowl and doors, sheetmetal from the firewall forward was reshaped, with the biggest differentiator being quad headlights. The four-headlamp style was adopted for all '58 GM cars and most Chevy and GMC trucks. Without question, the new 5.75-inch-diameter lamps gave the Chevy trucks a modern, "important" appearance, and GM claimed that low-beam visibility was extended by up to 50 feet.

    The twin windsplits that sat atop the domed hoods of Chevrolet's 1957 trucks were replaced by stout ribs that ran down the edges of the '58 hoods. The lower part of the front fenders now flared out ahead of the wheel openings and a hefty new grille with rectangular parking-lamp/turn-signal lenses at the ends stretched out across the front. A new hood emblem featured a red Chevrolet "bow tie" on a black ribbed background. A flat "V" under the bow tie identified models equipped with V-8 engines. Fenders sported a black-paint-filled "jet plane" badge that contained series ID.

 

 


1-3. Chevy trucks were newly grouped into families in '58. Light-duties were dubbed Apaches. Among them was the Series 31, which included the Cameo. A Chrome grille, full-width rear window, and two-tone interior were standars. 4. The V-8 option grew to a 160-bhp 283-cid engine. (Owner: Robert Ingold)