Reference: > Research > 1958 > Chevrolet > Road Test 1.
The following article appeared in Wheels, March 1959.


Big, powerful, comfortable and easy to drive, Chev's Biscayne gives the £2,000 size motorist lots of everything, including a barrage of lights on the front.
RIGHT at a time when motor addicts are examining Detroit's latest gargantuas with mingled feelings of incredulity, hostility and reluctant admiration, we in Australia are only beginning to know a little about the models before.
The Chevrolet Biscayne is a case in point. Not until recently did this General Motors gull-winged-styled charabanc become available for full road test. It's impossible, therefore, not to look at the six-cylinder 100 m.p.h. newcomer with an eye to what is on the way to supersede it.
A glance at the Biscayne reveals two radical styling departures - the hollowed out panels at the rear which G.M. publicity has likened somewhat poetically to gulls' wings, and a front revamped to include dual headlights and twin pairs of parker-flasher units low down.
But two plus two plus two plus two, you will readily appreciate, is eight lights at the front, which at the ends of a colossal expanse of beehive grille, must seem to the average pedestrian like a refugee from a Hollywood underwater epic.
What is not apparent is that other, equally radical changes have been made to the Chevy's chassis design and suspension.
The six-seater body, for a start, is a whole 9 in. longer, 4 in. wider and 2 3/4 in. lower. While it's easy for the boffins at G.M. figuratively to grab last year's model by the bumpers and stretch it a teeny bit, it takes skill and extensive re-tooling to flatten it by so much as an inch, without sacrificing the critical tenths of an inch in interior dimensions that make a car comfortable or otherwise.
Yet, the Biscayne has been flattened by not one, but nearly three in. with the help of a new, more torsionally stable X-frame whose cross-section is reminiscent of a railway truck.
And to keep the tailshaft tunnel within reasonable limits (some of the Biscayne's contemporaries of this year got out of hand in this respect so that middle-of-the-seat passengers practically had to ride side-saddle) a new two-piece arrangement was devised with the centre universal in the narrow waist of the X-frame.
Inside the front compartment, the result is a very modest hump.
Other changes included an increase in wheelbase by 21/2 in. and a smaller increase in the track. In the same savagely revolutionary mood, G.M. designers tossed away the longitudinal leaf springs which have held up the Chev's rear end for so long, and substituted big coils, held in place by offset trailing arms. To help locate the rigid axle they added a sheet metal yoke which served also to raise the roll centre.
The four-coil layout, a la Buick, was certainly long overdue, and probably marks a stage in the evolution of American suspension towards something resembling the single-joint swing axle arrangement of the Mercedes-Benz.
The long lasting, Blue Flame Chevrolet o.h.v. six motor now has the job of hauling an extra 70-odd lb., making an all-up weight of just over 31 cwt. So as a concession seemingly more for the benefit of an American public which at the time was surreptitiously horsepower-hungry, the compression ratio was raised to 8.25:1 for a gain of five h.p., making a total 145 gross b.h.p.
On top of all this hardware went a body of undeniably pleasant contours which, beside the flyaway fins and triple-turret tail lights of its competitors, was downright earthy.
Combined, in America, with optional equipment such as self-levelling air suspension, any one of 18 engine and transmission combinations with six or V8 engines in five stages of tune, the Biscayne was, to put it mildly, quite a rocket.
But even in its modest six-cylinder form, as we get in in here, it represents quite a deal of motor car (17 ft. 5 in.) for the money (£2,165)
Inside our road test model, supplied by Preston Motors, Melbourne, there are few visual surprises. One of these was the leather upholstery. (Leather, in case you've forgotten, is that stuff that cows grow.) It was fine, but used in an old-looking brown colour that caused a passenger of mine to remark that the upholstery was wearing well, wasn't it!
The seats themselves were very comfortable. There was no shortage of leg, head, hip or elbow room. The Biscayne is American spaciousness at its best - superb. I would, however, like a central armrest in the pilot's cabin, for the lone passenger who is apt to get chucked about in rough country.
The standard of interior finish was determined, as it must always be, by details. It was unfortunate that the duco paintwork on the doors had been carelessly masked and that the glovebox door had been so sloppily fitted.
With rare good sense, Biscayne's designers realised that in the instrument facia styling of 1957 they had a practical, easy-on-the-eye arrangement which could well stand close imitation in '58.
They dropped one of the raised hoods which gave the '57 model such rigid symmetry, and retained the simple rectangular cluster in front of the driver, surmounted by a horizontal speedometer bravely reading 120 m.p.h. Under this and visible through a small window lens is an odometer . On each side of this are elliptical windows on temperature and fuel guages, and outside these a light switch and a cigarette lighter. There's no choke - it's automatic, and in the test model functioned perfectly.
A new ignition switch, you may remember from our announcement of the Biscayne last October, prevents you from leaving the car parked with the switch turnable.
These simple but adequate instruments are clearly visible through the dished steering wheel with its single diametrical spike and horn ring.
This raises a pet phobia of mine which is shared by many of my driving acquaintances: Why will British and some Continental makers persist in locating instruments in the centre of a panel where they're farther from the eye - and the road - and liable to be obscured at vital times by on of the driver's hands on the wheel? If, as I suspect, it's a case of balance, then damn the symmetry. Give me safety.
The only interruption of the Biscayne's beautifully simple facia is the radio speaker grille on top, and under it the glovebox of rather mean proportions. With so much space avaialable, that glovebox could be a cubic foot bigger.
Below facia level and nearly out of sight on each side is a pull-knob for fine control of the individual ventilators at calf-level which draw dust-free air through the vent at the base of the windscreen, On a hot day, they're worth their weight in parking stickers.
Other front compartment equipment includes a pull-out ratchet handbrake which, frankly, was poor, three pedals well situated for fast pedalling, and a steering wheel of convenient size for the average driver. With 5 1/4 turns of ot from lock to lock, it would be a tragedy if it were not!
The steering column gearchange lever - only 9 in. long - is the shortest Chevrolet have ever fitted, and is pleasant to use.
At this point we struck a snag. Behind the wheel, your left knee is close to the steering column, and to the shift, But as soon as the shift is moved into top gear - the lowest point of travel - the knee is imprisoned while the left foot remains on the clutch.
This isn't a dilemma you can escape by shifting back the seat, because you'd find yourself too far from the pedals and the steering wheel to be comfortably in control. And short of redesigning the Biscayne with a welding torch, you can't change this relationship of pedals and wheel. You're stuck with it, and if you have even moderately long legs, that is your bad luck.
Only other interior comforts to mention are twin sun visors upholstered in the same fabric as that on the roof. The saloon light, incidentally is operated by the main lighting switch on the facia. There's no tandem switch on the door pillars.
Judging from external appearances, you'd be entitled to regard this Biscayne as a rare and exotic bird. I know I did, and accordingly persuaded myself that a few subtle changes might have been made down in the engine-room and gearbox which wouldn't necessitate a lot of hollering and adjectivising by the publicity men.
But no. Close your eyes, turn the starter, and the motor that blasts into life is the same, faithful Chevy motor you've been hearing for years. Now throw the clutch, drop into first gear, and take off. What do you hear? With painful clarity you hear the same strident Chev. gearbox noise which has distinguished Chevs. for as long as I care to remember.
Speaking of first gear, the brochure specification states: "TRANSMISSION: Synchromesh with helical gears throughout." From this I supposed that first gear, for the first time in Chev. history, was fitted with synchroniser cones. Alas, I have to report, after one excruciating attempt to get the car into first gear at 10 m.p.h. without doubling the clutch, that it is not.
But if the Biscayne's gearbox seems to lack the lustre of novelty to go with that beautiful body, the car's performance more than makes up for it. Your curiosity as to what 145 b.h.p. can do with slightly more than 1 1/2 tons is quickly satisfied.
With the throttle flat on the floor the Biscayne clears its single throat politely and leaps into the future. In exactly 4 seconds the scenery is going past at 30 m.p.h.
You promptly take back all you've been muttering about old motors in new bodies, and try a 0 to 50 m.p.h. run. The stopwatch reads 9.8 secs. For a big six-seater, that's not bad - it's good, especially since you're doing it with a three-speed gearbox, a relatively slow gearshifter and a first gear ratio that peaks at 38 m.p.h.
During a number of acceleration runs in two directions I noted with some pleasure that the new coils at the rear stopped any fierce digging-in.
Over the measured mile the Biscayne tucked in its twin bustles and flew the distance at 100.5 m.p.h. - no better, no worse than the previous model which in good tune will do "the ton".
Steering on good roads produced no surprises. Modifications made to the recirculating ball steering box (new, friction-cutting nylon bushes, according to the factory) made no perceptible difference.
What I imagined was a slightly more positive self-centring action about this very low-geared mechanism could have been due to the combined increase in track and possibly a change in the wheel camber. While the steering wasn't light by local standards (one must take Holden and Zephyr-sized cars as an average for comparisons of this nature) it was accurate and comfortingly firm at speed for a car of such extravagant frontal area with its tendency to lift the wheels of terra firma.
When it comes to holding down that wind-catcher front, there's no substitute for brute weight, and Detroit knows it.
Side winds and the slipstreams of passing cars produce almost no variation in the Biscayne's course. After being buffeted all over the macadam in small British and Continental cars, this was a happy change.\
Anxious to see how these big coils at the rear would behave in the rough, I selected a muddy boundary track between two large properties and turned the Biscayne loose. Up to 45 m.p.h. it handled this horror stuff extremely well. It's sometimes hard to judge the riding qualities of a car when you're confined to the front seat, but I was aware only that there was an awful lot of activity underneath the car, but very little of it filtering upstairs to me. Certainly, something down there was soaking up punishment.
At 50 m.p.h. the coils at both ends suddenly began playing see-saw. They had developed a periodicity at which, apparently, they became completely sympathetic - one compressing one another and reacting with almost no further assistance from the forces which had precipitated the motion.
But happily the ghastly catapulting effect of the old semi-elliptic rear springs was missing. At no stage did the pitching take the car off-course.
My impression that the Biscayne wasn't nose-diving into the troughs as much as the old model seemed, technically, to be unfounded, until days after the test I learned the reason. G.M. engineers had built in a little anti-dive magic by increasing the angle between the upper and lower wishbones.
Strangely, these outback conditions could not induce the Biscayne to roll. It rocked the way most cars will rock when making an oblique crossing of railway lines, but that's all. This car, I found, is strictly a slow-speed roller.
Along the horror track were five and six inch deep pools, and the Biscayne kept brushing its way through them in explosions of dirty water that never succeeded in entering the interior. But after a few of these violent duckings I trod on the brakes. Nothing happened. The Biscayne didn't have a brake to its name. With power on, I rode the brake pedal for 200 yards before they began to dry out.
Back on the highway later, when they were thoroughly dry, they proved to be quite adequate, but not immune from fade.
My lasting impression of that fast and slightly furious ride along the stock road was the spongy silence with which it negotiated everything. If you must fault it here, it is on slight drumming, but not rattling. THe test model was remarkably rattle-free, but not "thump-free".
Part of my standard torture for road test cars is an S-bend which in most models can be attacked at about 60 m.p.h. The Biscayne went through it at this speed, drifting reluctantly but without rolling, and requiring both hands hard on the wheel to counteract the considerable understeer.
Pushed closer to 70 m.p.h. on an evenly radiused 90-degree corner, the Biscayne was provoked into breaking away suddenly, and vigilant but not violent correction was necessary. Vigilance is the operative word; when you lose 1 1/2 tons at 70 m.p.h. you have lost it for good, unless your first name is Stirling.
In the same top gear that cruises at 70 m.p.h., you may dawdle at 7 m.p.h. - as slowly as the Biscayne could be made to go. That's flexibility of a kind you get in very few cars, and allows a margin for the mindless abuse some people heap on dumb machinery.
The Chev's overall test consumption of 16 m.p.g. came as no surprise. You can't rush about with 100 m.p.h. wind in your hair and get great results. On a separately conducted economy test the same day it returned what you'd expect - 20.4 m.p.g. In a buggy that churns out 94 b.h.p. to the ton, that's hardly cause for grumbling, is it?
Anyway, let's face it, the Biscayne is not intended as a thrifty runabout for teenagers. It's a prestige car, reasonably priced, for Men of the Way Up,or Men on Top, a comfortable couch on four coils which is guaranteed to get you and your ulcer home from the office without a bump.
Wheels is an Australian motor magazine published [in 1959] by K.G. Murray Publishing Company Pty. Ltd.
Reference Sources and Acknowledgments
Magazine: Wheels, March 1959; Author: not recorded; Copy of Magazine: OzGM Collection. © All Information and material on this site is copyright. Reproduction without written permission and acknowledgment is prohibited.  Version 12, .