By Phil Aubrey
It’s long been believed that the first year for a full-size Chevrolet with a factory four-speed transmission was 1959. However, some late-production ’58s left the factory with four-speed transmissions. They were conversions, but conversions done at the assembly plant nonetheless. As such, these four-speed, full-size 1958 Chevrolets should be considered factory-installed.
Regular Production Option (RPO)No. 685 in the 1958 passenger car instruction manual dated Feb. 13, 1958, (illustrated on opposite page) shows the four-speed conversion on four pages. The conversion included a unique transmission and extension assembly, a floor-mounted control lever and bracket, specific control rods and adjustment; a four-speed transmission mounting; and a seal and retainer for the floor-mounted shift handle.
The steering column for the three-speed manual transmission was left in place with instructions on locking the column’s internals and gluing the lever grommet in place so it would not fall off after the lever was removed. A “transmission control selector” instruction folder was to be placed by the factory over the sun visor to inform the owner about the four-speed transmission. The 1959 Chevrolet parts book also contains many part listings for the 1958 passenger car four-speed transmission from group 4.004 thru 4.103.
For the 1958 model year, Chevrolet re-introduced the Delray as part of its heavily revamped lineup, which was based upon an all-new body and chassis. The lightest and least expensive full-size Chevrolet was the Delray Utility Sedan, a body style previously known as a business coupe. The Delray six-cylinder Model 1121 and the eight-cylinder Model 1221 were only available in two-door sedan form. The 1958 Delray Utility Sedan was pretty basic with fixed quarter windows; a load platform in place of the rear seat; a deleted right sun visor and door arm rests; a front rubber floor covering instead of carpet; and interior trim code 800, a gun metal and silver cloth-and-vinyl upholstery combination.
Most 1958 Delray Utility Sedans were built with the six-cylinder engine for use by salesmen. The eight-cylinder version was marketed to police departments with a special “law enforcement” engine that featured the new 348-cid V-8 with solid lifters, a Duntov cam, domed pistons, a 10:1 compression ratio and triple Rochester 2G carburetors rated at 315 hp. The “law enforcement” package also featured a larger gas tank, metallic brakes, heavy-duty clutch and stiffer suspension. Several rear-end ratios were available starting at 3.36 and ending at 4.56, but the 4.11 was the most popular for performance. The police version also caught the attention of drag racers and a few “law enforcement” versions landed in private hands and on drag strips with sponsorship by the selling dealer.
A suspected survivor
If cars could talk, this 1958 Delray Model 1221 Utility Sedan would have an interesting story to tell. Unfortunately, it keeps almost all of its past a secret.
A friend of mine, who we will call Al, is a vendor for NOS Chevrolet parts and was selling ’58 parts to a private restorer in Riverside, Calif. Over time, the individual was restoring eight 1958 Chevys, all the while buying parts from Al. At some point, Al visited the restorer and saw car number eight — this 1958 Delray Utility Sedan — sitting in the yard, awaiting restoration. A deal was made and Al bought the car as is. Another deal was made for it to be restored, provided all replacement parts would be NOS and furnished by Al.
A body-off-frame restoration was completed in 1999 and Al picked up the car. He put 500 miles on it and due to time constraints and the fact it didn’t run very well, he parked it in a climate-controlled garage and it sat idle from 1999 until 2015.
One night, while sitting at the local drive-in, Al asked me if I would be interested in making his ’58 drivable again. He knew I did original, back-to-factory-condition restorations, but he had never seen my shop. I told him I wanted to look at the car first. After a closer inspection, I told him I would do it. To Al’s surprise, I showed up the next day with my ATC car hauler to pick up the car. I knew if someone had applied the brakes during the time it was sitting, the brakes would most likely lock up. Al aired up the tires and while holding my breath, we started pushing the car up to the trailer ramp without touching the brakes. The trailer winch took over from there.
Returned to the road
Once in my shop, I ascertained the car was indeed a ’58 Delray Utility Sedan Model 1221 equipped with the 348-cid V-8 with 315 hp, denoted by suffix code FB on the engine, and the four-speed transmission. The rear end is a 4:11 with Positraction, as indicated by the emblem on the glove box door and “Caution” label inside the trunk. This Delray is also a heater- and radio-delete car. Because of this, the belief is the Delray was a former drag strip car, but that’s not been verified.
At first, I was skeptical of the four-speed conversion, but closer inspection led me to believe it was one of the factory conversions. The floor pan has a perfectly cut, 5-inch-diameter hole for the shift linkage, per the 1958 passenger car instruction manual. This hole is very different-looking from the holes we butchered with a hacksaw for such conversions in my younger years. Also, all of the car’s other components fit the RPO 685 instructions.
After sitting for 16 years, the fuel, brake and cooling systems of this car had to be gone through. Once inside the carburetors, I discovered they were jetted incorrectly; on ’58 Chevy “tri-power” setups, the front and rear carburetors are different unlike the 1959-61 tri-powers, and that may have had something to do with this car’s drivability issues. Many parts were unique to the heater-delete 348-cid V-8, the water pump being one example since a heater bypass hose was not necessary. Also, a double-diaphragm fuel pump was required to supply vacuum to the tri-power switch.
During the work, I would tell Al, “I need this” and hand him a part. His response was, “I will be right back,” and he would return with an NOS part. It was like having a Chevrolet parts department standing next to me. Going up and down on the lift took its toll on one of the front shocks, and there was a puddle of oil on the shop floor. The next day, there were two NOS spiral shocks on my workbench. As the license plate implies, this car is “ALL NOS.”
With renewed fuel, brake and cooling systems, this old drag queen is now back on the road. As rare as it is, it is not a closet car or trailer queen — it is seen at the local drive-in on Friday nights during the summer.
It was also entered in the Vintage Chevrolet Club of America’s (www.vcca.org) Regional Meet at Wilsonville, Ore., in 2015 and scored a 992 out of 1000 points. It will be entered again in the VCCA anniversary meet at Lake Tahoe in August 2016.
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