Vintage R&T Road Test: 1959 Fuel Injected Corvette – “All The Speed You Need And Then Some”

The fuel injected Corvette was top dog in its day, an unparalleled combination of performance, tractability, handling and…looks, although some might well say that the gaudy 1958 restyle was hardly an improvement. At least the ’59 was cleaned up a bit, losing the phony hood louvers and the two chrome bars on the rear deck lid. Ugh.

Although power for the top fuel injected 283 V8 was 290 hp now, due to the Corvette’s somewhat increased weight it wasn’t quite as fast as the ’57 with 283 hp, although it’s questionable if there really was an extra seven ponies at work anyway. But it was still top dog, in a straight line…or not.

It may not have been noticeable from the outside, but the seats were new in ’59. “These have been redesigned and are now among the most comfortable seats in any car, sports or otherwise.” They actually helped keep their occupants in place during spirited driving. CL does note that seat belts might be a good idea, “if much hard driving is to be done”, to keep the occupants in place. No reference to their safety.


The test was done at Riverside Raceway. Tapley readings were lower than the fuel injected ’57 tested by R&T, which had resulted in rather astonishing acceleration figures: a 5.7-second 0-60 time, and a 14.3 second 1/4 mile time. That instantly propelled the Corvette to the top of any production sports car in the world, and by a healthy margin.

The additional weight and having only 500 miles on the engine were the presumed reasons for the ’59’s slower numbers: 0-60 in 6.8 sec., the 1/4 mile in 14.5 @96 mph. Still extremely quick for 1959; the 1966 street hemi could only tie it in the 1/4 mile, and took longer in the 0-60.

According to Zora Arkus Duntov, the 3.70 rear axle made the Corvette quicker in most of the standard acceleration timing runs, as it eliminated a shift in the 0-60, 0-80 and 0-100 run. And in the quarter mile. And the 4.56 axle was the way to go on the drag strip.


This ’59 struggled with its starts out of the gate; the Positraction rear end limiting wheelspin, which bogged the engine down some. These high-strung Chevy V8s did not exactly have much torque down low; its 290 didn’t peak until 4400 rpm, which may well be an all time high for American V8s in the 50s and 60s. Even the original 302 Z/28 engine had its torque peak at 4200 rpm. Oh wait; the fairly rare 315 hp FI 283 from 1961, with the new big valve heads, had an even higher torque peak: 295 @4700-5100 rpm!

Meanwhile, peak power (290 hp gross) came in at 6200 rpm. So obviously, there was going to be a bit of lag before the power came rushing in. There’s a reason Chevy called them “Turbo-Fire” V8s.

The B/W T-10, designed by Chevy engineers, continued to delight its users.

Despite having 53% of its weight over the front wheels, “there was a marked tendency to oversteer“. But with judicious use of the throttle and steering wheel, a nice power-on drift could be set up and maintained. Between the available power and fairly quick steering, the Corvette could be readily placed for optimum speed.

The tested Corvette had the optional suspension with stiffer springs and shocks, “which contributed to the ability to negotiate curves at maximum speed.” As part of the suspension package, “racing brakes” with Cerametalix linings, finned drums and cooling ducts were included, and the brakes “proved to be entirely satisfactory during the test, with no fade being evident, and brought the car down from high speed in a straight line on every application.” Hurray!

Driving on a race track brought home the biggest advantage of fuel injection: immediate throttle response and no threat of fuel starvation in high speed curves. Some enthusiasts at the time claimed that the dual 4-barrel version was actually more powerful at the top end, regardless of its lower advertised gross hp rating (270), and there may well be some truth to that; fuel injection in and of itself does not automatically increase peak power. But its benefits were very real too, including excellent tractability at low engine speeds, despite the very aggressive camshaft.


CL finishes up by predicting that 1960 “will be the year of the big changes for the Corvette“. That’s a trap that journalists fell into endlessly.


More on the FI 283:
Automotive History: 1957 Chevrolet Fuel-Injected 283 V8 – Ahead Of Its Time And The Competition