There’s a lot to be said for clean and simple. Let’s take a quick look back at the Biscayne, the unadorned base model of the Chevrolet full-sized line.
Here’s an interesting little secret of the Motor City’s styling studios: Car designers tend to prefer the base models of their creations over the fancier deluxe versions. In their view, the relative lack of ornamentation allows a more unobstructed look at their work. Hmm, we see where they’re coming from. Plain and simple works. Yards of chrome trim won’t make a car run any faster or handle any better. Maybe that’s one key to the gearhead community’s fascination with the Biscayne, the plainest and cheapest full-size car in the Chevy lineup for more than a decade.
The Biscayne name was first applied to the 1955 Motorama show car above. A four-door, four-passenger hardtop with a luxurious cabin and European proportions, the Biscayne dream car (internal designation XP-37) was billed as “an exploration in elegance” and didn’t foreshadow the eventual production Biscayne in any serious way. The name was possibly inspired by the Key Biscayne Hotel in Florida, a favorite haunt of Harley Earl and other General Motors executives.
The first use of the Biscayne name on a production car came in 1958, but oddly enough, not at the bottom of the Chevrolet model line that year. That honor, as it were, went to the Delray, not shown, which featured less chrome trim, a plainer interior, and a $2155 base price, $135 less than the Biscayne. Two body styles were offered on the Biscayne: a two-door sedan and a four-door sedan. There were station wagons at the Biscayne trim level in ’58, but they wore a Brookwood emblem.
In 1959, the Delray was dropped and Chevrolet arrived at the familiar Biscayne formula: Little or no bright-metal side trim, rubber floor mats in lieu of carpets, dog-dish hubcaps, inexpensive plastic upholstery fabrics, and minimal standard equipment overall. The leaner content allowed Chevrolet to list the ’59 Biscayne at $2301, more than 10 percent less than a comparable Impala. Dealers, in turn, trumpeted the low pricing in their newspaper ads to lure customers to their showrooms—and, they hoped, upsell them to the more profitable deluxe models. The Biscayne was a boon to the Chevrolet marketing strategy at multiple levels.
With its low cost and spartan equipment, the Biscayne was a natural favorite with fleet operators, including cab companies and law enforcement agencies—for example, this ’61 two-door operated by the Ohio Highway Patrol. In volume, fleet buyers could order vehicles with a nearly unlimited variety of powertrain combinations and heavy-duty hardware. Available body styles were often limited to two-door and four-door sedans, but in some model years wagons were produced with the Biscayne emblem. For a few selling seasons, Chevy also offered a Utility Sedan, a two-door with a package shelf instead of a rear seat, and the Fleetmaster, an unbadged variant of the Biscayne that was stripped down even further, lacking even arm rests and a cigarette lighter.
Just like the fleet operators, hot rodders and racers were quick to recognize the Biscayne’s virtues. Cheaper, and best of all lighter, than the deluxe models but available with all the same performance options, Biscaynes were drag strip favorites in the ’60s. Baldwin-Motion Performance of New York, above, seized on the trend, offering its SS-427 Street Racer’s Special, which in 1968 featured a 425-horsepower L72 V8, a Muncie four-speed gearbox, and heavy-duty equipment for only $2998. What a deal.
By 1970, as buying habits changed and GM product platforms proliferated, it became difficult to find the Biscayne in the Chevrolet division’s marketing materials. For ’71 and ’72, the Biscayne was officially available only to fleet operators, and now the Bel Air was holding down the bottom of the Chevrolet full-size line. (1971 Biscayne taxi shown below.) There was a Chevrolet Biscayne in ’73 through ’75, but it was available only as a four-door sedan or wagon and only in Canada.
Article courtesy of Mac's Motor City Garage.