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William C. Durant founded General Motors in 1908 but was ousted two years later, so he formed Chevrolet in 1911, intending to make it a powerful lever for regaining control. He did. By 1915, Chevrolet was a force to be reckoned with; by 1918 it was part of General Motors; by the mid-'20s, it was GM's largest volume division -- and has been ever since.
Early Chevys were largish, medium-price cars with six-cylinder and even V-8 power. The make's historic turn to the low-price field came with the four-cylinder "490" of 1915, named for its advertised list price. It was a big success, outflanking Ford's Model T with more attractive styling and more features. Its closely related successors were Chevy's mainstay products into the late '20s.
However, Chevy didn't pass Ford in production until 1927, the year Dearborn stopped building the aged T to retool for the Model A. Then, in 1929, Chevrolet introduced its new "Stovebolt Six," also known as the "Cast-Iron Wonder." The nicknames stemmed from the engine's cast-iron pistons and numerous 1/4-inch slotted bolts -- hardly esoteric, but wonderfully effective and reliable as Old Faithful.
The Stovebolt was engineered by Ormond E. Hunt from an earlier design by Henry M. Crane that had evolved into the 1926 Pontiac engine. By 1930, it produced an even 50 brake horsepower from 194 cubic inches. With various improvements, this solid, overhead-valve engine would remain Chevrolet's only powerplant for nearly three decades.
For 1934, new combustion chambers prompted the name "Blue Flame," and two versions would be offered through 1935: 60-bhp, 181 cid and 80-bhp, 206.8 cid. The six was then redesigned for 1937 to be shorter and lighter. It also gained nearly "square" cylinder dimensions as well as four (versus three) main bearings. The result was 85 bhp from 216.5 cid.
It was with this engine in 1940 that a young Juan Manuel Fangio won the car-breaking 5900-mile round-trip road race between Buenos Aires, Argentina, and Lima, Peru, at an average speed of 53.6 mph. Fangio continued to race Chevrolets after World War II, but eventually switched to Grand Prix cars and became a legend as the first five-time world champion driver.
Throughout most of its history, Chevrolet has made the right moves at the right time. To follow the Stovebolt, division general manager William "Big Bill" Knudsen and GM design director Harley Earl cooked up an elegant line of Cadillac-style cars for 1929-32. The 1930-31 line comprised a single series offering roadsters for two or four passengers, a phaeton, three coupes, and two sedans. Prices were attractively low: $495-$685.
The 1930-33 Chevys carried a different series name each year: in order, Universal, Independence, Confederate, then Eagle (deluxe) and Mercury (standard). This practice was ended for 1934, when models were grouped into Master and Standard lines. Master tacked on the "DeLuxe" handle for '35, and Standards became Masters for 1937-39.
Chevy styling in these years evolved along the lines of costlier GM cars. The '33s, with their skirted fenders and graceful lines, were perhaps the most-attractive Chevrolets of the decade. Body styles proliferated, and by 1932 included such exotics as a $625 landau phaeton.
The 1933 Eagles offered many features designed to win buyers from Ford: a Fisher body with "No-Draft Ventilation" front-door ventwing windows, airplane-type instruments, Cadillac-style hood doors, a cowl vent, synchromesh transmission, selective free-wheeling, safety plate glass, adjustable driver's seat, even an octane selector.
Many of these also appeared on the standard Mercury models. Wheelbases gradually lengthened, going from 1930's 107 inches to 109 for 1931-32, then to 107/110 for the '33 Mercury/Eagle; the '34 Master/Standard split 112/107.
Chevy fared well in this period despite the prevailing Depression. Production outpaced Ford's each year in 1931-33, bottoming to 313,000 units for '32, but recovering to 486,000 for '33. Volume then soared to nearly a million by 1936, though Ford was nearer.
Along with more-streamlined styling, 1934 brought new "Knee-Action" independent front suspension (IFS) to Master models, Bill Knudsen's last major decision before leaving Chevy in October 1933. According to writer Karl Ludvigsen, engineer Maurice Olley tried to discourage Knudsen from using it, saying there weren't enough centerless grinding machines in America to produce all the coil springs.
Knudsen replied this was just what the machine-tool industry needed to get back on its feet. Still, he limited the new suspension to the one line. Knee-Action wasn't universally liked, so Standard/Master retained solid front axles through 1940, after which all Chevys had IFS.
The 1935s were the last Chevys with any styling kinship to the "classic" era. Master DeLuxe added an inch of wheelbase to suit sleeker new bodies with Vee'd windshield, streamlined fenders, and a raked-back radiator with cap concealed beneath the hood, then an innovation. Also new was the corporate all-steel "Turret Top" construction without the traditional fabric roof insert.
Modernization continued for 1936 as Chevrolet adopted still-rounder styling of the streamlined school, highlighted by die-cast "waterfall" grilles, steel-spoke wheels (wires remained optional), and sleeker fenders. As ever, Chevy relied on extra features to win sales from Ford.
A big plus for '36 was hydraulic brakes, which Ford wouldn't offer until 1939 (thanks mainly to old Henry's stubbornness). Chevy was also quicker than Ford to drop body styles without roll-up windows, abandoning both roadsters and phaetons for 1936. The two series became more alike, as both used the 80-bhp 206.8-cid Stovebolt.
The redesigned 85-bhp engine of 1937 made Chevrolet particularly well equipped for the sales battle. However, styling became rather dull, as it did for other GM cars, with skinny, uninteresting grilles and high, bulky bodies that looked clumsy next to the increasingly streamlined Fords. Despite that, Chevy regained production supremacy for model-year '38, and until the '90s, at least, rarely surrendered it to Dearborn.
Renewed competitiveness was evident in an expanded 1940 line with what Chevy called "Royal Clipper" styling. Though not a drastic change from 1939, this facelift was sufficiently thorough to make the cars look much newer. Wheelbase was 113 inches, up from 1937-39's 112.3. Master 85 returned from '39 as the cheaper Chevy, with Master DeLuxe above it.
Each offered business coupe, two-door town sedan, and four-door sport sedan; the 85 also listed a woody wagon, the DeLuxe line a sport coupe. A new top-line Special DeLuxe series had all these plus Chevy's first true convertible coupe, which was quite successful (nearly 12,000 model-year sales).
Specials and Master DeLuxes came with Knee-Action; Master 85s carried Chevy's last solid front axles. Model-year production soared from some 577,000 to nearly 765,000 as Chevrolet bested Ford by over 220,000 cars.
The gap widened to more than 300,000 for 1941 as Chevrolet scored its first million-car model year. Though no one knew it then, this year's substantial redesign would carry the make through 1948: 116-inch wheelbase, Knee-Action linewide, attractive new styling by Harley Earl's Art & Colour Section, and five extra horsepower achieved with higher compression (6.5:1); new pistons; and revised combustion chambers, valves, rocker arms, and water pump. Master 85s were dropped, but Special DeLuxe added a sleek Fleetline four-door sedan at midyear.
Distinguished by a more-formal roofline with closed-in rear quarters a la the Cadillac Sixty Special, the newcomer managed a creditable 34,000 sales for its shortened debut model year.
Styling refinements marked the war-shortened '42s. Fenders were extended back into the front doors, as on costlier GM makes, and a smart, clean grille replaced the somewhat busy '41 face.
Models stayed the same except for five-passenger coupes replacing business coupes, and series names continued as Master DeLuxe and Special DeLuxe. The latter now contained a Fleetline subseries with a new "torpedo-style" two-door Aerosedan that proved an instant hit and a conventional Sportmaster four-door, both bearing triple chrome bands on front and rear fenders.
By the time the government halted civilian car production in February 1942, Chevy's model-year total was over a quarter-million units, of which less than 50,000 were built in calendar '42. Convertibles and wagons numbered only about 1000 each. Like all 1942 Detroit cars, rarity has since rendered these Chevys coveted collector's items.
Strikes and material shortages hampered GM's postwar production startup, allowing Ford to outpace Chevy for '46. But Chevy was again "USA-1" for 1947-48 even though it followed most other makes (Ford included) by offering slightly modified '42s. The few differences involved grille treatments, medallions and other exterior trim. Models and specifications stood pat, but now Stylemaster and Fleetmaster names came in.
Meanwhile, Chevy contemplated a smaller companion model evolved under a program called "Cadet." Though different configurations were considered, the final prototype was an orthodox four-door sedan with smooth "bathtub" styling, 108-inch wheelbase, and a scaled-down Stovebolt Six.
But after spending a few million dollars, management decided there was no need for a compact in the booming postwar seller's market, especially as the Cadet would have cost as much to build as a standard Chevy. Ford reached the same conclusions at about the same time.
Still, the Cadet is significant as the first application of engineer Earle S. MacPherson's simple, effective strut-type front suspension, today almost universal among small cars. Ford would be the first to use it in production, however, as MacPherson went to Dearborn soon after the Cadet project was cancelled.
If production Chevys didn't change much in this period, management did, and new models were floated for the future: sports cars, hardtop-convertibles, all-steel station wagons.
These and other ideas gained impetus with the June 1946 arrival of Cadillac chief Nicholas Dreystadt to replace M.E. Coyle as Chevrolet general manager. Dreystadt also encouraged a forceful engineering program that would ultimately breathe new life into a make that had acquired a respectable but stodgy image.
Unfortunately, he died after just two years in office, and his successor, W.E. Armstrong, resigned early because of illness. Then came Thomas H. Keating, who continued Dreystadt's policies. Soon after he took charge, Edward N. Cole came over from Cadillac to be Chevy chief engineer.
Their first order of business was to make Chevys look more "with it." In a happy bit of timing, GM had scheduled most of its all-new postwar models for 1949, and Chevy's were among the best.
Though wheelbase was actually cut an inch, to 115, the cleanly styled '49s contrived to look much longer than the 1946-48 models. They were definitely lower, accented by a newly curved two-piece windshield trimmed two inches in height, fenders swept back smoothly through the cowl and doors, and rear fenders rolled gracefully forward.
Suspension revisions and a lower center of gravity made for the best-handling Chevys yet -- and probably better than that year's Plymouth and Ford. The '49s were also beautifully put together, testifying that engineers and production people had taken great care to make them "right."
Matching all this newness was an equally new four-series model line. It began with an "entry-level" Special series of two- and four-door Fleetline fastback sedans and notchback Styleline town and sport sedans, sport coupe, and business coupe. All but the last were offered with more-luxurious DeLuxe trim, as was a Styleline convertible and eight-passenger station wagon.
There were actually two wagons: an "early" '49 with vestigial wood in its body construction, and a midyear all-steel replacement. Fleetlines initially sold well, but the fastback fad soon faded, so offerings dwindled. The last was a lone 1952 DeLuxe two-door.
Having regained its production stride in 1947-48, Chevy rolled out a record 1,010,000 cars for 1949. Ford, however, managed about 108,000 more, thanks to a popular all-new design and an early introduction (in June '48).
No make better reflected the exuberant '50s than Chevrolet, which evolved from family freighter to hot hauler in just a few short years. Again, in this decade the division mostly made the right moves at the right times. By 1960, Chevrolet was no longer just one of the "low-priced three" but an alternative to Dodge, Mercury, and Pontiac.
The 1950-52 models were the last of the traditional low-cost, low-suds Chevys, though DeLuxes accounted for 80-85 percent of production. The hoary old 216.5 Stovebolt was coaxed up to 92 bhp for 1950, when a new 105-bhp 235.5-cid version arrived for cars equipped with optional two-speed Powerglide.
The last was Chevy's new fully automatic transmission, thus beating Ford, whose Ford-O-Matic was still a year off, and Plymouth, which wouldn't have a true self-shifter until '55. A torque-converter automatic similar to Buick's Dynaflow, Powerglide was a big reason why Chevy beat Ford in model-year car production by no less than 290,000, with a total of near 1.5 million.
Another factor was the new 1950 Bel Air, America's first low-priced hardtop coupe. Buyers couldn't get enough of it. Like the pioneering 1949 Buick, Cadillac, and Olds hardtops, this junior edition sported lush trim that included simulated convertible-top bows on the headliner. It debuted as a top-shelf Styleline DeLuxe priced at $1741, about $100 below the ragtop, but it outpaced the convertible by better than 2-to-1 with over 76,000 first-year sales.
Chevy took a breather the next two years, with no mechanical developments and only bulkier sheetmetal for '51, followed by detail trim revisions for '52. Yet Chevy remained "USA-1" for both years. The '51 total was 1.23 million to Ford's 1.01 million. Korean War restrictions forced industrywide cutbacks for '52, but Chevy's 800,000-plus still beat Ford's 671,000.
Though the Corvette sports car was Chevy's big news for '53, passenger models got a major facelift. The bottom-end Special series was retitled One-Fifty, DeLuxe became Two-Ten, and Bel Air was applied to a full range of models as the new top of the line. Higher compression brought the Blue Flame Six to 108 bhp with manual transmission or 115 bhp with Powerglide.
The figures were 115/125 for 1954, when styling became a bit flashier. Chevy continued to set the production pace. With war restrictions over, volume soared to over 1.3 million units for '53 and to near 1.17 million for '54. But though sound and reliable, Chevys still weren't very exciting. All-new styling and a landmark V-8 would take care of that.
Without question, the new 265 V-8 of 1955 was one of Detroit's milestone engines. Though designed for efficiency and low unit cost, it was really one of those "blue sky" projects that comes along only once or twice in an engineer's career.
As principal designer Ed Cole later recalled: "I had worked on V-8 engines all my professional life. I had lived and breathed engines. [Engineer Harry F.] Barr and I were always saying how we would do it if we could ever design a new engine. You just know you want five main bearings -- there's no decision to make. We knew that a certain bore/stroke relationship was the most compact. We knew we'd like a displacement of 265 cubic inches...And we never changed any of this. We released our engine for tooling direct from the drawing boards. That's how wild and crazy we were."
They had reason to be enthusiastic. The 265 boasted low reciprocating mass allowing high rpm; die-cast heads with integral, interchangeable valve guides; aluminum "slipper" pistons; a crankshaft of forged pressed-steel instead of alloy iron -- and much more.
Best of all, it weighed less than the old six yet was far more potent, initially pumping out 162/170 bhp (manual/Powerglide) in standard tune or 180 bhp with optional Power-Pak (four-barrel carburetor and dual exhausts).
Of course, it could give a lot more -- and did for '57 when bored to 283 cid and offered with optional fuel injection. Chevrolet developed a new 348-cid "big-block" for 1958 and beyond. It was a good one, but the small-block remains one of the best-known, best-loved engines of all time, earning Chevy a performance reputation the way sixes never could.
At just under $200, Powerglide became an increasingly popular option in the '50s -- a smooth operator well-suited to all but high-power models. Standard three-speed manual and extra-cost stick-overdrive were offered throughout the decade, and an all-synchromesh four-speed manual came on board in 1959.
Late '57 brought a second automatic option, three-speed Turboglide, but this was complex, costly, and short-lived. Powerglide would be the Chevy automatic until the mid-'60s.
The 1955-57 Chevys are coveted collectibles now, and styling has as much to do with this as engineering. Design principals Clare MacKichan (then Chevy studio chief), Carl Renner, Chuck Stebbins, Bob Veryzer, and others worked under Harley Earl's dictum of "Go all the way, then back off."
Though the '55 didn't reach showrooms looking like their fanciful renderings, it wasn't far off, wearing Earl's hallmark beltline "dip," wrapped windshield, and a simple eggcrate grille inspired by Ferrari. The last became broader, brighter, and more conventional for '56 in line with buyer tastes.
Other elements in Chevy's winning '55 package included a more-capable suspension, bigger brakes, better steering, more interior and trunk room, better visibility -- the list was almost endless. Even the old six was improved: boosted to 123/136 bhp (manual/Powerglide).
With all this, plus attractive prices that weren't changed much from '54 (mostly in the $1600-$2260 range), Chevy led the industry in a record Detroit year with over 1.7 million cars, a new make high and a quarter-million better than Ford.
An interesting '55 newcomer was the Bel Air Nomad, America's first "hardtop wagon." A Carl Renner idea adapted from his 1954 Motorama show Corvette, the Nomad didn't sell that well, mainly because two-door wagons were less popular than four-doors, though water leaks were also a problem. Then, too, it was relatively expensive ($2600-$2700). Had anybody else built it, the Nomad probably would have seen minuscule production, but a respectable 8386 were built for 1955, 7886 for '56, and 6103 for 1957.
Chevy called its '55 "The Hot One." Ads said the '56 was even hotter. It was. The old Stovebolt, now offered with manual shift only, was up to 140 bhp, while the V-8 delivered up to 225 bhp with Power-Pak. A $40-million restyle made all models look more like Cadillacs, and four-door hardtop sport sedans joined the Two-Ten and Bel Air lines.
Despite a broad industry retreat, Chevy managed record market penetration of close to 28 percent on just 88 percent of its '55 volume -- about 1.5 million units. Ford repeated at around 1.4 million.
Ford (and Plymouth) counterpunched with all-new styling for '57. Chevy had to make do with another substantial facelift, but it was deftly done and quite popular. In fact, this Chevy is still regarded by many as the definitive '50s car. There were now eight engine choices, up three from '56, including no fewer than six 283 V-8s with 185 up to 283 bhp.
The last was courtesy of "Ramjet" fuel injection, a new option that found few takers at $500, but enabled the division to claim "1 hp per cu. in." (though Chrysler had achieved that magic figure with its '56 300B). Yet even without the "fuelie," a '57 Chevy could be quite fast. For example, a Bel Air sport sedan with the four-barrel 270-bhp engine could do 0-60 mph in 9.9 seconds, the quarter-mile in 17.5, and over 110 mph flat out.
Properly equipped, the 1955-57 Chevy was a formidable track competitor. Before the Automobile Manufacturers Association voted to withdraw from organized racing in June 1957, Chevy did very well in NASCAR and other stock-car events. At that year's Daytona Speed Weeks, Chevy took the first three places in the two-way flying-mile for Class 4 (213-259 cid); in Class 5 (259-305 cid) it took 33 out of 37 places, the fastest car averaging 131.076 mph. Chevy also won the 1957 Pure Oil Manufacturers Trophy with 574 points against 309 for runner-up Ford.
While the AMA racing "ban" didn't deter Chevy and others from providing under-the-table racing support, it seemed to be reflected in the softer, more-luxurious Chevys of 1958. Riding a new 117.5-inch-wheelbase X-member chassis, they were longer, lower, wider, and heavier, but not really slower than the lighter '57s.
Bodies were naturally all-new, too -- and shinier, looking more "important" and Cadillac-like than ever. As it turned out, they'd be one-year-only jobs. Not so the new 348 big-block V-8, a modified truck engine (which Chevy was understandably loath to mention) offering 250 to 315 bhp. That year's base V-8 was a 185-bhp 283.
Underscoring all this change was the new line-leading 1958 Impala (a name dreamed up by designer Robert Cadaret), a lush Bel Air subseries offering convertible and sport coupe hardtop with six or V-8 in the $2600-$2800 range.
Below was a rearranged model group. One-Fifty was renamed Delray (borrowed from a spiffy 1954-57 Two-Ten two-door sedan), Biscayne replaced Two-Ten, and "Station Wagon" was a separate line with no fewer than five models: two-door Yeoman and four-door Yeoman, Brookwood (in six- and nine-seat form), and Nomad. Unlike the 1955-57 Nomad, the '58 was conventionally styled.
Chevy was now clearly reaching for buyers it had never sought before: solid, substantial Pontiac types who cared more about size and comfort than performance or handling. The division's grasp did not exceed that reach. In a rough year for the economy in general and Detroit in particular, Chevy managed over 1.1 million cars. Impala was a big success, accounting for fully 15 percent of the total.
If Chevrolet showed restraint in bucking tailfins for '58, it more than made up for that the following year with another all-new body bearing huge "cat's-eye" taillamps and a "batwing" rear deck that tester Tom McCahill said was "big enough to land a Piper Cub." It could have been worse. Several 1959 proposals envisioned ugly, Edsel-like vertical grilles.
Ford had shaded Chevy in model-year '57 production and came within 12,000 units of doing it again for '59. Dearborn's more-conservative styling no doubt played a part. But future Chevys would be far more-tasteful under William L. Mitchell, who replaced Harley Earl as GM design chief on the latter's retirement in 1958.
Delray disappeared from the '59 line and a new full-range Impala series displaced Bel Air at the top, pushing other non-wagon series down a notch. All models rode a new 119-inch wheelbase, Chevy's longest yet. The growth between 1957 and 1959 was amazing: length up by nearly 11 inches, width by seven inches, weight by 300 pounds.
The '59s were the first of the overstuffed "standard" Chevys that would endure for the next 15 years, though they made sense at the time. Buyers demanded ever-bigger cars in the '50s, so even the low-priced three grew to about the size of late-'40s Cadillacs and Lincolns.
Though Chevrolet would mostly follow Ford's marketing initiatives in the '60s, it continued to lead in production, winning every model year except 1961 and 1966. Like its arch rival, Chevy expanded into compacts (Corvair and Chevy II), intermediates (Chevelle), "muscle cars" (Impala SS, Malibu SS) and "ponycars" (Camaro). Each was carefully conceived to fill a specific need, and all succeeded save the singular rear-engine Corvair, which is different enough to merit a separate entry.
Such increasing specialization might imply increasing production, but though Chevy did set some records, its 1969 volume was "only" some 500,000 cars ahead of 1960's despite the introduction of four new model lines. This proliferation reflected a market that had subdivided, generating more "niche" competition than in the '50s. As a result, Chevy often competed less against rivals than against itself or other GM makes.
Its lineup certainly became quite broad by 1969, when it spanned no fewer than five wheelbases: 98 inches for Corvette, 108 for Corvair/Camaro, 111 for Chevy II/Nova, 116 for Chevelle, and 119 inches for full-size Chevrolets. An exception was the post-'67 Chevelle which, like other GM intermediates, went to a 112-inch wheelbase for two-door models and 116 for four-doors, an arrangement that would persist through 1977.
With no change in wheelbase, what became known as the "standard" (full-size) Chevrolet moved from overstyled outrageousness to clean, crisp elegance. The pattern was set immediately, the 1960 edition being a more-subdued version of the wild '59. A taut new package bereft of fins and wrapped windshields bowed for '61, reflecting the first direct influence of Bill Mitchell. For '63 came a more-sculptured look.
Another complete redesign brought more-flowing lines for '65, followed by even curvier '67s with semifastback hardtop coupes and more-pronounced "Coke bottle" fenders. The '69s had a fuller, squarer look, emphasized by bodyside bulges and elliptical wheel openings. The decade's prettiest big Chevy might well be the '62, with its straight, "correct" lines and, for Impala hardtop coupes, a rear roof sculptured to resemble a raised convertible top.
Nineteen sixty-two also saw Chevy enlarge the 283 small-block V-8 to 327 cid for an initial 250 or 300 bhp in full-size models. But 283s would continue to power a variety of Chevys through 1967, when a stroked 350 more amenable to emission controls began to be phased in.
Biscayne remained Chevy's full-size price leader in the '60s, but buyer interest quickly tapered off. The midpriced Bel Air also waned, but the top-line Impala rapidly became Detroit's single-most-popular model line. Its best sales year in this decade was 1964, when some 889,600 were built.
By far the most-collectible Impala is the performance-bred Super Sport, an option package for mid-1961 and 1968-69, an Impala subseries in other years. Body styles were always limited to convertible and hardtop coupe. The concept was simple: the smooth big Chevy with sporty styling touches and available performance and handling options. Sixes were available but not often ordered (only 3600 of the '65s, for instance).
Typical features ran to special SS emblems, vinyl bucket seats, central shift console, and optional tachometer. A variety of V-8s was offered, including big-blocks, beginning with the famous 409 of 1961, an enlarged 348 delivering 360 horsepower initially and up to 425 bhp by '63.
With options like stiffer springs and shocks, sintered metallic brake linings, four-speed manual gearbox, and ultra-quick power steering, the SS Impalas were the best-performing big Chevys in history. But they couldn't last forever. Government regulations and the advent of midsize muscle cars combined to do in sporty big cars of all kinds. Yet Impala SS remained exciting right to the end. Even the final 1967-69 models could be ordered with "Mark IV" 427 big-blocks packing 385-425 bhp.
A far-more-lucrative full-size Chevy was the Caprice, an Impala dolled up with the best grades of upholstery and trim. A mid-1965 reply to Ford's quiet-as-a Rolls LTD, Caprice garnered a healthy 181,000 sales for model-year '66, when it became a separate line and the initial hardtop sedan was joined by wagons and a hardtop coupe. Production through the rest of the decade ranged from 115,500 to nearly 167,000. Obviously, Cadillac luxury at a Chevy kind of price still appealed as much in the '60s as it had in the days of the first Impala.
One rung below the full-size Chevy was the intermediate Chevelle, introduced for 1964 in answer to Ford's popular Fairlane. Though conventional in design, Chevelle offered almost as much interior room as Impala within more-sensible exterior dimensions -- effectively a return to the ideally proportioned 1955-57 "classic" Chevy. Sales went nowhere but up -- from 328,400 in the first year to nearly 440,000 by 1969. Helping things along were numerous performance options and bucket-seat Malibu SS convertible and hardtop models.
Third down the size scale was the Chevy II, an orthodox compact rushed out for 1962 to answer Ford's Falcon, which had been handily trimming the radical Corvair. Initial engine choices were a 90-bhp, 153-cid four and a 120-bhp, 194-cid six. (Falcon had only sixes through mid-1963, then added a V-8 option.) It was a good move, but through 1966, Chevy IIs outnumbered Falcons only once: model-year '63.
Sales dropped nearly 50 percent for '64, due partly to intramural competition from Chevelle. A spate of Super Sport models didn't help. Nor did a heavy facelift for '66.
What did help was a 1968 Chevy II pumped up to near intermediate size via an all-new 111-inch-wheelbase GM X-body platform. Convertibles, wagons, and hardtop coupes were deleted, leaving four-door sedans and two-door pillared coupes. The latter were available with an SS package option. Backed by a strong ad campaign and competitive prices, Chevy's compact posted soaring sales of 201,000 for '68 and over a quarter-million for 1970, when the name was changed to Nova (originally, the premium Chevy II series).
Adding new spice to Chevy's '67 line was Camaro, which would eventually succeed the ailing Corvair as the division's sporty compact. Despite the beautiful styling and impressive performance of the all-new '65 Corvair, the rear-engine Chevy was no threat to Ford's incredibly successful Mustang in the burgeoning ponycar market. Worse, it was costly to build -- entirely different in concept and technology from other Chevys.
Six months after the '65s debuted, division managers decided Corvair would be allowed to fade away in favor of the conventional Camaro, which was deliberately designed as a direct Mustang-fighter.
Created under the omnipresent eye of GM design chief Bill Mitchell, Camaro styling was exactly right: long-hood/short-deck proportions; low, chiseled profile; flowing, slightly "hippy" lines.
Like Mustang, Camaro aimed at those who wanted a sporty four-seater that could be equipped as an economy run-about, vivid straight-line performer, or something in-between, so it offered a Mustang-style plethora of options: some 81 factory items and 41 dealer-installed accessories.
Camaro's 1967 prices started at $2466 for the basic hardtop coupe and $2704 for the convertible with standard 140-bhp, 230-cid six. A 155-bhp, 250-cid six cost $26 extra; a 210-bhp 327 V-8 was $106.
Next on the list was a 350 V-8 with 295 bhp, exclusive to Camaro in '67 but more-widely available beginning in '68. To get it you had to order a $211 Super Sports package comprising stiffer springs and shocks, D70-14 Firestone Wide-Oval tires, performance hood with extra sound insulation, SS emblems, and "bumblebee" nose stripes. A 396 big-block V-8 became available during the year at nearly $400.
Also tempting '67 Camaro customers were custom carpeting; bucket seats; fold-down rear seat; luxury interior; full instrumentation; and console shifters for the optional Turbo Hydra-Matic, heavy-duty three-speed manual, and four-speed manual. For $105, a Rally Sport package added a hidden-headlight grille, "RS" badges, and other touches. Additional extras ran to tinted glass, radio, air conditioning, clock, cruise control, and a vinyl roof covering for hardtops.
Mechanical options included sintered metallic brake linings, ventilated front disc brakes, vacuum brake booster, power steering, fast-ratio manual steering, stiff suspension, Positraction limited-slip differential, and a dozen different axle ratios. With all this, a Camaro could easily be optioned to $5000.
Though two years behind Mustang, Camaro was a big hit. Production topped 220,000 the first year, 235,000 for '68, and 240,000 for '69. There were no major changes through mid-1970. The '68s carried a horizontal grille treatment, ventless side glass, Chevy's new "Astro Ventilation" system, and restyled taillights; the '69s were more-thoroughly face-lifted via a recontoured lower body with front and rear creaselines atop the wheel openings, plus a Vee'd grille and new rear styling.
Available for the street but aimed squarely at the track was Camaro RPO (Regular Production Option) Z-28, a tailor-made competition package for hardtops announced during 1967. With it, Camaro won 18 of 25 events in the Sports Car Club of America's new Trans-American road-racing series for production "sedans." Camaro then claimed the class championship in 1968 and '69.
Veteran Chevy engineer Vincent W. Piggins had designed the Z-28 expressly for the Trans-Am -- then convinced management to sell it to the public. To meet the prevailing displacement limit, he combined the 327 block with the 283 crankshaft to produce a high-winding 302.4-cid small-block with a nominal 290 bhp -- it was more like 350 -- and 290 pound-feet of torque.
Completing the Z-28 package were heavy-duty suspension, 11-inch-diameter clutch, quick steering, hood air ducts feeding big carburetors, close-ratio four-speed gearbox, front disc brakes, metallic rear-brake linings, a "ducktail" rear spoiler, broad dorsal racing stripes, and Rally wheels with wide-tread tires.
All this listed for about $400, but actual price was more like $800 because the four-speed, power front discs, special headers, and metallic rear-drum linings were all "mandatory" extras.
Nevertheless, the Z-28 was a whale of high-performance buy. It wasn't for everyone, of course, but production climbed quickly, going from 602 for '67 to 7199 for '68 and then to 20,302 for '69. All are now coveted collectibles, not only as the first of a great breed, but because, unfortunately, the Z would become less-special in future years.
|1909||With the help of a well known race car driver - Louis Chevrolet, William Durant came up with the introduction car design for the public|
|1911||Chevrolet Motor Company of Michigan is incorporated in November of 1911 by Louis Chevrolet, William Little and Edwin Cambell, William Durant's son-in-law. Headquarters are in Detroit.|
|1912||Chevrolet launched its "Classic Six" - a large 5-passenger touring sedan that could reach the top speed of 65 miles per hour|
|1914||The Chevrolet "bowtie" logo appears for the first time|
|1915||Chevrolet, the "490" was introduced to challenge Ford Model T|
|1918||First Chevrolet truck sold. General Motors buys the operating assets of Chevrolet Motor Company in May.|
|1921||GM decides to proceed with commercial application of Kettering’s "copper-cooled" engine, intended to replace the traditional piston engine. The initial target is to put the copper-cooled engine in all of Chevrolet Division’s cars. The program is officially ended in 1923, with a total of fewer than 800 copper-cooled engines ever being produced and only 300 sold to dealers, all of which are recalled by GM.|
|1923||GM’s first European assembly plant is established in Copenhagen under the name General Motors International A/S. It is to build Chevrolets for sale in Scandinavian countries, the Baltics, and Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Austria, Hungary and Russia. The first GM vehicle assembled outside the U.S. and Canada, a Chevrolet utility truck, comes off the Copenhagen assembly line on January 7, 1924.|
|1924||Chevy offered first radio option. William S. Knudsen becomes president of Chevrolet and joins the GM Board of Directors.|
|1927||Chevrolet outsold Ford by topping 1 million units for the first time|
|1929||Chevrolet introduces its new six-cylinder engine for use in commercial vehicles. This engine is nicknamed "the cast iron wonder" for its remarkable durability.|
|1930||Chevy produced its 7-millionth vehicle. First in the industry to introduce articulated brake shoes|
|1934||First in the industry to introduce independent front suspension|
|1935||Chevrolet introduces the Suburban Carryall, a 1/2-ton truck with seating capacity for eight.|
|1941||Chevrolet built a record 1.6 million cars and trucks in that year|
|1942||Chevrolet stopped production for civilian for the next four years. Concentrated on wartime equipment|
|1948||Chevrolet won the La Caracas - the 6,000 miles race|
|1949||Introduction of the two new "Post war" contrasting styles - the "Fastback" and the "Bustleback"|
|1950||Introduction of Powerglide - the first automatic transmission in the low-price field|
|1953||The Chevrolet Corvette is introduced at the 1953 Motorama. It is the first volume production sports car and the first production car with a plastic body to be produced in quantity.|
|1954||Power brakes, seats and windows offered for the first time.|
|1955||The legendary Chevy V8 was introduced. The break through in the new look of the American automobile|
|1957||Ramjet Fuel Injection introduced. Introduction of the most prized collector cars ever - the 1957 Bel Air|
|1958||Chevrolet introduced Impala to complete with Cadillac. Instant success with the American public|
|1959||Chevrolet cars are completely restyled for the second year in a row. Chevrolet introduces the El Camino, designed to combine big car comfort with the utility of a pickup truck, as a 1959 model. Chevrolet introduces the Corvair.|
|1960||Launch of Corvair, the first American production car with all-around independent suspension|
|1961||Debut of Impala SS and the completely restyled of full-size Chevrolet|
|1962||Introduction of compact Chevy II Nova to the public|
|1963||Introduction of the all new Corvette Sting Ray. The new Vette sported a modern chassis with independent suspension|
|1964||Mid-size Malibu series offers sedan, hardtop, wagon and convertible models.|
|1965||Launch of mid-size Malibu series ranging from sedan, hardtop, wagon and convertible models|
|1966||Debut of luxurious Caprice model. Chevrolet is first to build more than 3 million cars and trucks in a single yeat|
|1967||Chevrolet unveiled Camaro. It proved an instance success and contributed 10% of the Chevrolet 1967 Sales|
|1968||The "New Generation of Cars", the Camaro SS was launched|
|1969||Four-wheel-drive Blazer sport utility vehicle introduced|
|1971||Chevrolet set a new industry yearly sales record, selling over three million vehicles|
|1972||Most popular full-size car in automotive history, the Impala number 10 million was sold. Introduction of "light utility vehicles"|
|1973||All-new Monte Carlo won Motor Trend's "Car of the Year" award|
|1974||"Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet." This advertising campaign reflects Chevrolet's unique position as an American favorite|
|1975||Chevrolet introduces the Chevette in October. This U.S.-built T-car was first designed by Opel and is also manufactured by GM subsidiaries in Argentina, Brazil and England and sold under the names Kadett, Chevette, Gemini and K-180.|
|1977||Full-size Caprice was "downsized" and became the American favorite car|
|1979||The 100-millionth Chevrolet is built (1979 Monza)|
|1980||The first front-wheel-drive, Citation, was introduced|
|1982||Redesign of Camaro. Voted "Car of the Year" by Motor Trend Magazine.|
|1984||The 1984 Chevrolet Corvette is introduced, with the car’s first major styling change in 15 years.|
|1985||The mid-sized Astro Van was introduced.|
|1989||Chevrolet introduces its Geo line of small vehicles with Geo Metro, Spectrum and Tracker.|
|1990||Corvette shatters three world records for speed and endurance|
|1991||Introduction of new Caprice Classic LTZ named Motor Trend's "Car of the Year"|
|1992||GM celebrates production of the 1-millionth Corvette and Camaro celebrates its 25th anniversary.|
|1993||Toyota and GM sign an unprecedented supply and sales agreement under which GM will build right-hand drive Chevrolet Cavaliers in the U.S. Toyota will purchase these models from GM and sell them in Japan.|
|1994||"Genuine Chevrolet" embodies the commitment to delivering automobile ownership experience every driver deserves|
|1995||The redesigned Blazer earns Motor Trend's "Truck of the Year" award Chevrolet becomes the first company ever to win Motor Trend's "Truck of the Year" award in two consecutive years|
|1996||Chevy re-introduces the classic Malibu nameplate|
|1997||The fifth-generation Corvette was born and will carry the Corvette legend into the next millennium|
|1998||Geo Prizm brand become the newest additions to the Chevrolet family The all-new 1999 Silverado Pickup is introduced, winning Motor Trend's 1999 "Truck of the Year" award|
|1999||North American Detroit International Auto Show, Chevrolet launches the All-New Chevy Tracker|
|2001||The Chevrolet Cruze is launched in Japan. Developed by GM and its alliance partner Suzuki, the Cruze is the first GM vehicle to be built in Japan since the 1930s.|
|2002||The Corvette celebrates its 50th anniversary, while the Camaro ends its 35 year production run.|
|2003||GM announces that the 2005 model year GMC Envoy XL, Envoy XUV and Chevrolet trailblazer EXT will be the first vehicles to showcase its innovative Displacement on Demand fuel-saving technology, which enhances fuel economy without compromising performance or the ability to carry heavy loads. Displacement on Demand is to be a standard feature in the vehicles' optional Vortec 5300 V-8 engine. The technology, which boosts the Vortec engine's fuel efficiency by 8 percent, is also to be introduced in other GM engines in the 2006 model year.|
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