Thursday, November 3, 2011

Chevy Centennial Part 3: Ten Chevrolets

On this 100th Anniversary of the incorporation of Chevrolet, I thought I would recognize the occasion by taking a look back at some of the truly significant models on the Chevy timeline. I'm not prioritizing them, just listing them in chronological order. And I'm NOT claiming that these are the ten best, or the ten worst- just Ten Significant Chevrolets as my way of saying Happy Hundredth to an old friend.

1916 Chevrolet 490- Chevrolet entered the marketplace with large, high priced six cylinder cars and struggle. The 490 represents the first low priced Chevrolet and an instant hit. Four cylinders, three forward gears and a more substantial car feel than a Model T for $490.00. This one put the Bowtie on the map and positioned Chevrolet as a volume producer.

The 1929 Chevrolet Six introduced the venerable "Stovebolt Six" engine which powered Chevy for a generation to come. It was marketed as "A Six for the Price of a Four" and allowed Chevrolet to displace Ford as the number one automaker, a position that Chevrolet held on to for the next twenty eight years.

The first Corvette in 1953 sold only a few hundred units but started the long line of a legend. Originally a fiberglass roadster with side curtains, the sole powertrain was a six Cylinder with Powerglide. It is more significant for where it led than what it was- the first "sports car" by an American Manufacturer, and the glory days would come.

Chevy bet it all on the 1955 models and won big- a fully new car - frame, suspension and body and - and with a brand new engine. That 265 small block V8 was a brilliant engine that moved Chevrolet into the modern era. The 1955 is a masterpiece of restraint in an era of excess. Shown is the Golden Jubilee- the Fifty Millionth GM car, produced during the 1955 model year. It was the star of shows and parades across the country.

The Corvair was a revolution for Chevrolet- a fully modern compact car. The success of the Monza paved the way for the pony cars to come and the second generation was one of the finest engineered compacts in Chevrolet history. A sporty and much liked car, although the first generation- like other sporting cars- required an attentive driver.

The beautifully styled full sized 1965 Chevrolet was totally new and rode on a brand new frame as well. Many consider this to the the height of Bill Mitchell's styling success. Hugely successful and well loved, the 1965 model saw the introduction of the big block 396 engine, Turbo-Hydramatic Automatic Transmission and at mid year, the elegant Caprice Hardtop Sedan. The Caprice was a big hit and became its own series the following year.

The Camaro was Chevrolet's response to the Mustang, and was introduced for the 1967 model year. It was a hit from the start, combining oustanding styling with a wide range of power- from a sensible Secretary six all the way up to an SS396. The Z/28 option appeared at mid-year. Camaro did more to put performance at an affordable price point than probably any other car in their line up.

The 1976 Chevette was the smallest Chevrolet since the model 490. It was based on a European design, and represented Chevy's first real attempt to enter the real of the subcompact. Launched with a 1.4 litre base engine and a full range of options, Chevette was a cross between a European minicar and fully equipped Chevrolet. Certainly a more serious attempt than the seriously flawed Vega, Chevette sold very well and earned a reputation as a reliable- albeit unrefined- method of transportation.

Another risky move was the downsized Caprice and Impala of 1977. Almost 12 inches shorter and some 800 pounds lighter than their predecessors, and with fresh new styling, the gamble paid off and the cars were a smash hit. "The New Chevrolet" as they were called, were introduced to a theme song that sang "Now that's more like it." Beautifully in tune with the times, the New Chevrolet won the Motor Trend Car of the Year award in 1977.

And that brings us to the 2011 Chevrolet Volt. A Hybrid Electric Car with a back-up Generator, the Volt represents Chevrolet's greatest Engineering Gamble since the 265 V8 of 1955. The Volt has experienced serious production delays and is only offered in a handful of markets, so combined with the high price has been unable to rack up impressive sales, but the reviews are phenomenal and the owners are ecstatic. The recipient of Motor Trend's 2011 Car of the Year Award, Volt has been criticized in the media but like teh first Corvette, I wouldn't call this one out. Volt is defining Chevrolet as a technology brand to be reckoned with.

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