Monday wrapped up the third straight review of a General Motors vehicle. As much as I try to keep a balance in my vehicle selection for this blog, you sometimes have to take what you can get.
Believe me, I had no qualms with the selection of the Buick Regal CXL Turbo, Chevrolet Silverado 2500HD and the GMC Acadia. Each one presented a different story reflecting on the history and forward path of this blog. Part of that history was rooted three generations on my mother's side in a 1940 Oldsmobile. With every Oldsmobile and Chevrolet afterwards, the family's dedication to GM continues even in the guise of the work on this blog.
Though this could easily be an all-GM blog if I wanted to, it isn't. But, I am indeed indebted to the people I met and conversed with over at and in contract with GM who gave me a necessary boost to do Victory & Reseda. I am also indebted to my family and their heritage with GM products to frame everything I have learned about the automobile.
However, it is Chevrolet's centennial this year. Founded in 1911, Chevrolet would become the cornerstone of GM everywhere it sold. It's sales volume had been unmatched for decades. It has become the symbol of American automotive leadership not only on this continent, but in most markets the bowtie is sold. The shine of the Silverado 2500HD that was parked out front of my home glimmers as much as a Corsa in Sao Paulo, a Lumina in Dubai, a Cruze in Mumbai or a Chevy in Acapulco.
To honor the past and the present, this special Independence Day/Canada Day edition of the Five Favorites will highlight the quintet of Chevrolets that have been part of my cornerstone in history – inclusive of the time Barbara J. (Bloom) Stern walked this Earth. If it weren’t for my mom, I wouldn’t be so addicted to the automobile – or, write about them. Let alone Grandma Bloom’s succession of Chevrolets.
So, celebrate America and Canada – here's my Five Favorite Chevys of all time. And, Happy Centennial, Chevrolet! Cue Dinah Shore!
THE ANCHOR BLOCK OF ALL BOWTIES: Chevrolet’s post-World War II design could be seen as pedestrian and conservative. Though the 1950s shown some promise to make GM's budget-priced brand stand out some more, Chevrolet needed an icon. Back then, you sold one basic platform with various body styles and trim levels to choose from. Add a vast array of colors to paint your Chevy, and you can create one with your personal ride with no problems.
In 1954, a sweeping change in automotive design took North American automakers by storm. Modern angles, stretched out lines, emerging rear fins and a lower body height began to permeate every automobile line. Chevrolet was seen as a leader in this movement, as they adopted GMs primary design cues onto their 1955 models. What put Chevy over the top was the introduction of their overhead-valve V8 – the Small Block. GM had been building OHV V8s since the end of World War II. Chevy never adopted this change in engine design simply to retain its edge in the budget-priced field. Once the Small Block was dropped into the 1955 Chevrolet – the bowtie finally became iconic.
Some aficionados say that the 1957 Chevrolet was more iconic with its fuel injection option and swath of chrome on its Bel Air models. True, but I will argue that there wouldn’t be a 1957 Chevy without the radical changes made for 1955.
THEY WENT AFTER FERRARI AND PORSCHE BACK THEN, TOO! In 1953, one would look at the Corvette as a fiberglass-bodied, oversized replica of any European roadster of its time. The Blue-Flame six and Powerglide transmission offered no sporting credentials against the likes of a Jaguar or a Nash-Healey of the time. It wouldn’t be fair to compare the original ‘Vette to these post-World War II icons. But, the roadster had to emerge into something more special over time.
Eventually, that came in 1962 with what we now call the C2. Popularly, this is known as the Sting Ray. Larry Shinoda’s masterpiece launched the ‘Vette into another stratosphere. It’s fastback styling and original split rear windows meant business. Under the hood was a 5.4litre Small Block that yielded as much as 365HP. It had muscle car performance, but had the gumption to play with any European GT coupe when presented with a challenge stateside. Yet, it was very typically American – with typical American driving characteristics. Curves were seen as kryptonite compared to straight-line Interstates or rural highways.
Iconic as it is, the C2 is fondly remembered as the ‘Vette that catapulted it into a new realm for the American automobile. Over the following 48 years, the ‘Vette would become a global GT worthy of battle on an Alp or an Autobahn as well as an Interstate or canyon road. It all began with a deadly sea creature…
THE MOST ELEGANT MUSCLE CAR: By 1969, Chevrolet always had a car in the race. Most of the time, these races were held on the streets of any city or town in North America. The pit stop was a drive-in restaurant and the apex – well, there was no apex on a desolate street. GM’s A-Bodies spawned some mean machines with a relative power-to-weight ratio that was considered astounding for its time.
However, North American consumers began venturing into an emerging new market segment – the personal luxury coupe. It was a way for North American consumers to enjoy the benefits of a Cadillac or Lincoln with only two doors at a fraction of the price. The formula began with the Raymond Loewy-designed 1953 Studebaker Hawk. Since then, it was defined with the notion that it had to be truly special from its standout styling to the amenities one gets when buying a personal luxury coupe.
The A-Body Monte Carlo arrived in showrooms for 1970. No one expected Chevrolet to play in this game. Considering the price advantage and its engine options, no one could ignore what the Monte could do in this market. It was smaller and lighter than your average personal luxury coupe, which meant a big block V8 made this baby fly.
The Monte did more than just bring the personal luxury coupe to the Bowtie faithful. It was sent into battle on the ovals of NASCAR. It did more for Chevy that it was originally intended. Frankly, that was a good thing!
A COMPACT SUCCESS: In 1960, Chevrolet jumped into the compact market with the air-cooled, rear-engined Corvair. It augmented that polarizing car with a conventional compact in the Chevy II a couple of years later. Through the Vega, the Monza and the Citation, you’d think Chevrolet would never get a foot into the small car market heavily controlled by the likes of Toyota, Datsun/Nissan, Honda and Volkswagen. In 1980, GM released a global platform that spawned many different compact cars such as the Holden Camira, the Opel Ascona and the Cadillac Cimarron.
Then, there was the Chevrolet Cavalier. After 21 years, Chevy finally found a successful compact car. Over the years, I’ve driven my share of them. They’ve always been quite entertaining for me. There’s nothing adrenalin-pumping about how they drove. They simply took you from place to place without complaint or fear. The Cavalier was quite fun, actually.
I will admit that the Cavalier was as basic as a car can get. One doesn’t need to be entertained by a flashy exterior or a highly technical engine with the latest in technical bits all around. One wants to get somewhere without complaint. That’s the Cavalier in a nutshell – a 23-year odyssey that yielded success for Chevrolet in the compact car market.
IT’S NOT AN ANTELOPE… Since the 1958 models arrived in the showroom, North American consumers were a bit confused. Few of them have ever seen an Impala – the animal related to the antelope that runs across Southern Africa. Yet, when Chevrolet affixed the name to their top trim of the time, it grew a legend.
Impalas played a huge part of my life. On one end, we had a pristine white 1967 sports coupe with a 5.4litre Small Block, a Turbo Hydramatic transmission and a shimmering azure interior that was a part of our involvement in the Cub Scouts. At that time, people in our community would prefer to buy the Impala rather than the Caprice, not because of the price. Rather, Reseda was more of a middle-ground community and the Impala’s trim reflected our values.
It is the latest Impala that continues to play a part of this blog. It is the new traditional American car – front drive, V6-powered, big comfortable seats and a ride that would stretch for miles. It is not an enthusiast’s car (Most of this generation’s Impalas I’ve driven were LTs), but when I don’t need to want to feel the miles, I just sit back, relax and let an Impala take me along for the ride.
One wonders whether the 2012 edition, with the High Feature 3.6litre V6 plunked under the hood, would change that…
All photos by Randy Stern