America’s least expensive cars and one of the world’s best sellers was started by William C. Durant at the time when he did not control General Motors. In collaboration with race car driver Louis Chevrolet, on November 3, 1911, Chevrolet entered the automobile market to compete with the Ford Model T. However, the “Classic Six” turned out to be too expensive so Durant went for the small simple car such as the Little Four. Chevrolet’s first big impact came with the 4-cylinder Baby Grand touring car and its companion roadster model, the Royal Mail and soon witnessed sales rise from 13,600 to 70,701. The Chevrolet “Bow Tie” was trademarked in 1913 and has been one of the most recognizable emblems that still stands as the company’s marquee today.
General Motors acquired Chevrolet in 1917 and by 1920 was only outsold by Ford and Dodge. By 1927, Chevrolet had outsold Ford for the first time (though this is an unfair comparison since Ford was shut down for part of the year due to the change over from Model T to the Model A). In all but four of the next 55 years, Chevrolet will be the top selling American automobile. The “Cast-Iron Wonder” was produced in 1929 with a 3.2 liter International 6 with an 8’11” wheelbase and detachable disc wheels. Over 1 million were sold in its first year at $595 each and the engine continued to be manufactured until 1953.
It didn’t take long for Chevrolet to once again take the lead over Ford in 1931 and it continued to stay on top for 3 years. In 1934 the 10 millionth Chevrolet rolled off the assembly line and soon thereafter came the 15 millionth vehicle in 1939 along with station wagons and prices starting at $628. Chevrolet offered a power-top convertible with a low price tag by 1940.
By the end of World War II, Chevrolet underwent an extensive restyling and in 1950 they offered the option of a 2-speed Powerglide fully automatic transmission as wells as a hardtop coupe. Soon after, one of America’s favorite sports cars, the Corvette, was featured with a fiberglass body and 160hp 6-cylinder engine. However, with the induction of the Corvette on the auto scene, Chevrolet’s lead was down to a narrow 20,000 margin over Ford. The debut of the Chevrolet Small-Block V8 in 1955 has remained in continuous production since, longer than any other mass-produced engine in the world. Even though much of the engine has been modified from its original version to include aluminum block and heads, electronic management and fuel injection, the small-block V8 is still used today ranging from 4.8 to 7 liters with outputs from 295 to 638 horsepower.
A new departure for Chevrolet happened in 1960 with the introduction of the 2.3 liter aircooled flat-6 engine in the rear of the Corvair. It proved a little too advanced for the market which it was aimed for, but by 1966 had entered with a new lease on life with the option of a 4-speed and 180bhp turbo-supercharged engine. Based on the response from the Corvair, Chevrolet realized the evolution of subsequent models would need to be diversified rather than concentrating on a single model. In 1963, Chevrolet bridged the gap between the Corvair and Bel Air and Biscayne series and in 1964 the Chevelle was the first to use GM’s perimeter-type chassis frame. Another new model for 1964 was the Corvette Stingray. By 1966, along with the specialized Corvair and Corvette, Chevrolet offered the Chevy II in 3 different series, the Chevelle and 5 different full-sized Chevrolet’s from the Biscayne to the Caprice. Prices ranged from $2,000 to $3,500.
Another successful model was added to Chevrolet’s lineup in 1967, the sports coupe V8 5.7 liter Camaro with 295hp and front disc brakes. Even though this was a belated answer to Ford’s Mustang, it proved to be a successful decision for Chevrolet and would carry on as a model until 2002 and carried again in 2010.
Since its acquisition by General Motors in 1917, Chevrolet has been the highest selling marquee for GM and has had a huge influence on the automobile industry throughout the years by creating innovative designs and features that have pushed the industry with new standards.