Chevrolet History and the Chevy Sports Cars

The Chevy pages have Chevrolet history, Corvette history, Corvette posters. Corvette diecast, and Camaro diecast model cars.

Chevy has been making cars for almost a century and for many of those years it has been the best selling car in the world. Even though it has been General Motors low cost brand Chevy hasn’t shied away from innovation and it made the American sports car, the Corvette, as well as the Camaro, the sporting Corvairs, and muscle cars such as the 427 Impala and the 454 Monte Carlo.

The Start of Chevrolet

Chevrolet history started way back in 1911 with William C. Durant, a man of obvious entrepreneurial bent. Sadly, he wasn’t as good at keeping control of companies as he was at starting them. He founded General Motors in 1908, but lost control of it in 1910. He had been expanding GM rapidly, buying up jewels like Buick and Oldsmobile, but he also bought a few companies that weren't so good. By July 1910 GM was $7 million in the red. The banks financed a rescue package, but as part of the deal Durant lost control of the company.

Durant was determined to get control of General Motors again, and as part of his plan he started a new car manufacturing company in 1911. He hired Louis Chevrolet who was a well known racing driver and a talented mechanic to design the cars for the new company. Chevrolet's name was used for the new enterprise.

The First Chevs

The first car in the Chevrolet history was the 1912 Classic 6, a five seater tourer that could hit 65 mph. It was an expensive car for the times at $2150. A smaller six cylinder car followed, then Chevrolet had its first big success with a four-cylinder, overhead-valve car that could be bought as a tourer for the family man or two seat sporty roadster for the single man about town.

Louis Chevrolet gave his name to the new car manufacturing company, but he wasn’t part of Chevrolet history for long, leaving the company in 1913.

Chevrolet laid down a challenge to Ford in 1915 with the 2.7 liter, overhead-valve “490”, so named because it cost $490. It was designed to compete with the Ford’s Model T, and it was a good seller, despite Ford continuing to beat Chevrolet in cost and quality.

Chevrolet also sold cars higher priced cars competing with the Oakland and Oldsmobile from GM in the $1100 -$1400 price range. The Type D, Chevy’s first V-8, was one of these, coming out in 1917 with overhead valves and 286 cubic inch capacity, and available as a tourer or roadster.

William Durant started the Chevrolet Motor Company of Delaware in 1915. He exchanged shares in that company for GM shares to regain control of GM. Chevrolet merged with General Motors in 1918.

Saving Chevrolet

Durant lost control of GM again in 1920. GM and Durant himself were in financial trouble because of GM’s rapid expansion since Durant had become President again, and a downturn in business in 1920 that caused major financial problems. It was recommended that Chevrolet be closed down since there was no way that it could be made profitable again.

Luckily for General Motors that never happened. The company was saved by Alfred P. Sloan who was acting as Executive Vice-President and Pierre du Pont whose family fortune was backing GM.

A meeting was held to decide the future direction of the GM cars and it was decided to keep Chevrolet as GM’s low priced car. At that stage Chevrolet held just four percent of the vehicle market and was $5 million in the red. It was a long way short of even coming close to Ford, the king of the low cost car makers.

Chevrolet’s first move was to update the 490 and call it the Superior. In 1923 they sold over 480,000 cars. Chevy was on its way back!

Buy 1926 Chevrolet Boat Tail Speedster at Art.com
1926 Chevrolet Boat Tail Speedster
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The Cast Iron Wonder

In the mid to late twenties Chevrolet was using a four cylinder engine to power its cars but in 1929 they brought out a new six. The new engine had a capacity of 3.2 liters and gave 46 bhp at 2600 rpm. It was called “the cast iron wonder” because of its cast iron pistons. Another name for it was the “Stove Bolt Six” because of the slotted-head bolts used in it.

Amazingly it was a development of the 1929 six that powered the first Corvettes in 1953.

The “Cast Iron Wonder” was upgraded in 1937 to give 85 bhp and it was officially called the “Blue Flame”.

Chevy Firsts

Chevrolet beat Ford in car sales for the first time in 1927, but only because Ford shut down its plant for months to retool for the Model A. In 1931 Chevrolet genuinely beat Ford in the sales race, and since then, apart from just three years Chevrolet has been the best selling American make, an incredible achievement.

Chevrolet may have been a low cost make but it didn’t just follow the rest of the pack. In 1930, the year they sold their 7 millionth car, Chev was the first to use articulated brake shoes, in 1934 they were the first to use independent front suspension and in 1935 they were first to bring out a station wagon.

Juan Manuel Fangio raced a Chevrolet with the Blue Flame six in 1939, not winning, but doing well enough to come to the attention of GM in Argentina and get help from them. The next year he won the Aires-Lima road race over some of the World’s worst roads, and won another four major races in the next two years plus more races after the war.

Chevrolet History, Post WWII

Chevrolet sold over 1,300,00 cars and trucks in 1941 but their manufacture of civilian vehicles stopped in January 1942. Chevrolet put their industrial muscle behind the war effort in 1941, making war equipment including highly complicated Pratt and Whitney aircraft engines.

The next peacetime car didn’t arrive until late 1945. Immediate post-war cars were a continuation of the pre-war cars. The first all-new post-war car came in 1949 with the Fleetline fastback and the Styleline bustleback. Another Chevrolet first was their low-cost automatic in 1950, the two speed Powerglide.

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`55 Bell Air
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And so Chevrolet just kept on doing what it did well right into the 21st century– giving the motoring public great cars at a great price, with innovation and flair. The 1958 Impala with Chev prices and Cadillac big car looks was a big hit. It was to become the most successful full size car ever. The Chevy II gave buyers the choice of smaller cars.

In 1965 Chevrolet sold over 2 ½ million cars.

The Blazer four wheel drive came out in 1969, small pickups in 1972 and the Chevette in 1976. A real piece of Chevrolet history happened in 1979, with the 100 millionth built. 1980 saw the first front wheel drive Chev.

In the 21st century Chevrolet continues the tradition it has set since 1911, winning industry awards and giving the public what it wants.

The Chevrolet Sports Cars

The Corvette, the true American sports car, was introduced in 1953. It had the looks but not the performance. It had the Blue Flame Special six and two speed Powerglide auto at first and wasn’t popular, but the sales improved with introduction of the small-block V-8 in 1955. The Corvette Sting Ray was an instant winner in 1963. It had minor cosmetic and mechanical changes each year with major restyles in 1968 and 84. The biggest engine available was 427 cu in (7 liters) and 560 bhp – a real muscle car.

Buy 1960 Corvette - All American Series at Art.com
1960 Corvette - All American Series
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The Camaro was Chev’s answer to the Ford Mustang. Like the Mustang it had an enormous range of options so that a car could be exactly tailored to a customers requirements. The Camaro Z28 was a homologation special with a 302 race engine giving 290 bhp at 5800 rpm, built for TransAm racing. In 1969 the Z28 won 18 out of 25 races.

The Corvair was Chevrolet’s answer to the VW Beetle and other European economy cars. It had a flat-six air-cooled engine in the back and it was the first American car with four wheel independent suspension. Even with a sporty convertible body the Corvair wasn’t a great sales success, and being prominently featured in Ralph Nader’s book “Unsafe At Any Speed” finished it off.

Chevrolet built sporty roadsters back in the early twentieth century, classic sports cars since the mid twentieth century and they continue the tradition in the early twenty-first century with the fifth generation of America’s favorite sports car, the Chevrolet Corvette. For lots of pictures of classy Corvettes, check out the poster pages:
1953-1967    1968-1982    1983-2004
or click here for collectible Corvette diecast model cars.


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