Friday, March 18, 2011
Did you hear that 2011 marks Chevrolet's 100th anniversary? No? Well, let's take care of that right now.
The biggest public acknowledgement of this centennial seems to have been at a press conference at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit earlier this year. I was there. It wasn’t that big. There was a pretty nice video that played before the press conference (that few people in attendance even paid attention to), and they offered free beer to journalists. Otherwise, they introduced a couple variations of the new Aveo replacement Sonic. Happy frickin’ birthday.
Maybe it’s because most of the people running things haven’t been there very long, and don’t care much about Chevy’s history. Maybe it’s because the “new GM” is trying to distance itself from the past. Who knows; maybe the general public just isn’t interested.
Chevrolet, the car company, was founded by William Durant. You know him as the founder of General Motors, but he was a bit of an eccentric, and at the time, he had been (temporarily) ousted from the General. The first car was the 1911 Chevrolet Classic Six.
Chevrolet, the name, came from auto racing star Louis Chevrolet. Along with his brother Gaston, the Swiss-born Louis was a popular personality with a good reputation. He was just the kind of guy Durant needed to partner-up with to help reestablish his good name.
Durant had already made so much money with Chevrolet, that by 1916, he was able to buy the majority of shares in General Motors and become the president of the company. Chevrolet then became part of GM, and continued on to do battle with archrival Ford forever more.
With the combination of desirable, affordable cars, and the memorable, sometimes soul-stirring advertising from agency Campbell-Ewald, Chevrolet became the perennial number-one selling car company in spite of some stiff competition. By 1922, Chevrolet had already built 1-million vehicles.
The reason Chevrolet is looked upon so fondly by enthusiasts, however, is because of their considerable performance heritage. With the emphasis on fuel mileage and efficiency, this probably isn’t the thing that the new GM wants to be associated with as much today, but it casts too big of a shadow to ignore. Sure, Chevrolet has always been the affordable, frugal choice in the GM lineup, but their dedication to all-out performance is the stuff of legend.
But it didn’t take long for the Corvette to come into its own. That brilliantly engineered 265-c.i. V8 became available throughout the Chevrolet lineup in 1955--and it woke a sleeping dragon in the lightweight Corvette. When new, modern styling and roll-up windows came along in 1956, the Corvette became more than just a novelty car. And when an independent rear-suspension and ultra-sophisticated engineering went into the redesigned Corvette in 1963, it securely established its position as one of the best sports cars in the world.
Chevrolet’s bread-and-butter has always been its full-sized offerings. Descendants of that first Classic Six include the chrome-drenched Bel Airs of the mid-‘50s, the opulent Impalas that began in 1958, and the Cadillacesque Caprice that floated off the line for the first time in 1965. Whatever the era, Chevrolet has always provided modern, stylish, affordable cars suitable for business people and families alike. The Impala is still built today, but the choice of chic suburbanites would more likely be a bejeweled new Malibu.
Both Chevrolet and General Motors seem to change managers and key personnel as often as the counter staff at the local Burger King. Right now, Daniel F. Akerson is the new Chairman and CEO of General Motors, accepting his position in January. He’s only been a GM guy since 2009, and most notably was the Chairman of Nextel.
Of course, that’s because GM took those darned government loans. Nevermind that much of what led to that unfortunate situation was out of their control. Nevermind that if GM had gone out of business, millions of people would have lost their jobs and it would have crippled America as we know it. Nevermind that they are repaying this loan ahead of schedule. People are having a hard time forgiving it. And that is showing up in things like Chevrolet’s marketing and advertising. And it may just have to do with why we aren’t hearing much about Chevrolet’s 100th anniversary.
Except here. Below is a great slideshow of Chevrolet promotional photos and advertising, from the fist car in 1911, right up through some of today’s more interesting offerings. Your blood will flow Bowtie blue after looking through this tiny fraction of Chevrolet’s overwhelming and amazing history.