American as baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet

DETROIT — Chevrolet marks its centennial in 2011 kicking off a year of anniversary activities at the North American International Auto Show.

Chevrolet has become the iconic all-American brand with a long list of memorable products. The phrase as American as baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet accurately depicts how ingrained the automotive brand has become in the fabric of our society.

Chevrolet was founded in Detroit in November 1911, by racer Louis Chevrolet and General Motors founder William C. “Billy” Durant, who developed cars that quickly earned reputations for performance, durability and value. Those traits remain at the core of Chevrolet, which is the world’s fourth-largest automotive brand.

Founders Louis Chevrolet,
left, and William Durant

From the very start, Chevrolet brought technology and features typically reserved for more expensive cars to its lineup of affordable cars and trucks. The first Chevrolet — the Series C Classic Six offered an electric starter and electric headlamps at a time when both were rarities among even luxury cars.

In the decades that followed, innovations such as safety glass, fuel injection, anti-lock brakes and electronic stability control systems were used on Chevrolet models at the same time as more expensive vehicles. As one of the largest-selling brands in the industry, Chevrolet’s early adoption of landmark technologies fundamentally changed the way they were applied to new vehicles.

Chevrolet also made performance affordable. Its early four- and six-cylinder engines were known for durability and strong performance, but it was the 1955 introduction of Chevrolet’s small-block V-8 that began a new era in attainable high-performance.

1967 Chevrolet Chevelle SS muscle car

The engine would power millions of cars and trucks in next 50 years, with its legacy passed on to a new generation of small-block V-8s used in today’s trucks and SUVs, as well as performance cars including the Camaro SS and Corvette.

The performance characteristics of the small-block V-8 helped establish Chevrolet as a force in almost all forms of motorsports. Chevrolet-powered race cars were immediate contenders in the fledging stock car and drag racing worlds of the 1950s, growing to dominate them in the next decades. Chevrolet is the winningest brand in NASCAR and has collected more NHRA Pro Stock Manufacturers Cups than any other brand.

1957 Chevrolet magazine and newspaper advertisement

Design heritage

Design has been a cornerstone of Chevrolet and many of its models have become icons of American culture. The soaring fins of the 1957 Chevy Bel Air epitomized the optimism of the Jet Age, while the sleek 1963 Corvette Stingray is regarded by many automotive historians as one of the best-looking cars ever designed.

The 1963 Corvette Stingray and the 1967 Camero convertible

Other Chevrolet models’ designs had cultural impacts that resonated for decades. The Camaro, introduced in 1967, brought great design and affordable performance to younger customers. The heritage-inspired design of the fifth-generation model, introduced for 2010, quickly became the best seller among its primary competitors.

The 1935 Suburban. Suburban is the longest-running nameplate in the industry.

In the truck world, Chevrolet design innovations helped drive changes and create new markets in the industry. The Suburban was introduced in 1935 and continues as the longest-running automotive nameplate in industry history. Its concept of delivering greater passenger and cargo capacity has remained true for 76 years.

In 1955, the special-edition Chevrolet Cameo Carrier introduced smooth rear fenders for the first time to a mainstream pickup. The styling gave the truck a flowing, upscale appearance that differed greatly from the traditional “step side” design of other contemporary trucks. Within a few years, the entire industry was transformed. The smooth cargo bed sides, which became known as “fleetside” styling, were found on every truck on the market.

The early years

Swiss-born Louis Chevrolet (1878-1941) was a racer, mechanic and pioneering engineer. William C. “Billy” Durant (1861-1947) was a visionary automotive marketer. Durant founded General Motors in 1908, as Chevrolet’s reputation as a daring driver – he established a land-speed record in 1905, attaining 111 mph in a special open race car – continued to grow. Durant hired Chevrolet for high-profile races and promotional drives.

In 1910, Durant was forced from the company he founded, but wouldn’t be deterred from the burgeoning auto industry. He regrouped with other partners, including Chevrolet, to develop a new car. Durant believed Chevrolet’s reputation as a racer would help sell the car, so it was named for him.

The 1914 Chevrolet
Royal Mail Roadster

The Chevrolet company was founded in 1911 and its first car, the Series C Classic Six, was a large, finely crafted motorcar. Its large, 4.9L (299 cubic inches) six-cylinder engine produced 40 horsepower and enabled a top speed of about 65 mph. It sold for $2,150 or the equivalent of nearly $50,000 today, when adjusted for inflation.

The refocused Chevrolet line was immediately successful, thanks to a value-driven price and a tough four-cylinder engine that proved very durable. Despite the company’s early success, Durant and Chevrolet differed on the philosophy of the company’s products. The gulf between them resulted in Durant buying out Chevrolet’s interest in the company in 1915. Customers ultimately validated Durant’s vision and Chevrolet sales continued to grow. The success enabled Durant to buy a controlling interest in General Motors in 1916. By 1917, Durant was back at the helm of GM and Chevrolet was a division of it.

Durant left General Motors in 1920. He established another car company and became a prominent Wall Street investor. The stock market crash of 1929 proved fatal for both endeavors. He was bankrupt by 1936. He died in 1947 and was buried at the Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx, New York.

1916 Chevrolet 490 Touring

Louis Chevrolet also lost his fortune during the Great Depression. He returned to his vocational skills and worked as a mechanic at a Chevrolet factory in Detroit. He died in 1941 and was buried in Indianapolis, near the famous speedway where he forged his reputation as a fearless racer and innovator.

The next century

The electrically driven Volt leads Chevrolet into its second century and redefines what a car means. It is the world’s first mass-produced electric vehicle with extended range, providing up to 379 miles of driving. That means Volt provides the benefits of an electric vehicle without the range limitations associated with other electric vehicles in the market – expanding the boundaries of performance and efficiency. It exemplifies Chevrolet’s heritage of introducing advanced technology on value-driven products.

The 2011 Chevrolet Volt and the 2011 Chevrolet Cruze

The forward-looking philosophy that nurtured Volt from concept to production is also responsible for products such as the Equinox and Cruze, whose value stories are validated by critical praise, third-party recommendations and the growing numbers of customers who are new to Chevrolet. Similarly, the Camaro and Corvette continue a six-decade heritage of offering high-performance values, bringing advanced technology to affordable sports cars.

On the truck side, Silverado delivers the greatest capability in the long history of Chevy trucks, with greater capability and efficiency on the horizon. These vehicles were developed with an eye on Chevy’s past, ensuring they remain true to the brand’s commitment to bring more technology to more people.

This year, Chevrolet launches the all-new Sonic in North America. Next year, the Spark comes to America, bringing the Chevrolet spirit to a new and growing segment of smaller, highly efficient and fun-to-drive cars. Chevrolet is also exploring a range of concepts and new-product segments, building on the momentum generated by recent successful product launches to put Chevys in the driveways of a wider and more diverse range of customers.

GM CEO Dan Akerson kicks
off the 100th anniversary of Chevrolet

Cruze, Sonic and Spark are products of Chevrolet’s growing global presence. Indeed, the Chevy “bowtie” insignia is seen on vehicles in more than 130 countries and Chevrolet is leveraging those worldwide links to develop products tuned for local tastes and needs, while delivering the brand’s trademark style, value and performance.

Shared development procedures with engineering and design centers around the globe also help deliver better-performing, safer and more efficient vehicles. The Cruze, for example, leads its segment with 10 standard air bags, and the Cruze Eco model offers segment-best, EPA-estimated highway fuel economy of 42 mpg. The international ties that helped Cruze top its competitors in these important areas will grow in the coming years.

Chevrolet enters its second century with great momentum. The next 100 years will see Chevrolet help remake the automobile to complement the needs of evolving societies and changing resources – all with its iconic style, performance and value.

1924 Chevrolet ad

1939 Chevrolet brochure


1911 — Chevrolet is founded and the Series C Classic Six is unveiled, priced at $2,150.

1914 — Chevrolet’s iconic “bowtie” logo is used for the first time. The Model H launches with a durable four-cylinder engine that helps build Chevrolet’s reputation as a dependable car. The engine would power Chevrolets through 1928.

1915 — The Model 490 is introduced. It was named for its $490 price, which was $5 less than the Model T.

1917 — Chevrolet becomes a division of General Motors.

1918 — Chevrolet’s first trucks are introduced; one based on the Model 490 chassis and a heavy-duty 1-ton chassis.

1935 Chevrolet
Sport Coupe

1929 — A new overhead-valve six-cylinder is introduced and marketed as “the six for the price of a four.” Its prominent slotted-head bolts earned the engine the nickname “Stovebolt” – a name that came to symbolize Chevrolet’s toughness and durability.

1934 — Chevrolet introduces an independent front suspension.

1935 — The Suburban is introduced, offering three rows of seats and generous cargo space. It marks its 76th anniversary in 2011 and is the oldest continually produced vehicle in automotive history.

1942 — Chevrolet stops building civilian vehicles and dedicates its production facilities to manufacturing armaments for World War II.

1953 — The Corvette is introduced. Only 300 of the fiberglass-bodied sports cars are produced that first year, but they launch an American icon that is still going strong nearly 60 years later.

The original 1953 Corvette

1955 – The ubiquitous small-block V-8 is introduced in the redesigned 1955 Chevrolet line, ushering in a new era in affordable performance and establishing a legacy that continues to this day in the “LS” family of small-block V-8s found in Chevrolet trucks, SUVs and performance cars.

1956 — The “Dinah Shore Chevy Show” launches as a one-hour TV show, with Shore singing “See the USA in your Chevrolet” at the close of each show. The show grew out of Shore’s earlier 15-minute programs and she was the first woman to host her own TV show. Shore had sung “See the USA” since the early 1950s and the song was used in Chevrolet advertising after Shore’s show ended in 1963.

1957 — Fuel injection is offered for the first time.

1960 — Junior Johnson wins the Daytona 500 in a Chevy, the first of 21 Chevrolet victories at NASCAR’s premier race (through 2010) – the most of any manufacturer.

1962 — The Beach Boys record “409” – an ode to Chevrolets powered by the 409 engine, which were burning up the quarter-mile at drag strips across the country.

1967 — The Camaro is introduced, offering a wide range of personalization options, as well as high-performance engines that would immediately establish it as a muscle car to contend with.

The 1955 Chevrolet Bel-Air

1970 – Bill “Grumpy” Jenkins won the very first NHRA Pro Stock race at the Winternationals, driving a Camaro.

1975 – The tagline “Baseball, Hot Dogs, Apple Pie and Chevrolet” is introduced.

1986 – Corvette is the first Chevrolet with anti-lock brakes, a feature that would soon spread to almost all Chevrolet models.

1990 – The Corvette ZR-1 smashes a trio of speed-endurance records, including averaging more than 175 mph for 24 hours (including pit stops).

1991 — The “Like A Rock” advertising campaign is launched for Chevrolet trucks, with Bob Seger’s song of the same name serving as its foundation. The campaign ran through 2004 and is regarded as one of the auto industry’s most successful.

1994 — Jeff Gordon wins the inaugural Brickyard 400 NASCAR race at Indianapolis, driving a Monte Carlo race car.

1983 Chevrolet Blazer

1997 — The Gen III small-block V-8 – dubbed the “LS” family of engines by enthusiasts – debuts in the redesigned Corvette.

2007 — “Transformers” is a blockbuster movie and introduces Bumblebee, a character that transforms into a yellow Camaro.

2011 – The Volt is launched, ushering in a new age of electrically driven automobiles with extended range.

1947 Chevrolet coupe, 1951 Chevrolet pickup

1985 Chevrolet Monte Carlo ad