Iconic Chevrolets illustrate brand's 100-year history

DETROIT — Throughout its 100-year history, Chevrolet has created hundreds of different cars and trucks.  Many have their passionate fans and collectors.  Some stand out as iconic –personifying the spirit, style, and dependability that have defined Chevrolet.

So with apologies in advance to fans whose favorites missed the cut, here is a selection of iconic cars and trucks from Chevy’s first century in the United States. The GM Heritage Center collection includes representative examples of most of these vehicles.

1914 Chevrolet Royal Mail Roadster

In late 1913, just two years after its founding, Chevrolet introduced the 1914 “Royal Mail” Roadster.  It was the first Chevy to wrap almost every Chevrolet-specific attribute into one car.  Contemporary and jaunty, the Royal Mail had great visual appeal.  Its reliable 171-cid 4-cylinder engine had overhead valves, a premium design that contributed to its relatively high power rating. 

The car's moderate $750 list price included a top, windshield and speedometer – items that had been accessories on more expensive cars just a few years before.  In retrospect, it seems fitting that the Royal Mail was one of the first models to carry the Chevrolet bowtie badge.

1932 Chevrolet Sport Roadster

Arriving in the midst of the Great Depression, the 1932 Chevrolets were advertised as, “The Great American Value.”  The cars’ styling and chrome accents echoed GM’s more expensive 1932 Cadillac models.  Priced at a low $445, the Chevrolet Sport Roadster included a “rumble seat” for two, built into the rear deck.  Chevrolet’s 6-cylinder overhead-valve engine, introduced in 1929, provided smooth, economical power. 

Upgrades for 1932 included a synchromesh transmission that helped eliminate embarrassing gear clash. Without a doubt, the styling of the ’32s helped make Chevy America's favorite car that year.  Even today, many collectors point to the 1932 Chevrolet when asked to name their favorite Chevy of all time.

1936 Chevrolet Suburban

The early Suburban was the grandfather of the modern SUV.  However, the steel-bodied, truck-based Chevy Suburban “Carryall” originated as a more robust and accommodating alternative to ‘woodie’ station wagons when it was introduced in mid-1935.  Continuing into 1936 with few changes, the first generation Suburban was often put to work carrying up to eight persons, plus their gear and luggage, to rugged and remote locations –where work, play, or the pursuit of adventure awaited. 

During the past 76 years, many of the more than 2 million Chevy Suburbans built have continued that original mission, while others have taken on new roles, such as serving as VIP limousines.  Along the way, the Suburban has become the longest-lived, continuous production, automotive nameplate in the United States.

1948 Chevrolet Pickup

Chevy's new Advance Design trucks for 1948 were the first completely restyled General Motors vehicles introduced after World War II.  From the start, people loved the new Chevy pickups.  (And they still do – the Advance Design generation trucks are cherished by collectors as classics today.)  The new, roomier cabs for ’48 provided spacious three-across seating. 

The Chevy truck driveline, which had proved itself in every possible way during the war, hadn't needed – or received – much tweaking.  Reliable and versatile, the Chevy half-ton pickup continued as the farmer and tradesman’s four-wheeled friend.  With the advent of the '48s, more families began to consider a Chevy pickup for a second car.

1949 Chevrolet Canopy Express

During the decades since the first Chevy trucks rolled out in 1918, some once-common uses for Chevrolet trucks, and the special models that served these needs, have fallen by the wayside. Open-sided panel trucks called Canopy Express trucks were once common, and used for many types of delivery services. 

Before supermarkets came along, “hucksters” commonly vended fresh fruits and vegetables curbside in neighborhoods from such trucks.  The GM Heritage Center collection has one of the last 1949 Canopy Express trucks in existence.

1953 Chevrolet Corvette

In 1952, GM styling head Harley Earl and a small team of designers set out to create an American sports car using innovative fiberglass body construction.  Crowds thronged the resulting roadster – the Chevrolet Corvette – at the 1953 GM Motorama.  A production version, powered by a warmed-up Chevy six, followed. 

A few years later, GM engineer Zora Arkus-Duntov, a Russian-born émigré who knew his way around European sports car racing, gave Corvette its high-performance heart.  Duntov massaged Ed Cole's elegantly simple and lightweight 1955 Chevy small-block V-8 into a racing engine competitive in most any arena. 

By 1956, a Corvette race car with the right factory authorized parts could give nearly any car in the world a good run. And that was just the beginning.

1955 Chevrolet Bel Air Sport Coupe

Occasionally, a new car arrives at just the right moment – and history is made.  One such standout in the 100-years of Chevrolet is the 1955 Bel Air.  Chevrolet had a “durable, but dull” image in the early 1950s that cried out to be re-energized. 

The 1955 Chevy, especially in top-level Bel Air guise, did just that.  Debuting just as rock n' roll was about to shake America to its cultural roots, the longer, lower and often two-toned 1955 Chevy exuded American optimism.  A sizzling new “Turbo-Fire” V-8 – the engine that launched Chevy's legendary small-block engine family – was optional.  Chevy ads called the ’55, “The Hot One,” an allusion both to its V-8 performance and record-breaking sales pace.

1957 Chevrolet Bel Air Nomad

The strikingly sleek Chevy Nomad of 1955-1957 brought mid-century modern design to the utilitarian station wagon. The Nomad got its name, along with its unique roofline and rear body treatment, from a 1954 GM Motorama Corvette concept wagon conjured up by GM design chief Harley Earl – father, as well, of the 1953 Corvette roadster. 

Encouraged by the show car's reception, and mindful that America's burgeoning suburbs were absorbing ever more station wagons, Chevrolet developed the Nomad into a premium Bel Air-level “halo” model for their 1955-57 regular wagon lines.  The Nomad two-door sport wagon design was produced through 1957.  Each of the three model years still has its passionate followers – the original Nomads have never gone out of style.

1963 Chevrolet Impala

The Beach Boys sang harmonies to Chevy’s 409-cid big-block V-8, rated at a thumping 425-hp for 1963. The hardtop ’63 Impala Sport Coupe, with its convertible-look roofline, crisply tailored flanks, and pointed fenders, beautifully showcased the big brute of an engine.  The sleek 1963 Impala could also be had with a Chevy 283 or 327 small-block V-8 engine, and was even available as a six-cylinder model. 

The popular Super Sport package included special SS exterior details and front bucket seats with a console.  Collectors drool over ’63 Impalas today – especially when there is an original 409 V-8 under hood – and the ’63 is also a favorite with hot rodders and customizers.

1963 Chevrolet Corvette Sting Ray "Split-Window" Coupe

By 1962, the Chevy Corvette had earned global respect for its performance prowess and was on its way to becoming the favorite, if never official, car of America's astronauts. 

It even starred in a hit TV show about a couple of guys on a perpetual road trip on Route 66.  Then came the 1963 Corvette Sting Ray.  Based on a one-off sports racer penned by GM design chief Bill Mitchell, the Corvette Sting Ray “Split-Window” Coupe was quite possibly the most exciting production car America had yet experienced. 

Beyond its superbly tailored form, the Sting Ray had a new and effective independent rear suspension, offered extra-potent, fuel-injected small-block V-8 power, and, best of all, was surprisingly affordable.

1967 Chevrolet Pickup

The 1967 Chevy trucks led truck design into a new era.  Leaner and cleaner in every line, the new models appeared lower and longer – somehow managing to look both car-like and rugged at the same time.  Their large, rounded wheelhouses added a design touch evocative of several popular GM cars of the era. 

The ’67s were more durable than ever, and were to their core tough machines designed first of all to get the job done.  Many features of the new pickup – and the Suburban that shared its styling – were designed to appeal to the still relatively small, but growing, number of customers seeking comfortable and capable trucks for recreational use or personal transportation.

1969 Chevrolet Camaro

Providing a spectacular grand finale to the first generation (1967-69) Camaro, the freshly restyled ’69s raced through a year of unprecedented exhilaration.  Chevy's hot four-seat sportster was turning up at the head of the pack everywhere, it seemed. 

The Z28 was headed for a Trans Am racing championship, several dozen specially produced ZL-1 aluminum-engined Camaro coupes were providing thunderous thrills at drag strips, and a specially detailed RS/SS 396 Convertible popped up just in time to pace the 1969 Indy 500.  No 1969 Camaro would ever become just another used car. 

The spirit of the now-iconic ’69 is subtly evident throughout the forward-looking 2010 Camaro.

1970 Chevrolet El Camino SS

The El Camino “passenger-car pickup” first appeared in 1959 and was, along with the ’60 edition, based on the full-size Chevy.  Following a three-year hiatus, the El Camino returned for 1964, as a derivative of the new intermediate-sized 1964 Chevelle.  The restyled ’68 El Camino was as sleek as any vehicle with a pickup bed could be. 

That same year, the El Camino was finally available with Super Sport equipment, and buyers could fully partake of the additional muscle-car options offered for the Chevelle SS.  The 1970 El Camino SS, stuffed with 396- or 454-cid Chevy big-block power, is the ultimate El Camino of the muscle car era.

1970 Chevrolet Chevelle SS

The muscle car era peaked in 1970, and leading the way to the summit was the SS 454 Chevelle.  Chevrolet's 454-cid big-block, the largest displacement production Chevy V-8 ever, was new for 1970.  That same year, GM first permitted engines larger than 400-cid in its intermediate-sized cars.  One result was perhaps the most legendary of all Chevy Super Sports, the SS 454 Chevelle. 

The available 450-hp LS-6 big-block could launch the SS 454 to 100 mph in about 13 seconds.  Original, unmodified LS-6 SS 454s are rare, investment-grade, collectibles today.  However, many enthusiasts build their dream Chevelle SS from Chevy's Performance Parts catalog – the GM Heritage Center's ’70, with its modern 505-hp, LS7 427 V-8, is a sterling example.

1971 Chevrolet C/10 Cheyenne Pickup

The trend had been building for years and in 1971, it became impossible to ignore: Mainstream America was falling in love with Chevy trucks.  The 1971 trucks helped Chevrolet set a new car and truck calendar year sales record of more than 3 million vehicles that year. 

On a model-year basis, Chevy truck production for 1971 totaled 739,478, also a record at that point.  Of all the Chevrolet truck models offered for ’71, by far the most popular was the 2WD C/10 pickup, with more than a quarter million built.

Spurring the half-ton's acceptance was the new-for-1971 Cheyenne premium trim package, which raised Chevy pickup interior style and comfort to new levels.

1976 Chevrolet C/10 Stepside Pickup

Tradition counts in the truck business, and wise truck makers stay mindful of the past while moving ahead.  When Chevy launched its smooth-sided, double-walled Fleetside pickup box in mid-1958, it kept the Stepside box in the lineup as well. 

It would remain available, one way or another, for another 45 years.  The classic Stepside design had a small step – really a vestige of the old-time running board – mounted ahead of each rear fender.  These were useful for reaching items collected at the front of the bed.  Convenience aside, some Chevy pickup buyers just plain liked the look of a Chevy Stepside. 

The dealer-added paint striping and aftermarket wheels on the Stepside shown provided an individualized custom appearance.

1989 Chevrolet Corvette ZR-1

Chevy thunder rolled across Europe in 1989 when 24 pre-production ZR-1 Corvettes arrived on the Continent for a press tour in the south of France.  The ZR-1, also known as the “King of the Hill” Corvette, was powered by a technically advanced 32-valve, 4-cam, 350 cid V8, developed with Group Lotus of England. 

Although quite tractable at low speeds, the engine – coded LT5 – had breathtaking performance right to the red line.  Engine supply delays pushed the official ZR-1 introduction into the 1990 model year.  The GM Heritage Center has two of the 84 ZR-1s built as 1989 models in its collection.  In 2009, Chevrolet resurrected the ZR1 designation (sans hyphen) for a new supercharged Corvette model that surpasses the 1990-1995 ZR-1 in performance.

1993 Chevrolet Camaro Z28

The fourth-generation Camaro, featuring completely new and extremely smooth styling, was introduced for 1993 as a coupe only. The Z28 featured a 275-hp version of the Corvette LT-1 small-block V-8 introduced the year before – making the Camaro performance model the closest car to a Corvette available with a rear seat. 

A Camaro Z28 paced the 1993 Indianapolis 500, marking the fourth time the brand had served as the Indy Pace Car (earlier appearances were in 1967, 1969 and 1982).  As had become tradition, a Pace Car Edition package was offered through Chevy dealers — 645 1993 Z28s were built with the colorfully pin-striped Indy Pace Car package.

1996 Impala SS

Chevrolet closed out its rear-wheel-drive, full-size sedan lineage in fine style with the 1994-96 Impala SS.  The cars offered impressive performance – their 260-hp 5.7L LT1 Corvette small-block V-8 engine could propel the 4,200-pound. cruisers to more than 90 mph in a quarter mile. 

A sport-tuned suspension, extra-powerful four-wheel disc brakes, and wide 17-inch tires on special aluminum wheels, were also standard.  Exterior moldings matched the body color – black-only in 1994, with dark cherry metallic and dark grey-green also offered during 1995 and 1996. 

Inside, leather seating surfaces and a leather-covered steering wheel exuded luxury. Originally delivered to a collector, the last 1996 Impala SS built now resides at the GM Heritage Center.

1997 Chevrolet Corvette Coupe

The fifth-generation (C5) 1997 Corvette debuted to global acclaim.  Everything was fresh, from the taut, yet fluid, styling to the new LS1 small-block V-8, refined chassis, and improved body construction. 

The transmission was now mounted at the rear axle, an arrangement that contributed to a desirable 50-50 front-to-rear weight distribution.  Equipped with an available 6-speed manual transmission, the 1997 C5 could reach 170 mph.  From its especially strong hydro-formed box frame up, the 1997 C5 was designed to be exceptionally rugged.

The C5 convertible, which followed the coupe into production a year later, further demonstrated the effectiveness of the new structural design.

2008 Chevrolet Hybrid Tahoe

The 2008 Chevy Tahoe Hybrid helped introduce the two-mode hybrid’s green technology to full-size SUVs.  In 2004, GM, BMW and DaimlerChrysler engineers set out to jointly develop a two-mode hybrid system suitable for full-size cars and SUVs. 

A system developed by GM's Allison transmission division for use on transit buses, was the starting point.  The two-mode hybrid system channels gas and electric motive power through an electronically variable transmission, enabling a significant improvement in fuel economy, compared to standard gas-engine power trains.  Chevrolet Tahoe and Silverado models with the two-mode system are still the fuel economy leaders in their segments, with EPA estimated 20 mpg city and 23 mpg highway.

2010 Chevrolet Camaro

The TV commercial that introduced the 1967 Camaro showed it emerging from an erupting volcano.  For 35 years, an unforgettable lineup of fun-to-own, fun-to-drive Camaros emerged from that metaphoric volcano.  In 2002, the mountain went dormant. 

Then, at the 2006 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, a new Camaro concept emerged to a standing ovation from the media and fans packing the convention hall – and rekindled the passion of the iconic 1969 Camaro.  After the concept Camaro upstaged what looked like several volcanoes worth of pyrotechnics and special effects in the 2007 film, TRANSFORMERS, the pressure to put it into production intensified. 

Much to the delight of Camaro enthusiasts everywhere, the new Camaro that emerged onto the automotive scene for 2010 was wonderfully faithful to the concept design – and to the spirit of the original.  With the recent addition of a convertible, and soon an ultimate performance ZL1, the Camaro revival is just beginning.

2011 Chevrolet Volt

Battery powered for the first 25 to 50 miles after charging up, the revolutionary electric-powered Chevy Volt’s gas-powered generator seamlessly provides additional electricity to continue on for another 300 miles or so, when needed. 

This extended-range capability frees Volt owners from the range anxiety that can haunt owners of battery-powered cars.  The Volt was named Motor Trend Car of the Year for 2011, has collected Green Car Journal’s Car of the Year award, was chosen Automobile Magazine’s Automobile of the Year, and was voted 2011 North American Car of the Year by automotive journalists.  As of early July 2011, Chevrolet estimated that about two-thirds of the more than 2 million miles driven so far by Volts owners had been on electricity from the grid.

2012 Chevrolet Corvette Centennial Edition

The 2012 Centennial Edition Corvette pays homage to Chevrolet’s history and racing heritage, even as its bold, edgy monochrome appearance places it firmly in the present. 

The Centennial Edition package (code ZLC) can be ordered on any 2012 Corvette model, and is available exclusively in carbon flash metallic, with satin-black graphics and unique Centennial satin black wheels accented by red brake calipers.  Ever since 1955, when the fledgling Corvette was first fitted with the new small-block Chevrolet V-8, Corvette has personified the passion and performance of Chevrolet, and it has held a unique position as America’s sports car, winning fans and races worldwide as erstwhile competitors came and went. 

Most recently, Corvette won the GTE class at the 2011 24 Hours of Le Mans, beating Ferrari, BMW, and Porsche