Historic Car Brands
After William C (‘Billy’) Durant was unceremoniously dumped in 1910 from the General Motors Company he’d started only two years before he teamed up with fledgling car maker, Louis Chevrolet, in 1911. Within five years, Chevrolet outsold General Motors brands and Durant used Chevrolet leverage to regain control of GM – now with Chevrolet as an additional brand.
The Chevrolet Motor Company had started in 1911, headed by Swiss race driver and engineer, Louis and his brother Arthur. Billy Durant’s involvement began when, as head of GM, he employed Louis to promote Buick cars. After his departure from GM, Billy borrowed cash and backed the Chevrolets.
1912 Chevrolet Series C – Trainguy1.
The first Chevrolet was jointly designed by Louis Chevrolet and Etienne Planche and appeared at the 1913 New York Auto Show, after two years of testing and development. It was an expensive, high-quality, 40hp six-cylinder model, with a cone clutch and three-speed gearbox. The large-capacity (299 cu in) engine had a ’T-head’ that put the inlet and exhaust side valves on opposite sides of the block, necessitating two camshafts.
It seems obvious that Louis wanted to produce quality cars and Billy was chasing Ford Model T volumes. Naturally, there was a falling-out and Louis sold his share of the company to Durant in 1914.
Although no longer involved with the brand that bore his name, Louis and younger brothers Gaston and Arthur started Frontenac Motor Corporation, designing and producing a line of racing cars. They became well known for, among other things, their Fronty-Ford racers.
Louis drove in the Indianapolis 500 four times, with a best finish of 7th in 1919. Arthur competed twice, and Gaston won the race in 1920 in one of their Frontenacs, going on to win the 1920 AAA National Championship.
Chevrolet 490 Touring – Lglswe.
Back at Chevrolet in 1914, Billy Durant got his way with the design and build of smaller, cheaper designs. The initial effort, the ‘H’ had limited sizes, but the ‘490’ model – indicating its launch retail price that was five bucks cheaper than a Model T – was an instant success. It shamelessly targeted Henry Ford’s Model T and used an overhead-valve, 171 cu in (2.8-litre) four cylinder engine that put out 24hp. The OHV design was a Buick patent, as Billy Durant knew only too well, but GM didn’t sue.
Once Billy Durant had helped ramp up Chevrolet sales to the point where he could use the brand’s worth to reverse-merge with GM in 1917, he was back on top of the heap. A brief flirtation with a V8 OHV engine in 1917, in the Chevrolet Series D proved unsuccessful.
1917 Chevrolet Series D V-8 – Trainguy1
Billy Durant was ousted from GM again – for the last time – in 1920, following a financial crisis. The GM leadership baton then passed to Alfred P Sloan, who steered the company until 1956.
Competition with Ford’s Model T was partially successful, but not so profitable and GM looked for an alternative approach. In 1923, that possible difference was Charles F Kettering’s air-cooled design. High hopes were dashed when overheating problems plagued the 750+ ‘copper-cooled’ models. Only around 100 had been sold and all were bought back and crushed.
1926 Chevrolet Superior Series V Touring – Lglswe
Instead, the Superior version of the four-cylinder car proved to be very popular, offering buyers advantages over the 490 and the ’T’. The Superior helped GM gain a half-million car sales in 1923. By 1927 Chevrolets had blown the aged Model T out of the water and Ford ceased production that year, when GM hit the million-car-sales figure.
Chevrolet made hay while the sun shone, introducing its ‘Stovebolt’ six-cylinder engine in 1928. This engine was an OHV design, displacing 194 cu in (3.2 litres) and producing 50hp at launch. It was a dependable design, with a three-main-bearing crankshaft, fed by pressurised oil, while the rod bearings were splash-lubricated.
1929 Chevrolet engine – Stephen-Foskett
With progressive upgrades, this remained the Chevrolet powerplant until 1954. In 1932 the compression ratio was raised and output went to 60hp.
In 1934 a longer-stroke, 207 cu in (3.4-litre) development took output to 80hp. It was fitted to Chevrolet trucks and Master Deluxe cars, and became the standard Chevrolet engine from 1935.
In 1934, independent front suspension, known as ‘knee action’, was first fitted. It was the system developed in France by Andre Dubonnet. From 1935 until 1940, however, buyers could have a beam/ leaf front axle if they wanted it. In 1939, a more conventional coil and wishbone front suspension was introduced.
1937 Chevrolet Master Coupe – Lglswe
In 1937 the second generation engine arrived, with a four-main-bearing crankshaft. It didn’t have a fully-pressurised oil system, but added an oil spray bar and ‘dippers’ for connecting rod lubrication. It displaced 216 cu in (3.5 litre) and produced 85hp. In 1941 it scored a new cylinder head and a power lift to 90hp, followed by 6.6:1 pistons in 1949, for 92hp output.
During Word War II Chevrolet built trucks, armoured vehicles and armaments.
Pre-War Chevrolets were sold in the early post-War years, but the 1949 models were restyled, with fully enveloping mudguards and curved windscreens.
1952 Chevrolet Deluxe – GPS56
In 1950, the 235 cu in (3.9-litre) development that had powered Chevrolet trucks since 1941 replaced the 216 in newly-released Powerglide automatic-transmission passenger cars. It developed 136hp and featured hydraulic lifters. The 216 continued to be the powerplant for manual-transmission cars.
A fully pressurised lubrication system was added to the 235 in 1953 and it became the standard Chevrolet passenger car engine in 1954. It was marketed as the ‘Blue Flame’ engine, indicating that it achieved ‘perfect combustion’. Hmmm…
Chevrolet Corvette C1 Shanghai Auto Museum – Morio
Chevrolet shook off its staid image in 1953, with the launch of a sports car, to compete with the ‘invasion’ of British sports cars in the US market. The Corvette was launched with the 235 engine and Powerglide automatic transmission.
The Chevrolet small-block OHV V8 was launched in 1955 and continued, with developments, until 2003, using the same basic engine block. The small block family spanned from 262 cu in (4.3 litres) to 400 cu in (6.6 litres) in displacement. Engineer Ed Cole is credited with leading the design for this engine.
Generation I and Generation II LT engines are distinct from subsequent LS based small-block engines.
1970 Chevrolet Camaro Z28 engine
Production of the original small-block began with a displacement of 265 cu in (4.3 litres), growing to 400 cu in (6.6 litres) by 1970. Among the intermediate displacements were the 283 cu in (4.6 litres), 327 cu in (5.4 litres) and numerous 350 cu in (5.7-litre) versions. Introduced as a performance engine in 1967, the 350 went on to be employed in both high- and low-output variants across the entire Chevrolet product line.
Although all of Chevrolet’s GM siblings designed their own V8s, it was the Chevrolet 305 and 350 cu in (5.0- and 5.7-litre) small-block variants that became the GM corporate standard. Over the years, every American General Motors division, except Saturn and Geo, used it and its descendants in their vehicles.
1957 Chevrolet BelAir Hardtop – Junglecat
Finally superseded by the Generation III LS in 1997 and discontinued in 2003, the engine was still being made by a GM subsidiary as a crate engine, in 2012. More than 100,000,000 small-blocks were made between 1955 and 2012.
The small-block family line was honoured as one of the 10 Best Engines of the 20th Century by automotive magazine Ward’s AutoWorld.
From 1956 all car engines had hydraulic lifters.
1958 Chevrolet Impala – Chevrolet Archives – DougW
In 1958 Chevrolet responded to sliding sales with a complete revamp of the passenger car line-up. A perimeter frame was stiffened by a central X-reinforcement and revised coil-spring rear suspension was fitted.
The last generation of the original in-line six was produced from 1962 until 1988 and was available in 194 cu in (3.2-litre), 230 cu in (3.8-litre) and 250 cu in (4.1-litre) capacities for passenger cars. A longer-stroke 292 cu in (4.8-litre) version powered commercial vehicles. The crankshaft ran in seven main bearings.
In 1960, Chevrolet launched the rear-air-cooled-engined Corvair, in pursuit of compact-car sales. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but quirky handling generated controversy and prompted the launch of Ralph Nader’s book, Unsafe at Any Speed .
1960 Chevrolet Corvair – S Foskett
By the time the Corvair received proper, independent rear suspension instead of the swing-axle arrangement it was already too late. By 1968 it was all over and GM had to focus on competing with the runway success that was the post-1964 Ford Mustang.
The 1970’s saw the first Oil Shock, in 1973 and that changed the American Car Dream forever. GM responded with smaller vehicles and even the Corvette had a slight output cut. Monte Carlo, Impala and Caprice were downsized considerably.
1969 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 – Sicnag
The 1980s saw another oil embargo, putting pressure on ‘gas mileage’. Cavalier became a top-seller and the Camaro shrunk. The fourth-generation Corvette was a hit and the convertible returned.
In the 1990s Chevrolet sold its one-millionth Corvette and launched the fifth generation model. The Camaro Z28 debuted and 1996 saw the demise of the Impala SS.
The 2000s saw the Global Financial Crisis send GM and Chrysler into short-term bankruptcy – Ford almost did as well – and a complete rethink of future strategy.
Chevrolet Volt 2017 – Mariord
Chevrolet Down Under
Bodies for the local assembly of Chevrolets were built in Australia as early as 1918 and by 1926 the newly created General Motors (Australia) Pty Ltd had established assembly plants in five Australian states to produce Chevrolet and other GM vehicles using bodies supplied by Holden Motor Body Builders.
The merger of General Motors (Australia) Pty Ltd with the troubled Holden Motor Body Builders in 1931 saw the creation of General Motors-Holden and the ongoing production of various GM products including Chevrolet.
Chevrolet ‘Sloper’ Coupe
GMH departed from traditional US body styles with the release of the Chevrolet Coupe Utility in 1934 and the Chevrolet “Sloper” Coupe in 1935.
From 1949 some Australian Chevrolets were assembled from components imported from Chevrolet in Canada and local production of the Coupe Utility body continued until 1952. Chevrolet assembly in Australia ended in 1968.
The LUV, a Chev-badged Isuzu KB small ute and the third-generation C-10, C-20 and C-30 trucks were sold in the 1970s-1980s.
From 1998 to 2001 the Chevrolet Suburban was sold in Australia as the Holden Suburban.
In 2018, the Chevrolet brand returned to Australia and New Zealand with the launch of the Camaro 2SS Coupe and the Silverado 2500HD/3500HD. These vehicles were converted to RHD in Australia.