It was way back in the 1900’s when a certain, fearless automobile racer displayed little concern for his own well being while driving a racecar. That fearlessness was just the beginning of solidifying the name Louis Chevrolet as a legend. In 1907, his driving skills attracted the attention of an auto executive, William Durant. At the time, Durant was looking for someone to be his personal chauffeur to drive him wherever he needed to go.
Chevrolet tried out for the position, but was passed over for the job, which coincidentally, was given to his brother because Durant felt he was a safer driver. It was felt that Louis proved to be less “safety conscious” while behind the wheel, and rather than offer him the position of chauffeur, Durant instead offered him a job driving racecars. As history tells us, the two men eventually combined their talents to form the Chevrolet Motor Company.
And now you know, the rest of the story.
The historic and storied past of the Chevrolet brand proves that great success can be achieved by never giving up, and building an affordable product that appeals to everyone. That is what the brand has – and continues to do, build a strong reputation by creating modern, stylish and reliable, yet affordable cars.
But there are many obscure facts that you might not know about Chevrolet the brand. For instance, did you know that Louis Chevrolet never owned the company called Chevrolet? Rumor has it, that while Louis Chevrolet was racing for Durant, Durant actually urged Chevrolet to leave racing and build his own car. The new vehicle was built in cooperation with specialists from Durant’s company (General Motors). While Durant supported the project financially, Louis Chevrolet gave the car his name because it was so well-known to many Americans.
Although sales of Chevrolet’s Classic Six was not very inspiring, Durant was not deterred, and continued to support the vehicle. In 1917, the Chevrolet Classic Six joined the GM line-up as an affordable, but reliable vehicle.
This little look back at history got us thinking about other aspects of the Chevrolet brand’s history that many might not realize. With that thought rolling around in our heads, we wondered what other things might not be commonly known by readers. So, we put together a short list of things that you might or might not know about Chevrolet.
Let The Beatings (Testing) Begin
Image Courtesy GM
For Chevrolet to make a great product, management knew that their cars would need to undergo rigorous testing. In 1924, the General Motors Proving Grounds in Milford, Michigan, came into service. The proving grounds have the equivalent of 132 miles of “roads” for vehicle testing.There are even certain roads that are only open to drivers who have passed special performance-driver training. Because of the road conditions of some of the test track, it is said that each mile driven on the grounds is the equivalent to driving five miles on the real world roads.
Birth Of The SUV
Did you know that the SUV as we know it was actually introduced by Chevrolet? The Suburban Carryall was introduced in 1935. This all-metal, eight-passenger station wagon proved to be so useful in both commercial and everyday usage, that it paved the way for the SUV as we know it today. It was built on a half-ton commercial truck chassis, and carried a hefty base price of $675. That was steep for 1935, when the average manufacturing-job wage was .58 cents, and a dozen eggs cost .33 cents. At $675 dollars without options like a heater and rear bumper, it probably seemed a little pricey.
1935 Suburban. Image Courtesy of the GM Heritage Center
That first model had three rows of bench seating that could accommodate eight people, and it was powered by a 60 horsepower “Stove Bolt” six-cylinder engine. Although it could carry eight people, it had only two side doors. The Chevrolet Suburban is the longest running automobile nameplate of all time.
It was in 1950 when Chevrolet introduced the two-speed automatic Powerglide transmission. It was the first automatic transmission to be offered in a low-priced car, but in reality, it actually began life as a one-speed transmission.
Okay, technically it did have two speeds, but this $159 option didn’t shift automatically. When the driver started the car moving, and the selector was in Drive, the power was going through the torque converter, with no gear reduction occurring. This caused a smooth but slow start from a stopped position. However, Low gear could be selected manually by placing the lever into low range, and then the driver could manually shift into Second gear when needed. Chevrolet instructions were to not exceed 40 mph in low range.
That manual shift could be rough on the transmission, so beginning in 1953, the Powerglide was better designed for better shifting.
Corvette Was Powerless, A Law Breaker, And A Little Pedestrian
Although the Corvette is synonymous with racing and horsepower, it is not widely known that the first Corvettes couldn’t even be driven off the assembly line. It seems that the construction of the first Corvettes were too advanced for the way the factory was designed. Since the Corvette was the first production-style fiberglass bodied car that Chevrolet built, the plant could not handle the new technology, and needed to figure out how to ground the electrical system of the car. The first few cars that were built wouldn’t start, and had to be pushed off the assembly line and then fixed.
The first Corvettes were produced in Flint, Michigan on June 30, 1953. Only 300 Corvettes were made for the 1953 model year – all Polo White with red interiors. Image Courtesy of the GM Heritage Center
Something else that you might not know was that the first Corvette logo was deemed illegal for Chevrolet to use. The Corvette’s crossed-flag emblem was originally supposed to utilize a checkered flag and an American flag. That was, until Chevrolet realized that they couldn’t trademark the American flag.
Finally, it is well known that a lot of cars from the same manufacturer tend to share parts between vehicles, but did you know the C5 Corvette incorporates the same door handle as the Oldsmobile Aurora? It’s hard to believe that America’s sports car used something from the highly-loathed pedestrian line.
On the upside, the Corvette was the first American vehicle to offer one horsepower per cubic-inch. In 1956, a company called Raceway Enterprises helped Chevrolet develop a Corvette that was powered by a 265 cubic-inch engine that developed 270 horsepower. You can learn all about that by clicking here.
Fans of off-roading usually like to fancy themselves as rebels, not actually conforming to what many social circles consider acceptable. In 1969, Chevrolet fed that desire when they created a four-wheel-drive SUV called Blazer. This vehicle possessed perfect off-road capabilities, and was much larger – which made it roomier, and delivered more power than any of its competitors.
This full-sized people hauler was based on the C/K pickup chassis, and was the smallest full-sized SUV version of the Chevrolet C/K family. It was not only smaller and more agile than the Suburban, but it still had enough room to allow passengers to feel comfortable during long rides.
Although the Camaro is now a well-known vehicle, that wasn’t always the case. When the word Camaro was first announced by Chevrolet, no one really knew the word’s meaning. The official Chevrolet explanation in 1966 was that it’s an old French-slang term for camaraderie and friendship. A few marketing-savvy guys said, “It’s a small, vicious animal that eats Mustangs.” In truth, Camaro is a word that was developed by the branding team at Chevrolet. They developed a list of nearly 2,000 names, but Camaro met Chevrolet’s requirement that car models start with the letter C (Corvette, Chevelle, Corvair, etc.).
Image Courtesy of the GM Heritage Center
Chevrolet even toyed with the idea of a Camaro station wagon in 1970, and again in 1971. The planned name was to be Kammback. When the 1967 Camaro was released, Chevrolet designers were already working on the second-generation ponycar design for 1970. When contemplating optional sub-models of the Camaro, development of a sports wagon was contemplated. The idea seemed practical when considering the success of the 1955 through 1957 Nomad wagon with its two-door styling.
Image Courtesy of the GM Heritage Center
Whether good or bad, management worried that the extra tooling expense was cost-prohibitive, and the project was scrapped.
Finally, not many people realize that Chevrolet built one 1967 Z/28 convertible. This was a sneak attack to convince management to let the package go into production. The group of guys building the Camaro needed the approval of Pete Estes to allow the Z/28 package to go into production.
Although the convertible Z/28 option was not released until the 1969 model, in 1967, a convertible was used as a demonstrator for management.
Apparently, Estes had a penchant for soft tops, so a convertible Camaro with the all the options that would comprise the Z/28 option was delivered to the design group. Estes loved the car, and the Z/28 was born. That car is the only pre-1969 convertible Z/28 in existence.
Camaro Goes On A Diet
When it comes to performance, shaving a car’s weight is crucial. When the fifth-gen Camaro was built, engineers were so obsessed about the Z28’s weight, that they shaved .3 mm from the thickness of the rear window. This weight-cutting measure saved 400 grams, as the window went from 3.5 mm to 3.2 mm thick. Other weight saving measures included using less foam padding in the rear seat, and eliminating air conditioning.
Image Courtesy of the GM Heritage Center
One way to make sure that you can meet the demands of consumers is to have multiple facilities building your products. Did you know the Chevelle was built at ten different assembly plants in two countries over the course of its lifespan? If you ordered a Chevelle, it could have come from Arlington, Texas, Atlanta, Georgia, Baltimore, Maryland, Flint, Michigan, Framingham, Massachusetts, Fremont or Van Nuys, California, Kansas City, Missouri, or Oshawa, Ontario, or Sainte-Thérèse, PQ, Canada.
So now that we have ultimately quenched our desire for facts that we find entertaining, maybe there are a few that we missed. If you can think of an interesting fact about Chevrolet, let us know about it.