With more than a century-long history, Chevrolet has become one of the world’s most recognisable and iconic motor brands, constructing literally hundreds of models of cars and trucks. While the company remains a dominant presence in the international automotive market – with record global sales in 2011 and nearly 5 million vehicles sold worldwide – Chevrolet’s old models are widely sought by collectors and motor enthusiasts, who regard the brand as an eternal symbol of mid-twentieth century American culture.
The Bel Air
Synonymous with high end motoring, the Bel Air inspired a generation of car designers and is regarded as a classic example of iconic post-war American engineering. With hard and soft top options, two-tone colours and tail fins that became gradually more prominent on later models, the Bel Air – released in the 1950s – was marketed both as a premium vehicle and, later, as an affordable car for the mass market. Early engines lacked the power of their rivals leading to Chevrolet experimenting with increased horsepower for the first time – another reason why the Bel Air remains one of the world’s most collectable cars of any brand.
Originally the fibreglass-bodied Corvette – a competitor of small, cheap cars heading into the American automotive market from Europe – were not well-received, mainly due to the underpowered six-cylinder engine and automatic transmission. In the mid-1950s, however, a much-needed redesign gave the Corvette a sleeker, curvier shape, increased horsepower and the option of fuel injection, establishing it as a worthwhile sports car that could challenge the likes of the T-Bird which had previously stolen the market. Later editions continued to thrill, such as the rear-wheel driven Stingray that could reach 60mph in less than 6 seconds; even new emissions laws, which forced Chevrolet to reduce the horsepower of the Corvette, failed to dint its popularity, and the model continued production until the mid-1990s.
Introduced in 1964, the Chevelle aimed to challenge the popular Ford Fairlane as an affordable family car, although the range of design choices – including four-door sedans, two-door coupes and convertibles – hoped to appeal to the wider market. Eleven different engines reflected the progress Chevrolet had made in this aspect of engineering since the post-war period. The biggest overhaul in design occurred in the early 1970s when a squarer shape was adopted to meet with new laws aimed at reducing passenger injuries in the event of cars rolling over and the model was discontinued four years later.
Other models, particularly the Impala (based on the Bel Air), Nova and Malibu, have helped to establish Chevrolet as one of the most popular and desirable vintage car manufacturers.