Apple pie, baseball and…Chevrolet. No other car company has worn the mantle of all-American better than the venerable GM brand. Celebrating its 100th anniversary today, Chevy is misty-eyed with nostalgia, reflecting on its past even as it contemplates a tough, competitive future.
But let’s stick with that misty-eyed stuff for a few minutes. Chevrolet recently asked its fans what their favorite Chevrolet was, but limited them to only 16 different vehicles. The winner: The 1969 Chevrolet Camaro, which is undoubtedly an outstanding choice.
But although all the choices presented to Chevy fans played an instrumental role in the company’s century-long history, limiting the choices to just 16 vehicles was a little unfair. In fact, a quick poll of the Automotive.com offices proved that our own choices are just as varied as Chevy’s offerings over the years have been. Check out our favorites below, and sound off on what your favorite Chevy is in the comments.
Keith Buglewicz—2009 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1
I’m a Corvette junkie. I’ve never actually had the pleasure of owning one, but I love the shape, the sound, and the way the word “Corvette” just rolls off the tongue. I even sort of like the bad ones—you know, the low-powered, gold-chain, disco-ball specials from the late 1970s—because of their campy charm.
But picking exactly one Corvette from the model’s storied past was a lot harder than I thought it would be. Initially I thought of the classic ’56 roadster, the first Corvette with a V-8 engine. But the Corvette poster that hung from my childhood bedroom was of the beautiful ’63 “split window” Sting Ray. Yet how could I forget the amazing and super-rare 1969 Corvette ZL1, which was the fastest production car in the world when it debuted? Then there’s the fourth-generation Corvette, which re-established the sports car’s performance credentials, reintroduced the convertible to the lineup, and even rocketed Chevy’s “plastic fantastic” into the exotic realm with the 1990 ZR-1. The fifth generation was even better, and it gave us the astoundingly good 2001 Corvette Z06.
But I finally settled on the penultimate Corvette, the most powerful, most audacious, and most expensive model ever produced: The 2009 Corvette ZR1. With 638 horsepower and a 200-plus mph top speed, this Corvette is as drool-worthy as any Lamborghini, Ferrari or Porsche you can imagine…most of which will be left in the ‘Vette’s dust. But aside from its world-beating performance, the ZR1—and the rest of the current-generation Corvette as well—is a joy to behold. It possesses every classic Corvette styling element, from the four taillights to the vents behind the front fenders; from the long contoured hood to the scalloped doors. Yet it doesn’t bludgeon you with retro-styling like the Ford GT did, or over-the-top wackiness like the Dodge Viper. Plus, it handily outruns both of them.
Now that I come to think of it, the choice of my favorite Chevy was pretty straightforward after all.
Jacob Brown—1957 Chevrolet Bel Air Convertible
Sleek. Audacious. Iconic. The 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air convertible stands out in my mind as exactly what a Chevrolet ought to be. With jet-inspired fins taking off in popularity during the late-1950s, Chevrolet offered some of the most distinct ones, stamped with aluminum inserts that mimicked the shape of its flowing rear fenders.
Up front, the jet theme continued with chrome wings jutting upward from either side of the hood. And below them, Chevrolet tacked so much chrome to it, that you could almost mistake it for a Cadillac. With the amount of features available in it, it might as well have been one.
Back when Nascar racing technology still held importance for road cars, Chevrolet offered fuel injection for the top-of-the-line Bel Air’s 283 cubic-inch V-8 engine, which gave the car 283 horsepower—and bragging rights for having one pony per cubic inch. With it, Chevrolet dominated the oval-track circuit.
But the Bel Air’s forte wasn’t in its Corvette-shared engine; it was its style that gushed from every inch of sheetmetal. Unlike today, where cars go through one minor refresh in between major redesigns every five or six years, the 1957 Chevrolet’s design lasted for one year, and the Chevrolet-built family sedans on the same platform lasted just three model years. Other than engine improvements, the 1957 Bel Air wasn’t much different beneath its skin from 1955 and ’56 cars.
However, Chevrolets of the 1950s weren’t about outright functionality or performance; they were about having a modern look, a must-have-it factor in that they were simply the coolest cars on the road. While today’s much more competitive industry has all but killed frivolous updates to cars every year, it also secured a place for the Bel Air as a once-in-a-lifetime exercise in the automotive design.
Trevor Dorchies—1964 Chevrolet Impala
Known as “Jet Smooth,” the Impala returned to Chevy’s line-up along with the Bel Air and Biscayne in 1964. Most of us can’t remember a time when buying a new car for under $9,000 was possible, but the 1964 Chevy Impala rolled off the lot for an average price of $2,926. This is a small down payment for many cars today and weighed in at a bloated 3,895 pounds at its heaviest station wagon version. The 1964 Impala was the last of this body style, and boasted upside down U-shaped aluminum trim above the taillights, which were surrounded with body-colored paneling. Under the hood was a massive 6.7-liter “turbojet” V-8 engine.
My grandfather was lucky enough to own a new 1964 Chevy Impala when it first came out. My grandfather’s 1964 Impala came standard with a slip and slide powerglide two-speed automatic transmission and the absence of the B-pillar was not seen often before. Pictures of his white Impala, with its red cloth interior, still gives me the sense that I’d trade anything just to get behind the wheel.
Sam Grossman—1967 Chevrolet Camaro Z28
While the Corvette has always been at the top of my list, along with the Chevelle, there wasn’t much thought put into which Chevy was my favorite: the 1967 Chevrolet Camaro.
The first-generation Camaro came out decades before I was even born, and it wasn’t until I was 10 years old that when I saw one for the first time at a classic car show with my dad. I couldn’t take my eyes off it. Its sleek exterior, long hood, wide tires, and meticulous design left me speechless. As I’ve matured, I’ve discovered things like German sport sedans, but let’s face it: There really is nothing like an American muscle car.
Camaro comes from the French word meaning “comrade” or “pal”, and that’s exactly what this vehicle has been countless Americans, and someday for me, too.
Jason Davis—1987 Chevrolet Sprint Turbo
That’s right, for me the pinnacle of Chevy’s existence dates back to a rebadged Suzuki from 1987. At first glance, the turbocharged and intercooled 70 hp 1.0-liter 3-cylinder seems a little underwhelming, even by the low standards of the ’80s. But, with only 1,633 pounds of car to pull around on its 12-inch wheels, this CRX-bashing go kart could go like hell and still get Prius-like mileage. The Sprint Turbo dashed to 60 about 2.5 seconds slower than the Corvette of the day, for about a fourth of the price. Its quarter-mile time was even closer, lagging the 240 hp ‘Vette by only 1.5 seconds…and it recorded 37city/41 highway fuel economy.
You could also argue that the Sprint Turbo helped create the 90′s import aftermarket scene, too. With its tachometer with turbo light, trim-matched bucket seats, sport wheel covers, upgraded sway bars and springs, revised gear-ratios, and flared fenders and ground effects kit, the Sprint beat the rest of the aftermarket scene by a solid 10 years.
Joel Arellano—2010 Chevrolet Camaro
I’m the classic geek: I like books, latest tech toys, fantasy movies, and know the difference between a Trekkie and a Trekker. (I’m the latter, by the way). I also like cars, especially concepts, and the more futuristic or outlandish—or both —the more I like it.
So it’s no surprise that my favorite Chevy is the current, fifth-generation Camaro. To me, the Camaro is a concept car brought to life, barely changed from the 2006 and 2007 concepts when the coupe went into production in 2009 as a 2010 model. I’m not surprised when Michael Bay selected the Camaro to play a key role in the Transformers movies. Even now, I expect that Camaro gunning by my side or rapidly filling my rearview mirror to burst apart into Bumblebee.
Designwise, the Camaro is quintessentially American. No foreign automaker has ever really matched the sheer boldness, the in-your-face attitude in their concept or production models. I like the expansive, blackened front grill and predatory headlamps. The Camaro is about near-straight lines and angles, from the sharply raked windshield and the long hood. I find the Camaro’s rear nearly as interesting as the rest of the car, a testament to GM paying homage to the past and the future of the brand.
Matt Askari—2007 Chevrolet Tahoe
In 2009, I came back to the U.S. after a stint abroad in Europe. Descending into Los Angeles I was awakened by overhead announcements—seatbelts please, touching down in a few moments. I was even thanked for my loyalty (I have none, it was the cheapest ticket). Looking out the window I tried to study the city I grew up in through fresh eyes. It didn’t take long to notice- there were cars and freeways everywhere! Big behemoths cruising at low-speeds stuck in the city’s notorious traffic.
As it was I was carless and needed to get behind the wheel, quickly. While every logical thought in my head suggested something practical, I couldn’t help but view every Chevy Tahoe online. There was a mystic quality, a cool-factor, high up in those seats you would be above traffic, and the luxury of all that personal leather-covered space inside! But then I would be one of those people. A single city-slicker with no practical purpose for a truck that can seat 8, for a vehicle one would recommend to Gasolinics Anonymous.
Two weeks later I was the very excited owner of a 2007 Chevrolet Tahoe LT, my paramour for the next 11months. But soon I found myself thinking all that V-8 power on a 5.3-liter was spreading rumors. He doesn’t appreciate us, and of course the 4-wheel drive just rolled itself in disgusted agreement.
So at my first opportunity, I went on a road trip inspired by my Chevy Tahoe! I had to find open country, I had to find dirt roads and mud and terrain. I did just that. I was driving, but it was the Tahoe taking me on the trip through the open roads and open skies of Nevada, Arizona and Utah, through rain and snow, hail and dirt. There was a thrill and a connectedness I couldn’t get from a Nissan Sentra or Toyota Corolla.
I don’t have the Chevy anymore, and with gas prices through the roof and a changing car climate, I may never drive anything similar again. But I’ve still got the memories, and a few low-pixel images that will remain with me.
Blake Rong—Chevrolet Corvair (all years)
Occasionally in the stone-wrought bowels of Cadillac Place, General Motors did trot out a brilliant idea—rare but unforgettable, like a nuclear explosion or a Madonna album. How else could you explain an all-aluminum six-cylinder pancake motor with a single loopy fan belt, mounted deep behind the rear wheels, on a bathtub body with a wraparound rear windshield and no grille? But yet, in an age of chrome-bedecked V8-thumping dinosaurs nestled under helicopter-pad sized hoods, the Chevrolet Corvair was genuinely revolutionary. It even had slightly less chrome.
All of the Corvair’s ideas were European in nature, which surely must have landed some Chevrolet executives in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee. But what was American was the Rampside pickup version—as well as the Greenbrier van, Lakewood wagon, and firebreathing turbocharged Monza coupe—a car David E. Davis once called “the most beautiful car to appear in this country since before World War II.” And unlike me, he was a man with taste.
And this was back in the 1960s, a time when Don Draper was trading in his Polara for a Coupe DeVille and turbochargers were closer to witchcraft than legitimate power enhancements. Sure, there were faults. But as a symbol of a grandiose risk-taking venture, from one of the most notoriously intransigent corporations in the world, the Corvair was a car before its time, never to be seen again, and all the more tragic for it. The people who hustled it past management deserve medals.
Oh, and here are the inevitable mentions of swing axles and Ralph Nader.