‘Giddyup giddyup 409’… ‘And good old boys were drinking whiskey and rye’… ‘I remember when rock was young’… ‘We’re going racing in the streets’… ‘Baby you’re much too fast.’ These lyrics are from songs – by The Beach Boys, Don McLean, Elton John, Bruce Springsteen and Prince – that pay tribute to a manufacturing icon: Chevrolet. From the BelAir, to the Corvette, to the Camaro, Chevy exemplifies the ‘heartbeat of America’ to multiple generations of car enthusiasts.
When Dinah Shore sang, “See the U.S.A in your Chevrolet” in the 1950’s, she popularized the brand with millions watching on the emerging technology of television. Sponsorships of Bonanza and Bewitched solidified the company in the minds of parents. Then the 1963 redesign of Corvette into the Stingray and the 1967 introduction of the Camaro made Chevy the envy of teenagers and sports car lovers. Things were good for decades in Detroit. As the famous commercial noted: “Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet.”
Like all companies, Chevy has its share of legacy clunkers. In the ’60s, Ralph Nader took the company to task for the faulty rear suspension of Corvair. The Vega’s engine problems and overall poor quality in the ’70s signaled the beginning of the end of America’s reign as automobile manufacturing king. The SSR – released in 2004 – tried to capitalize on the ‘retro’ movement. Time magazine described it as a “putative performance machine, heavy, underpowered and unforgivably lazy.” Then there was that whole bailout and bankruptcy at GM three years ago. Don’t look for that episode to be featured in any Chevy historical film.
It’s been a long journey for the company French racecar driver Louis Chevrolet started a century ago today with ousted GM founder William C. Durant… and there is reason to be excited about the future. Silverado is the number two selling vehicle in the country. Equinox and Cruze rank among the top 15. The plug-in hybrid Volt, released last December at a manufacturer’s suggested price of $40,000, is the most fuel-efficient car on the road with an EPA rating of 93 mpg. Like any organization, Chevy proves innovation and stick-to-it-ness are essential for long-term success.
Happy 100th birthday, Chevrolet.