Seeing as 2011 marks Chevrolet’s 100th year of existence, now’s as good a time as ever to reflect back on the marque’s storied history. Ed Welburn, GM’s global vice president of design, recently posted a list of his ten favorite Chevrolet production vehicles on the company’s media site.
As Chevrolet’s first production vehicle, Welburn notes the Classic Six is subsequently “very significant.” Although its aesthetics broke little (if any) ground, it was considerably large (a true 5-seater) and reasonably priced for its day. 2999 examples were sold in 1912, and by the time production ended in 1914, nearly 5987 were built.
Flair and whimsy are two words seldom associated with the Great Depression, but Chevy’s snazzy Deluxe Sport Coupe — launched near the close of the economic slide — offered both in spades. “It was a cool design,” says Welburn. “It says so much about Chevrolet; a lot of the words you can use to describe it also relate to current cars. It had spirit, and was affordable and contemporary. Customers felt they were getting a lot of car for their money — something that still holds true today.”
Chevrolet itself turns 100 in 2011, but the iconic Suburban model celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2010. The first production model, which launched in 1936, blended a wagon-like body with a robust truck frame. A similar tactic was used for commercial panel vans for years beforehand, as Welburn notes, this civilized version — designed for carrying people, not just cargo — could well be considered “the first crossover.”
They may lack the flair found in their successors, but the 1947-1954 Advance Design series of full-size trucks — GM’s first all-new post-war design — are still fondly remembered by enthusiasts — including Welburn.
“You just have to smile when you look at one,” he notes. “It’s a real workhorse of a truck. The shape was just beautiful, but it still did its job well. It was clean, basic, and affordable.”
The Corvette is undoubtedly an American icon, but early production cars — especially those saddled with the aging Blue Flame inline-six-cylinder — failed to universally excite the buying public. Even Welburn himself admits his love for the C1 was bloomed somewhat later in life.
“It was a design for years that I didn’t care for that much,” Welburn notes. “But now I absolutely love it. I’ll never forget the first one I saw. I must have been about seven, and walking down a tree-lined street. One came around the corner, rumbled along through the fallen leaves, and then was gone. I was like ‘Wow, that was cool!’”
The Tri-5 Chevys — passenger cars built in 1955, 1956, and 1957 — collectively have a large, loyal following, but many enthusiasts are loyal to one particular year. Count Welburn as firmly entrenched in the ’55 camp.
“In my opinion, the ’55 Bel Air is the best of the Tri-Fives. It was such a departure from 1955 [society], so fresh, so contemporary. This was a car that looked more expensive than it actually was.”
1963 Chevrolet Corvette Sting Ray
We’re not too surprised to see this one on here. Arguably, the Corvette wasn’t blessed with wild, exotic styling until its second generation (and fourth redesign). Patterned after design boss Bill Mitchell’s bespoke Sting Ray race-cum-concept car, the design has dropped jaws, turned heads, and inspired gearheads ever since it entered production in 1963.
“What an amazing car,” Welburn says. “I’ve lectured on this car many times. Every Corvette since then has been influenced by it, even the current models.” Future models too, perhaps, if the recent Centennial/ Sting Ray Concept bears any resemblance to the forthcoming C7…
Remarkably, some of the most collectible vintage GM trucks remain the second-generation C/K line, which was built between 1967 and 1972. A lot of that demand lies simply with the simple, attractive sheetmetal found on these models. “It’s a very iconic design,” Welburn suggests. “You see that pick-up, and you also see a guy with blue jeans and a toolbox in the back. Many of the words I used to describe the earlier pickup also relate here.”
Another pickup? You bet. Although design students seldom drool over the GMT400 line of trucks, which launched in 1989 their mature, handsome shaped won over customers left and right. The design was built for nearly 12 years with little substantial modification; even its replacement — the 1999 GMT800 Silverado — bore more than a passing resemblance to this generation of truck.
“It’s a very clean design and still looks contemporary today,” says Welburn, perhaps electing forget the ungainly graphics applied on early models. “It sold in incredible numbers. We’re working on future Chevrolet pickups and the [designers] have photos of this one on the wall for inspiration.”
So, why did today’s Camaro — not the original, nor the shapely ’71, or any previous iteration — make the list? Says Welburn: It lit a fire within the company. It connected with people worldwide. When we introduced the car as a concept [in 2006], there were grown men and women with tears in their eyes. It’s valued all around the world.”
We’re sure a few of your favorite Chevrolet overlap with Welburn’s take, but what say you? Did Welburn miss a model or two that need to be on this list? Send us the Chevrolets you hold in the highest esteem by means of the comments section below.