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How Chevrolet Works

Management Changes at Chevrolet
Chevy's 1949 models, like this 1949 Chevrolet Styleline, were the best-handling Chevys to date.

Strikes and material shortages hampered GM's postwar production startup, allowing Ford to outpace Chevy for '46. But Chevy was again "USA-1" for 1947-48 even though it followed most other makes (Ford included) by offering slightly modified '42s. The few differences involved grille treatments, medallions and other exterior trim. Models and specifications stood pat, but now Stylemaster and Fleetmaster names came in.

Meanwhile, Chevy contemplated a smaller companion model evolved under a program called "Cadet." Though different configurations were considered, the final prototype was an orthodox four-door sedan with smooth "bathtub" styling, 108-inch wheelbase, and a scaled-down Stovebolt Six.

But after spending a few million dollars, management decided there was no need for a compact in the booming postwar seller's market, especially as the Cadet would have cost as much to build as a standard Chevy. Ford reached the same conclusions at about the same time.

Still, the Cadet is significant as the first application of engineer Earle S. MacPherson's simple, effective strut-type front suspension, today almost universal among small cars. Ford would be the first to use it in production, however, as MacPherson went to Dearborn soon after the Cadet project was ­cancelled.

If production Chevys didn't change much in this period, management did, and new models were floated for the future: sports cars, hardtop-convertibles, all-steel station wagons.

These and other ideas gained impetus with the June 1946 arrival of Cadillac chief Nicholas Dreystadt to replace M.E. Coyle as Chevrolet general manager. Dreystadt also encouraged a forceful engineering program that would ultimately breathe new life into a make that had acquired a respectable but stodgy image.

Unfortunately, he died after just two years in office, and his successor, W.E. Armstrong, resigned early because of illness. Then came Thomas H. Keating, who continued Dreystadt's policies. Soon after he took charge, Edward N. Cole came over from Cadillac to be Chevy chief engineer.

Their first order of business was to make Chevys look more "with it." In a happy bit of timing, GM had scheduled most of its all-new postwar models for 1949, and Chevy's were among the best.

Though wheelbase was actually cut an inch, to 115, the cleanly styled '49s contrived to look much longer than the 1946-48 models. They were definitely lower, accented by a newly curved two-piece windshield trimmed two inches in height, fenders swept back smoothly through the cowl and doors, and rear fenders rolled gracefully forward.

Suspension revisions and a lower center of gravity made for the best-handling Chevys yet -- and probably better than that year's Plymouth and Ford. The '49s were also beautifully put together, testifying that engineers and production people had taken great care to make them "right."

Matching all this newness was an equally new four-series model line. It began with an "entry-level" Special series of two- and four-door Fleetline fastback sedans and notchback Styleline town and sport sedans, sport coupe, and business coupe. All but the last were offered with more-luxurious DeLuxe trim, as was a Styleline convertible and eight-passenger station wagon.

There were actually two wagons: an "early" '49 with vestigial wood in its body construction, and a midyear all-steel replacement. Fleetlines initially sold well, but the fastback fad soon faded, so offerings dwindled. The last was a lone 1952 DeLuxe two-door.

Having regained its production stride in 1947-48, Chevy rolled out a record 1,010,000 cars for 1949. Ford, however, managed about 108,000 more, thanks to a popular all-new design and an early introduction (in June '48).

For more on Chevrolet cars, old and new, see:

  • Chevrolet New Car Reviews and Prices
  • Chevrolet Used Car Reviews and Prices