How Chevrolet Works

By the time this 1931 Chevrolet station wagon was introduced, Chevy was GM's largest volume division.

William C. Durant founded General Motors in 1908 but was ousted two years later, so he formed Chevrolet in 1911, intending to make it a powerful lever for regaining control. He did. By 1915, Chevrolet was a force to be reckoned with; by 1918 it was part of General Motors; by the mid-'20s, it was GM's largest volume division -- and has been ever since.

Early Chevys were largish, medium-price cars with six-cylinder and even V-8 power. The make's historic turn to the low-price field came with the four-cylinder "490" of 1915, named for its advertised list price. It was a big success, outflanking Ford's Model T with more attractive styling and more features. Its closely related successors were Chevy's mainstay products into the late '20s.

However, Chevy didn't pass Ford in production until 1927, the year Dearborn stopped building the aged T to retool for the Model A. Then, in 1929, Chevrolet introduced its new "Stovebolt Six," also known as the "Cast-Iron Wonder." The nicknames stemmed from the engine's cast-iron pistons and numerous 1/4-inch slotted bolts -- hardly esoteric, but wonderfully effective and reliable as Old Faithful.


The Stovebolt was engineered by Ormond E. Hunt from an earlier design by Henry M. Crane that had evolved into the 1926 Pontiac engine. By 1930, it produced an even 50 brake horsepower from 194 cubic inches. With various improvements, this solid, overhead-valve engine would remain Chevrolet's only powerpla­nt for nearly three decades.

For 1934, ne­w combustion chambers prompted the name "Blue Flame," and two versions would be offered through 1935: 60-bhp, 181 cid and 80-bhp, 206.8 cid. The six was then redesigned for 1937 to be shorter and lighter. It also gained nearly "square" cylinder dimensions as well as four (versus three) main bearings. The result was 85 bhp from 216.5 cid.

It was with this engine in 1940 that a young Juan Manuel Fangio won the car-breaking 5900-mile round-trip road race between Buenos Aires, Argentina, and Lima, Peru, at an average speed of 53.6 mph. Fangio continued to race Chevrolets after World War II, but eventually switched to Grand Prix cars and became a legend as the first five-time world champion driver.

Chevrolets of the 1930s

From 1930 to 1933, Chevys carried a different series name each year. The 1930 Chevrolet Universal is shown here.

Throughout most of its history, Chevrolet has made the right moves at the right time. To follow the Stovebolt, division general manager William "Big Bill" Knudsen and GM design director Harley Earl cooked up an elegant line of Cadillac-style cars for 1929-32. The 1930-31 line comprised a single series offering roadsters for two or four passengers, a phaeton, three coupes, and two sedans. Prices were attractively low: $495-$685.

The 1930-33 Chevys carried a different series name each year: in order, Universal, Independence, Confederate, then Eagle (deluxe) and Mercury (standard). This practice was ended for 1934, when models were grouped into Master and Standard lines. Master tacked on the "DeLuxe" handle for '35, and Standards became Masters for 1937-39.

Chevy styling in these years evolved along the lines of costlier GM cars. The '33s, with their skirted fenders and graceful lines, were perhaps the most-attractive Chevrolets of the decade. Body styles proliferated, and by 1932 included such exotics as a $625 landau phaeton.

The 1933 Eagles offered many features designed to win buyers from Ford: a Fisher body with "No-Draft Ventilation" front-door ventwing windows, airplane-type instruments, Cadillac-style hood doors, a cowl vent, synchromesh transmission, selective free-wheeling, safety plate glass, adjustable driver's seat, even an octane selector.

Many of these also appeared on the standard Mercury models. Wheelbases gradually lengthened, going from 1930's 107 inches to 109 for 1931-32, then to 107/110 for the '33 Mercury/Eagle; the '34 Master/Standard split 112/107.

Chevy fared well in this period despite the prevailing Depression. Production outpaced Ford's each year in 1931-33, bottoming to 313,000 units for '32, but recovering to 486,000 for '33. Volume then soared to nearly a million by 1936, though Ford was nearer.

Along with more-streamlined styling, 1934 brought new "Knee-Action" independent front suspension (IFS) to Master models, Bill Knudsen's last major decision before leaving Chevy in October 1933. According to writer Karl Ludvigsen, engineer Maurice Olley tried to discourage Knudsen from using it, saying there weren't enough centerless grinding machines in America to produce all the coil springs.

Knudsen replied this was just what the machine-tool industry needed to get back on its feet. Still, he limited the new suspension to the one line. Knee-Action wasn't universally liked, so Standard/Master retained solid front axles through 1940, after which all Chevys had IFS.

The 1935s were the last Chevys with any styling kinship to the "classic" era. Master DeLuxe added an inch of wheelbase to suit sleeker new bodies with Vee'd windshield, streamlined fenders, and a raked-back radiator with cap concealed beneath the hood, then an innovation. Also new was the corporate all-steel "Turret Top" construction without the traditional fabric roof insert.

Modernization continued for 1936 as Chevrolet adopted still-rounder styling of the streamlined school, highlighted by die-cast "waterfall" grilles, steel-spoke wheels (wires remained optional), and sleeker fenders. As ever, Chevy relied on extra features to win sales from Ford.

A big plus for '36 was hydraulic brakes, which Ford wouldn't offer until 1939 (thanks mainly to old Henry's stubbornness). Chevy was also quicker than Ford to drop body styles without roll-up windows, abandoning both roadsters and phaetons for 1936. The two series became more alike, as both used the 80-bhp 206.8-cid Stovebolt.

The redesigned 85-bhp engine of 1937 made Chevrolet particularly well equipped for the sales battle. However, styling became rather dull, as it did for other GM cars, with skinny, uninteresting grilles and high, bulky bodies that looked clumsy next to the increasingly streamlined Fords. Despite that, Chevy regained production supremacy for model-year '38, and until the '90s, at least, rarely surrendered it to Dearborn.

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

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Chevrolet's Royal Clipper Styling

Chevy's first million-car model year was in 1941. The 1941 Chevrolet Special Deluxe is shown here.

Renewed competitiveness was evident in an expanded 1940 line with what Chevy called "Royal Clipper" styling. Though not a drastic change from 1939, this facelift was sufficiently thorough to make the cars look much newer. Wheelbase was 113 inches, up from 1937-39's 112.3. Master 85 returned from '39 as the cheaper Chevy, with Master DeLuxe above it.

Each offered business coupe, two-door town sedan, and four-door sport sedan; the 85 also listed a woody wagon, the DeLuxe line a sport coupe. A new top-line Special DeLuxe series had all these plus Chevy's first true convertible coupe, which was quite successful (nearly 12,000 model-year sales).

Specials and Master DeLuxes came with Knee-Action; Master 85s carried Chevy's last solid front axles. Model-year production soared from some 577,000 to nearly 765,000 as Chevrolet bested Ford by over 220,000 cars.

The gap widened to more than 300,000 for 1941 as Chevrolet scored its first million-car model year. Though no one knew it then, this year's substantial redesign would carry the make through 1948: 116-inch wheelbase, Knee-Action linewide, attractive new styling by Harley Earl's Art & Colour Section, and five extra horsepower achieved with higher compression (6.5:1); new pistons; and revised combustion chambers, valves, rocker arms, and water pump. Master 85s were dropped, but Special DeLuxe added a sleek Fleetline four-door sedan at midyear.

Distinguished by a more-formal roofline with closed-in rear quarters a la the Cadillac Sixty Special, the newcomer managed a creditable 34,000 sales for its shortened debut model year.

Styling refinements marked the war-shortened '42s. Fenders were extended back into the front doors, as on costlier GM makes, and a smart, clean grille replaced the somewhat busy '41 face.

Models stayed the same except for five-passenger coupes replacing business coupes, and series names continued as Master DeLuxe and Special DeLuxe. The latter now contained a Fleetline subseries with a new "torpedo-style" two-door Aerosedan that proved an instant hit and a conventional Sportmaster four-door, both bearing triple chrome bands on front and rear fenders.

By the time the government halted civilian car production in February 1942, Chevy's model-year total was over a quarter-million units, of which less than 50,000 were built in calendar '42. Convertibles and wagons numbered only about 1000 each. Like all 1942 Detroit cars, rarity has since rendered these Chevys coveted collector's items.

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

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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:

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Chevrolet Bel Air

The 1951 Chevrolet Fleetline was among the last of the traditional, low-cost Chevys.

No make better reflected the exuberant '50s than Chevrolet, which evolved from family freighter to hot hauler in just a few short years. Again, in this decade the division mostly made the right moves at the right times. By 1960, Chevrolet was no longer just one of the "low-priced three" but an alternative to Dodge, Mercury, and Pontiac.

The 1950-52 models were the last of the traditional low-cost, low-suds Chevys, though DeLuxes accounted for 80-85 percent of production. The hoary old 216.5 Stovebolt was coaxed up to 92 bhp for 1950, when a new 105-bhp 235.5-cid version arrived for cars equipped with optional two-speed Powerglide.

The last was Chevy's new fully automatic transmission, thus beating Ford, whose Ford-O-Matic was still a year off, and Plymouth, which wouldn't have a true self-shifter until '55. A torque-converter automatic similar to Buick's Dynaflow, Powerglide was a big reason why Chevy beat Ford in model-year car production by no less than 290,000, with a total of near 1.5 million.

Another factor was the new 1950 Bel Air, America's first low-priced hardtop coupe. Buyers couldn't get enough of it. Like the pioneering 1949 Buick, Cadillac, and Olds hardtops, this junior edition sported lush trim that included simulated convertible-top bows on the headliner. It debuted as a top-shelf Styleline DeLuxe priced at $1741, about $100 below the ragtop, but it outpaced the convertible by better than 2-to-1 with over 76,000 first-year sales.

Chevy took a breather the next two years, with no mechanical developments and only bulkier sheetmetal for '51, followed by detail trim revisions for '52. Yet Chevy remained "USA-1" for both years. The '51 total was 1.23 million to Ford's 1.01 million. Korean War restrictions forced industrywide cutbacks for '52, but Chevy's 800,000-plus still beat Ford's 671,000.

Though the Corvette sports car was Chevy's big news for '53, passenger models got a major facelift. The bottom-end Special series was retitled One-Fifty, DeLuxe became Two-Ten, and Bel Air was applied to a full range of models as the new top of the line. Higher compression brought the Blue Flame Six to 108 bhp with manual transmission or 115 bhp with Powerglide.

The figures were 115/125 for 1954, when styling became a bit flashier. Chevy continued to set the production pace. With war restrictions over, volume soared to over 1.3 million units for '53 and to near 1.17 million for '54. But though sound and reliable, Chevys still weren't very exciting. All-new styling and a landmark V-8 would take care of that.

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

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1955, 1956, 1957 Chevrolets

Exuberant 1950s styling is just one reason the 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air is a collector's dream today.

Without question, the new 265 V-8 of 1955 was one of Detroit's milestone engines. Though designed for efficiency and low unit cost, it was really one of those "blue sky" projects that comes along only once or twice in an engineer's career.

As principal designer Ed Cole later recalled: "I had worked on V-8 engines all my professional life. I had lived and breathed engines. [Engineer Harry F.] Barr and I were always saying how we would do it if we could ever design a new engine. You just know you want five main bearings -- there's no decision to make. We knew that a certain bore/stroke relationship was the most compact. We knew we'd like a displacement of 265 cubic inches...And we never changed any of this. We released our engine for tooling direct from the drawing boards. That's how wild and crazy we were."

They had reason to be enthusiastic. The 265 boasted low reciprocating mass allowing high rpm; die-cast heads with integral, interchangeable valve guides; aluminum "slipper" pistons; a crankshaft of forged pressed-steel instead of alloy iron -- and much more.

Best of all, it weighed less than the old six yet was far more potent, initially pumping out 162/170 bhp (manual/Powerglide) in standard tune or 180 bhp with optional Power-Pak (four-barrel carburetor and dual exhausts).

­Of course, it could give a lot more -- and did for '57 when bored to 283 cid and offered with optional fuel injection. Chevrolet developed a new 348-cid "big-block" for 1958 and beyond. It was a good one, but the small-block remains one of the best-known, best-loved engines of all time, earning Chevy a performance reputation the way sixes never could.

At just under $200, Powerglide became an increasingly popular option in the '50s -- a smooth operator well-suited to all but high-power models. Standard three-speed manual and extra-cost stick-overdrive were offered throughout the decade, and an all-synchromesh four-speed manual came on board in 1959.

Late '57 brought a second automatic option, three-speed Turboglide, but this was complex, costly, and short-lived. Powerglide would be the Chevy automatic until the mid-'60s.

The 1955-57 Chevys are coveted collectibles now, and styling has as much to do with this as engineering. Design principals Clare MacKichan (then Chevy studio chief), Carl Renner, Chuck Stebbins, Bob Veryzer, and others worked under Harley Earl's dictum of "Go all the way, then back off."

Though the '55 didn't reach showrooms looking like their fanciful renderings, it wasn't far off, wearing Earl's hallmark beltline "dip," wrapped windshield, and a simple eggcrate grille inspired by Ferrari. The last became broader, brighter, and more conventional for '56 in line with buyer tastes.

Other elements in Chevy's winning '55 package included a more-capable suspension, bigger brakes, better steering, more interior and trunk room, better visibility -- the list was almost endless. Even the old six was improved: boosted to 123/136 bhp (manual/Powerglide).

With all this, plus attractive prices that weren't changed much from '54 (mostly in the $1600-$2260 range), Chevy led the industry in a record Detroit year with over 1.7 million cars, a new make high and a quarter-million better than Ford.

An interesting '55 newcomer was the Bel Air Nomad, America's first "hardtop wagon." A Carl Renner idea adapted from his 1954 Motorama show Corvette, the Nomad didn't sell that well, mainly because two-door wagons were less popular than four-doors, though water leaks were also a problem. Then, too, it was relatively expensive ($2600-$2700). Had anybody else built it, the Nomad probably would have seen minuscule production, but a respectable 8386 were built for 1955, 7886 for '56, and 6103 for 1957.

Chevy called its '55 "The Hot One." Ads said the '56 was even hotter. It was. The old Stovebolt, now offered with manual shift only, was up to 140 bhp, while the V-8 delivered up to 225 bhp with Power-Pak. A $40-million restyle made all models look more like Cadillacs, and four-door hardtop sport sedans joined the Two-Ten and Bel Air lines.

Despite a broad industry retreat, Chevy managed record market penetration of close to 28 percent on just 88 percent of its '55 volume -- about 1.5 million units. Ford repeated at around 1.4 million.

Ford (and Plymouth) counterpunched with all-new styling for '57. Chevy had to make do with another substantial facelift, but it was deftly done and quite popular. In fact, this Chevy is still regarded by many as the definitive '50s car. There were now eight engine choices, up three from '56, including no fewer than six 283 V-8s with 185 up to 283 bhp.

The last was courtesy of "Ramjet" fuel injection, a new option that found few takers at $500, but enabled the division to claim "1 hp per cu. in." (though Chrysler had achieved that magic figure with its '56 300B). Yet even without the "fuelie," a '57 Chevy could be quite fast. For example, a Bel Air sport sedan with the four-barrel 270-bhp engine could do 0-60 mph in 9.9 seconds, the quarter-mile in 17.5, and over 110 mph flat out.

Properly equipped, the 1955-57 Chevy was a formidable track competitor. Before the Automobile Manufacturers Association voted to withdraw from organized racing in June 1957, Chevy did very well in NASCAR and other stock-car events. At that year's Daytona Speed Weeks, Chevy took the first three places in the two-way flying-mile for Class 4 (213-259 cid); in Class 5 (259-305 cid) it took 33 out of 37 places, the fastest car averaging 131.076 mph. Chevy also won the 1957 Pure Oil Manufac­turers Trophy with 574 points against 309 for runner-up Ford.

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

  • Chevrolet New Car Reviews and Prices
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Chevrolet Impala

Chevy answered buyers' demands for bigger cars with the longer, wider and heavier 1959 Chevrolet Impala.

While the AMA racing "ban" didn't deter Chevy and others from providing under-the-table racing support, it seemed to be reflected in the softer, more-luxurious Chevys of 1958. Riding a new 117.5-inch-wheelbase X-member chassis, they were longer, lower, wider, and heavier, but not really slower than the lighter '57s.

Bodies were naturally all-new, too -- and shinier, looking more "important" and Cadillac-like than ever. As it turned out, they'd be one-year-only jobs. Not so the new 348 big-block V-8, a modified truck engine (which Chevy was understandably loath to mention) offering 250 to 315 bhp. That year's base V-8 was a 185-bhp 283.

Underscoring all this change was the new line-leading 1958 Impala (a name dreamed up by designer Robert Cadaret), a lush Bel Air subseries offering convertible and sport coupe hardtop with six or V-8 in the $2600-$2800 range.

Below was a rearranged model group. One-Fifty was renamed Delray (borrowed from a spiffy 1954-57 Two-Ten two-door sedan), Biscayne replaced Two-Ten, and "Station Wagon" was a separate line with no fewer than five models: two-door Yeoman and four-door Yeoman, Brookwood (in six- and nine-seat form), and Nomad. Unlike the 1955-57 Nomad, the '58 was conventionally styled.

Chevy was now clearly reaching for buyers it had never sought before: solid, substantial Pontiac types who cared more about size and comfort than performance or handling. The division's grasp did not exceed that reach. In a rough year for the economy in general and Detroit in particular, Chevy managed over 1.1 million cars. Impala was a big success, accounting for fully 15 percent of the total.

If Chevrolet showed restraint in bucking tailfins for '58, it more than made up for that the following year with another all-new body bearing huge "cat's-eye" taillamps and a "batwing" rear deck that tester Tom McCahill said was "big enough to land a Piper Cub." It could have been worse. Several 1959 proposals envisioned ugly, Edsel-like vertical grilles.

Ford had shaded Chevy in model-year '57 production and came within 12,000 units of doing it again for '59. Dearborn's more-conservative styling no doubt played a part. But future Chevys would be far more-tasteful under William L. Mitchell, who replaced Harley Earl as GM design chief on the latter's retirement in 1958.

Delray disappeared from the '59 line and a new full-range Impala series displaced Bel Air at the top, pushing other non-wagon series down a notch. All models rode a new 119-inch wheelbase, Chevy's longest yet. The growth between 1957 and 1959 was amazing: length up by nearly 11 inches, width by seven inches, weight by 300 pounds.

The '59s were the first of the overstuffed "standard" Chevys that would endure for the next 15 years, though they made sense at the time. Buyers demanded ever-bigger cars in the '50s, so even the low-priced three grew to about the size of late-'40s Cadillacs and Lincolns.

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

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Chevrolets of the 1960s

Chevy introduced the Chevelle in 1964 to compete with Ford's popular Fairlane. Shown here is the 1965 Chevrolet Chevelle.

Though Chevrolet would mostly follow Ford's marketing initiatives in the '60s, it continued to lead in production, winning every model year except 1961 and 1966. Like its arch rival, Chevy expanded into compacts (Corvair and Chevy II), intermediates (Chevelle), "muscle cars" (Impala SS, Malibu SS) and "ponycars" (Camaro). Each was carefully conceived to fill a specific need, and all succeeded save the singular rear-engine Corvair, which is different enough to merit a separate entry.

Such increasing specialization might imply increasing production, but though Chevy did set some records, its 1969 volume was "only" some 500,000 cars ahead of 1960's despite the introduction of four new model lines. This proliferation reflected a market that had subdivided, generating more "niche" competition than in the '50s. As a result, Chevy often competed less against rivals than against itself or other GM makes.

Its lineup certainly became quite broad by 1969, when it spanned no fewer than five wheelbases: 98 inches for Corvette, 108 for Corvair/Camaro, 111 for Chevy II/Nova, 116 for Chevelle, and 119 inches for full-size Chevrolets. An exception was the post-'67 Chevelle which, like other GM intermediates, went to a 112-inch wheelbase for two-door models and 116 for four-doors, an arrangement that would persist through 1977.

With no change in wheelbase, what became known as the "standard" (full-size) Chevrolet moved from overstyled outrageousness to clean, crisp elegance. The pattern was set immediately, the 1960 edition being a more-subdued version of the wild '59. A taut new package bereft of fins and wrapped windshields bowed for '61, reflecting the first direct influence of Bill Mitchell. For '63 came a more-sculptured look.

Another complete redesign brought more-flowing lines for '65, followed by even curvier '67s with semifastback hardtop coupes and more-pronounced "Coke bottle" fenders. The '69s had a fuller, squarer look, emphasized by bodyside bulges and elliptical wheel openings. The decade's prettiest big Chevy might well be the '62, with its straight, "correct" lines and, for Impala hardtop coupes, a rear roof sculptured to resemble a raised convertible top.

Nineteen sixty-two also saw Chevy enlarge the 283 small-block V-8 to 327 cid for an initial 250 or 300 bhp in full-size models. But 283s would continue to power a variety of Chevys through 1967, when a stroked 350 more amenable to emission controls began to be phased in.

Biscayne remained Chevy's full-size price leader in the '60s, but buyer interest quickly tapered off. The midpriced Bel Air also waned, but the top-line Impala rapidly became Detroit's single-most-popular model line. Its best sales year in this decade was 1964, when some 889,600 were built.

By far the most-collectible Impala is the performance-bred Super Sport, an option package for mid-1961 and 1968-69, an Impala subseries in other years. Body styles were always limited to convertible and hardtop coupe. The concept was simple: the smooth big Chevy with sporty styling touches and available performance and handling options. Sixes were available but not often ordered (only 3600 of the '65s, for instance).

Typical features ran to special SS emblems, vinyl bucket seats, central shift console, and optional tachometer. A variety of V-8s was offered, including big-blocks, beginning with the famous 409 of 1961, an enlarged 348 delivering 360 horsepower initially and up to 425 bhp by '63.

With options like stiffer springs and shocks, sintered metallic brake linings, four-speed manual gearbox, and ultra-quick power steering, the SS Impalas were the best-performing big Chevys in history. But they couldn't last forever. Government regulations and the advent of midsize muscle cars combined to do in sporty big cars of all kinds. Yet Impala SS remained exciting right to the end. Even the final 1967-69 models could be ordered with "Mark IV" 427 big-blocks packing 385-425 bhp.

A far-more-lucrative full-size Chevy was the Caprice, an Impala dolled up with the best grades of upholstery and trim. A mid-1965 reply to Ford's quiet-as-a Rolls LTD, Caprice garnered a healthy 181,000 sales for model-year '66, when it became a separate line and the initial hardtop sedan was joined by wagons and a hardtop coupe. Production through the rest of the decade ranged from 115,500 to nearly 167,000. Obviously, Cadillac luxury at a Chevy kind of price still appealed as much in the '60s as it had in the days of the first Impala.

One rung below the full-size Chevy was the intermediate Chevelle, introduced for 1964 in answer to Ford's popular Fairlane. Though conventional in design, Chevelle offered almost as much interior room as Impala within more-sensible exterior dimensions -- effectively a return to the ideally proportioned 1955-57 "classic" Chevy. Sales went nowhere but up -- from 328,400 in the first year to nearly 440,000 by 1969. Helping things along were numerous performance options and bucket-seat Malibu SS convertible and hardtop models.

Third down the size scale was the Chevy II, an orthodox compact rushed out for 1962 to answer Ford's Falcon, which had been handily trimming the radical Corvair. Initial engine choices were a 90-bhp, 153-cid four and a 120-bhp, 194-cid six. (Falcon had only sixes through mid-1963, then added a V-8 option.) It was a good move, but through 1966, Chevy IIs outnumbered Falcons only once: model-year '63.

Sales dropped nearly 50 percent for '64, due partly to intramural competition from Chevelle. A spate of Super Sport models didn't help. Nor did a heavy facelift for '66.

What did help was a 1968 Chevy II pumped up to near intermediate size via an all-new 111-inch-wheelbase GM X-body platform. Convertibles, wagons, and hardtop coupes were deleted, leaving four-door sedans and two-door pillared coupes. The latter were available with an SS package option. Backed by a strong ad campaign and competitive prices, Chevy's compact posted soaring sales of 201,000 for '68 and over a quarter-million for 1970, when the name was changed to Nova (originally, the premium Chevy II series).

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

  • Chevrolet New Car Reviews and Prices
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Chevrolet Camaro

Chevy's new sporty compact, the 1967 Chevrolet Camaro, was a huge success.

Adding new spice to Chevy's '67 line was Camaro, which would eventually succeed the ailing Corvair as the division's sporty compact. Despite the beautiful styling and impressive performance of the all-new '65 Corvair, the rear-engine Chevy was no threat to Ford's incredibly successful Mustang in the burgeoning ponycar market. Worse, it was costly to build -- entirely different in concept and technology from other Chevys.

Six months after the '65s debuted, division managers decided Corvair would be allowed to fade away in favor of the conventional Camaro, which was deliberately designed as a direct Mustang-fighter.

Created under the omnipresent eye of GM design chief Bill Mitchell, Camaro styling was exactly right: long-hood/short-deck proportions; low, chiseled profile; flowing, slightly "hippy" lines.

Like Mustang, Camaro aimed at those who wanted a sporty four-seater that could be equipped as an economy run-about, vivid straight-line performer, or something in-between, so it offered a Mustang-style plethora of options: some 81 factory items and 41 dealer-installed accessories.

Camaro's 1967 prices started at $2466 for the basic hardtop coupe and $2704 for the convertible with standard 140-bhp, 230-cid six. A 155-bhp, 250-cid six cost $26 extra; a 210-bhp 327 V-8 was $106.

Next on the list was a 350 V-8 with 295 bhp, exclusive to Camaro in '67 but more-widely available beginning in '68. To get it you had to order a $211 Super Sports package comprising stiffer springs and shocks, D70-14 Firestone Wide-Oval tires, performance hood with extra sound insulation, SS emblems, and "bumblebee" nose stripes. A 396 big-block V-8 became available during the year at nearly $400.

Also tempting '67 Camaro customers were custom carpeting; bucket seats; fold-down rear seat; luxury interior; full instrumentation; and console shifters for the optional Turbo Hydra-Matic, heavy-duty three-speed manual, and four-speed manual. For $105, a Rally Sport package added a hidden-headlight grille, "RS" badges, and other touches. Additional extras ran to tinted glass, radio, air conditioning, clock, cruise control, and a vinyl roof covering for hardtops.

Mechanical options included sintered metallic brake linings, ventilated front disc brakes, vacuum brake booster, power steering, fast-ratio manual steering, stiff suspension, Positraction limited-slip differential, and a dozen different axle ratios. With all this, a Camaro could easily be optioned to $5000.

Though two years behind Mustang, Camaro was a big hit. Production topped 220,000 the first year, 235,000 for '68, and 240,000 for '69. There were no major changes through mid-1970. The '68s carried a horizontal grille treatment, ventless side glass, Chevy's new "Astro Ventilation" system, and restyled taillights; the '69s were more-thoroughly face-lifted via a recontoured lower body with front and rear creaselines atop the wheel openings, plus a Vee'd grille and new rear styling.

Available for the street but aimed squarely at the track was Camaro RPO (Regular Production Option) Z-28, a tailor-made competition package for hardtops announced during 1967. With it, Camaro won 18 of 25 events in the Sports Car Club of America's new Trans-American road-racing series for production "sedans." Camaro then claimed the class championship in 1968 and '69.

Veteran Chevy engineer Vincent W. Piggins had designed the Z-28 expressly for the Trans-Am -- then convinced management to sell it to the public. To meet the prevailing displacement limit, he combined the 327 block with the 283 crankshaft to produce a high-winding 302.4-cid small-block with a nominal 290 bhp -- it was more like 350 -- and 290 pound-feet of torque.

Com­pleting the Z-28 package were heavy-duty suspension, 11-inch-diameter clutch, quick steering, hood air ducts feeding big carburetors, close-ratio four-speed gearbox, front disc brakes, metallic rear-brake linings, a "ducktail" rear spoiler, broad dorsal racing stripes, and Rally wheels with wide-tread tires.

All this listed for about $400, but actual price was more like $800 because the four-speed, power front discs, special headers, and metallic rear-drum linings were all "mandatory" extras.

Nevertheless, the Z-28 was a whale of high-performance buy. It wasn't for everyone, of course, but production climbed quickly, going from 602 for '67 to 7199 for '68 and then to 20,302 for '69. All are now coveted collectibles, not only as the first of a great breed, but because, unfortunately, the Z would become less-special in future years.

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Chevrolet Monte Carlo

The sharp 1970 Chevrolet Monte Carlo sold well in the personal-luxury market.

Chevrolet entered the personal-luxury market with the Monte Carlo. A 65-day strike kept the division from outproducing Ford, but its 12-month total of nearly 1.5 million cars was hardly bad. For the model year, Chevy built 1.46 million cars to its arch rival's two million-plus.

A kissin' cousin of Pontiac's all-new '69 Grand Prix, the cleanly styled Monte Carlo rode the Chevelle's 116-inch four-door chassis but came only as a hardtop coupe with the longest hood in Chevy history. A 250-bhp 350 V-8 teamed with Turbo-Hydra-Matic as standard, and all sorts of luxury options were offered. Alternative engines ran to a 300-bhp 350 and a new 400 V-8 with 330 bhp.

Base-priced just below $3000, the Monte Carlo sold well: over 145,000 for 1970 (against only 50,000 for Ford's considerably costlier Thunderbird). Among them were a mere 3823 equipped with the optional SS 454 package -- an iron fist in a velvet glove if ever there was one.

Listed as RPO Z20, the Monte SS package delivered the division's huge new 454 big-block engine, a stroked 427 tuned for 360 bhp in this application, plus square-tip dual exhausts and a chassis fortified with auto-leveling rear shocks, stiffer front shocks, and power front disc brakes. Discreet badges and black rocker-panel trim were the only clues as to what lay beneath that long hood.

Acceleration was vivid: just 7.5 seconds for 0-60 mph. But luxury was this car's forte -- after 1919 more in '71, the Monte Carlo wouldn't take another run at performance until years later.

Corvair's demise after 1969 left Nova as Chevy's only compact. The 1970 edition was mildly face-lifted, but saw no substantive change. That year's Chevelle, still on the split-wheel-base 1968 A-body platform, was restyled to look more like full-size Chevys, gaining a divided grille, bulges around each wheel opening, and a more-rounded, massive look.

Super Sport packages were again offered for both Nova and Chevelle, the former built around a 350 V-8, the latter around the big-block 454 and 396 (which was actually a 402 now). None saw very high sales, what with rising fuel prices and insurance rates putting a big damper on muscle-car demand throughout Detroit.

The big-car sales emphasis was still on the luxurious Impala and Caprice; Biscayne and Bel Air were now reduced to just one four-door sedan each.

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Chevrolet Vega and Chevrolet Chevette

The 1971 Chevrolet Vega was available in three body styles; the two-door "Kammback" wagon shown here.  See more pictures of Chevrolet cars.

Chevrolet would remain "USA-1" throughout the '70s despite a few product blunders and the vexing problems that plagued all Detroit in that turbulent decade. In model-year production, it ran second to Ford only in 1970 and '71.

After that, Chevy was the consistent industry leader with at least 2 million cars a year except for troubled '75, when depressed big-car demand after the 1973-74 energy crisis dropped the tally to about 1.75 million.

Such strength enabled Chevrolet to endure mistakes that would have crippled most any other brand save Ford. Even the subcompact Vega, long viewed as the division's biggest folly of the period, hung on for seven model years and sold respectably in every one.

Vega certainly seemed a good idea when it bowed for 1971. Riding a 97-inch wheelbase, the shortest in Chevy history, it carried an all-new, 140-cid four with 90 or 110 bhp. Pert styling marked by a Camaro-like front was offered in three practical body styles: two-door notchback sedan, hatchback coupe, and a nifty little two-door "Kammback" wagon.

Chevrolet spent vast sums designing, launching, and promoting this latest attempt at beating back small imports -- not to mention Ford's new Pinto -- and on a special factory to build it.

But like the Corvair, Vega missed its intended target: bought not as basic transport but as a small sporty car, abetted by a GT coupe and wagon. Worse, it quickly became notorious for early, severe body rust, and its alloy-block engine (which made do without cylinder liners) suffered persistent oil leaks and head warping.

By 1976, when the even smaller Chevette was ready, Vega was being trounced by a number of domestic and foreign rivals. Though the name was dropped after '77, the basic car -- minus the problematic engine -- continued through 1979 in the Monza line.

An intriguing Vega offshoot was the Cosworth-Vega of 1975-76, quite "foreign" for a U.S. car and thus something of a collector's item now. Its main attraction was a destroked, 122-cid Vega engine wearing a special 16-valve twincam aluminum cylinder head designed by England's Cosworth Engineering. Fuel was fed by Bendix electronic injection actuated by a glovebox-mounted computer.

Available only as a hatchback coupe, the "CosVeg" initially came only in black with special gold striping and cast-aluminum wheels. Completing the package were wide radial tires, full instrumentation in an engine-turned panel, front/rear anti-roll bars, four-speed gearbox, quick steering, and discreet badges.

Unfortunately, the engine yielded only 111 bhp, so this wasn't the BMW-beater Chevy had planned. The '76 version offered any Vega body color and an optional five-speed gear-box, but many were unsold at year's end. Respective production was just 2061 and 1447.

Monza proved a far-more-successful Vega variant. New for '75, it rode the same chassis, but carried a handsome 2+2 coupe body with lift-up rear hatch and a fastback roofline reminiscent of certain Ferraris. A notchback "Towne Coupe" was added during the year.

The Vega four was base power, but a new 262-cid small-block V-8 was optional, mildly tuned for 110 bhp. Enthusiasts could opt for several interesting RPOs such as a Z01 performance and handling package and, for 2+2s, a "Spyder" appearance group.

After 1977, the Vega wagon became a Monza, and all three models got a new standard engine: the 151-cid Pontiac "Iron Duke" four (so named to reassure buyers stung by the Vega unit). That same year, the blunt-front Towne Coupe was optionally available with the 2+2's "droop snoot." Monza then saw only minor changes through early 1981, when it departed to make way for an even better small Chevy.

Picking up where Vega left off was Chevette, the smallest Chevrolet ever, announced for bicentennial 1976. Derived from the 1974 German Opel Kadett, the first of GM's "world car"

T-body models, it rode a modest 94.3-inch wheelbase, measured 17 inches shorter than Vega, and weighed in at just under a ton. Its mission, of course, was economy, which it delivered: 35 mpg or so on the highway. Engines were small: initially a 1.4-liter/85-cid overhead-cam four with 52 bhp and a 60-bhp 1.6-liter/98-cid version. The former was gone by '78, when the 1.6 was tuned to deliver a slightly more-respectable 63-68 bhp.

Chevette bowed as a single two-door hatchback sedan, but a four-door on a three-inch-longer wheelbase was added for '78. Options were numerous, as the car had been built "down" to a low price. Yet, like so many Chevys before it, Chevette was exactly right for its time, and quite competitive in the increasingly hard-fought subcompact market.

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Chevrolets of the 1970s

The downsizing of the 1977 Chevrolet Caprice made it more agile and more fuel-efficient.

After a mostly stand-pat 1970, the full-size Chevys ballooned to as big as they'd ever get, thanks to 1971's new "fuselage-style" GM B-body and a longer 121.5-inch wheelbase. As ever, promotion focused on Impala and Caprice. The Biscayne and Bel Air sedans were now relegated to the fleet market, and would be discontinued after 1972 and '75, respectively.

Mid-price Impala Customs, new for '68, continued finding favor among those who liked, but couldn't quite afford, a Caprice. The Caprice itself was similarly upgraded as more Classic models were added year by year.

Big-Chevy engine choices through 1976 revolved around 350, 400, and 454 V-8s, though a 145-bhp 305 was rushed out as standard for '76 (except on wagons), a post-oil-embargo economy move. Emissions tuning rendered all decreasingly potent, as did the added weight of "crash" bumpers after 1972, plus other federally required measures.

Styling became progressively more ornate and "formal," and threatened rollover standards prompted hardtop coupes to be replaced by "pillared" 1974 models with huge rear side windows.

For the same reason, the Caprice convertible (an Impala through '72) disappeared after 1975. Despite their limitations, these big Chevys always sold in large numbers -- as ever, the epitome of middle-class American motoring.

Then, a revolution: the first wave of GM's corporatewide downsizing program, which saw the 1977 Caprice/Impala trimmed by 51/2 inches in wheelbase and 600-800 pounds in gas-wasting bulk. It seemed like a huge gamble then, and Ford tried to take advantage by extolling the "road-hugging weight" of its still-enormous full-sizers.

But Chevrolet, as usual, knew exactly what it was doing, and Caprice/Impala sales actually improved (despite the departure of hardtop sedans). And why not? The new models were not only lighter but more-agile, easier on gas and, to some, better-looking.

In the intermediate ranks, Chevelle and Monte Carlo were switched to GM's new "Colonnade" A-body for 1973, which meant fresh styling and no more convertibles or closed pillar-less models.

The Monte divided into S and plusher Landau offerings, both with rather baroque, "French curve" styling. The blockier Chevelles included base, Malibu and ritzy Malibu Classic coupes and sedans, plus a plethora of wagons in base, Classic, and Classic Estate trim.

An interesting 1974-76 concoction was the Laguna S-3 coupe. A cross between a luxury tourer and the now-departed Malibu SS, it sported body-color grille surround and bumpers, plus a posh vinyl interior available for a time with optional swiveling front seats -- a revival of a '50s Chrysler idea.

When the big Chevys shrank to intermediate stature, it was obvious that the midsizers would get smaller, too. They did, for 1978. Chevelles became Malibus, and shared a new 108.1-inch-wheelbase platform with Monte Carlo. The latter retained generally florid looks, but the Malibus were crisp and clean. Again, sales didn't suffer -- to Chevy's undoubted relief.

A consistently high seller since its '68 overhaul, the compact Nova saw little change through 1973, when a minor facelift occurred and hatchback two-door sedans arrived in the usual base and Custom trim.

An extensive 1975 reskin ushered in new rooflines and more glass, fancy LN ("Luxury Nova") models (renamed Concours for '76), and steering and front suspension borrowed from Camaro. Nova captured 15 percent of Chevy's total 1975 sales to become the year's most-popular American compact.

Engine offerings simplified for '76. The "performance" option was now a 305 V-8, a debored 350 replacing both that engine and the little 262. Standard power through 1979 remained the workhorse 250-cid inline six, after which both engine and car were scrubbed in favor of fours and V-6s in a new compact called Citation, "the first Chevy of the '80s."

Unveiled in April 1979, Citation was a runaway success its first year, helped by another fuel crisis. Body styles comprised two- and four-door hatchback sedans and a pillared "slantback" two-door unique among the four versions of this corporate design. On a 104.9-inch wheelbase, Citation's new X-body platform afforded excellent space at moderate weight, which averaged around 2500 pounds.

Pontiac's well-proven "Iron Duke" four was standard; the only power option was a new Chevy-built 60-degree V-6 displacing 2.8 liters (173 cid). Both engines were mounted transversely to take advantage of the space-­saving front-drive mechanicals. A four-speed manual transaxle was standard, three-speed automatic optional.

For a sporty Citation, you ordered a two-door with an X-11 package comprising uprated suspension and other chassis modifications, plus brash exterior graphics. The lightweight X-11 was a ­capable performer with the V-6.

Like most new designs, however, Citation had a hefty helping of engineering and quality-control problems, and would be recalled many times. But overall balance and livability made it a hot number for awhile, and Chevrolet was hard pressed to meet demand.

Camaro almost expired after 1974 as sales sagged in the wake of the first energy crisis. But a determined effort by enthusiastic GMers saved the striking second generation from a premature end.

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Chevrolet Camaro Second Generation

Arriving in the spring of 1970 was a brilliant new second-generation Camaro ('69s were sold as '70s through the previous December). With dramatic, European-inspired GT styling, it sold nearly 125,000 copies despite the abbreviated 1970 run.

The ragtop was no more, another victim of fading demand, but a smooth new coupe offered the usual arm-long list of extras, including two SS packages, like Chevelle's, plus a separate Rally Sport trim group and the still-potent Z28 option.

Wheelbase was unchanged, but most everything else was. If the result was heavier and less-efficient, it was also a smoother-riding and better-handling Chevy ponycar.

The 1971-72 Camaros were much like the inaugural "19701/2" models save minor changes dictated by federal regulations. For '73, the macho SS was replaced by a less-pretentious LT (Luxury Touring) model with standard 145-bhp V-8, variable-ratio power steering, and appearance touches like hidden wipers, black rockers, Rally wheels, and woodgrain dash trim.

Prices started to gallop with the '74s, which were face-lifted at each end to accommodate required five-mph impact bumpers. A wraparound rear window marked the '75s, which began Camaro's sales revival after a four-year dry spell.

Capital­izing on renewed interest in ponycars, Chevy reinstated the Rally Sport package as a midseason option. This included matte-black hood and front fender tops, special paint, and the further option of color-matched Z28 wheels. The '74 facelift kept going for 1976-77 as Camaro reached, then exceeded, its '60s sales record.

The big Camaro event in 1977 was a revived Z28, only with the emphasis now on refined road manners rather than raw power. Chassis engineer Jack Turner took a straightforward approach: tighter springs, thicker front antiroll bar, a more-­flexible rear bar, larger wheels and tires. New exterior graphics and colors were well suited to the smooth lines. A midyear introduction limited '77 sales, but the reborn Z then zoomed in popularity.

Effectively face-lifted for 1978, the durable second generation Camaro ran three final years in four models: base, Rally Sport, Z28 and new-for-'79 ­luxury Berlinetta (replacing LT).

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Chevrolets of the 1980s

The 1980 Chevrolet Citation was one of the smaller, more-efficient Chevys introduced in the 1980s.

The entire market would be hard-fought in the 1980s. Detroit found itself battling not only a deep national recession early in the decade, but also a horde of Japanese competitors, which had already captured lots of U.S. sales territory with low prices, top-notch workmanship, and superior reliability.

Though the economy began recovering after 1982, import penetration reached record levels by mid-decade -- some 35-40 percent of the total U.S. car market -- despite price increases prompted by a weakening dollar.

Much of the Japanese gains came at the expense of AMC, Chrysler, and Ford, but GM had problems of its own and suffered lower volume, too. Chevrolet's withered to about 1.6 million units for 1981, when the market was still relatively good, then to a bit under 1.4 million for 1985-87.

Meantime, the division had decided to switch rather than fight, and began selling a pair of small Japanese models with bowtie badges. But in domestic production, Chevrolet maintained its traditional number-one rank only through 1987. It was then overhauled by an increasingly aggressive Ford Division. Dearborn as a whole out-earned the General for the first time in 40 years -- and on only half the volume.

Chevy's mixed fortunes in the '80s certainly weren't for lack of product or canny marketing. GM's long-term downsizing program ushered in a spate of smaller, more-efficient new Chevys, yet old standbys were allowed to carry on so long as sales were decent.

Continuing modernization saw fuel injection (both single- and multi-point) replace carburetors on many engines, which increasingly became V-6s and inline-fours. Yet V-8s were still part of the picture, as were performance cars -- once demand for them returned around 1984.

Reflecting these trends were those three division staples of the '80s, the Monte Carlo, Chevette, and Caprice/Impala. The last saw little change following a mild 1980 "aero" reskin that freshened the basic '77 styling even if it did little for mileage as claimed. Hoods were lower, rear decks higher, and coupes exchanged their sharply creased wraparound backlights for flat panes.

Sedans used V-6s, either 229-cid Chevy or 231-cid Buick, as base power though 1984, then a 4.3-liter (262-cid) Chevy V-6. There was also a diesel V-8 option, the trouble-prone 350 Olds engine, canceled after '85 as Americans bathed again in a sea of cheap gasoline. Most of these big Chevys carried the reliable 305 small-block V8 (usually standard on wagons).

Coupes were dropped for '83, revived for '84, then dropped again four years later. The venerable Impala name was gone by '86, as Caprices had proliferated into base, Classic, Classic Brougham, and Classic LS Brougham models.

Chevy was wise to retain big rear-drive cars once Buick, Olds, and for a time, Pontiac dropped them, for they were strong sellers even in the worst of times. And when times got better, so did Caprice/Impala sales, rising from a decade low of about 185,000 units for 1982 to nearly a quarter-million a year for 1983-87. Production then dropped below 200,000, though that was still far from shabby.

The humble Chevette was similarly little changed through the '80s, an increasing sales handicap in the fast-moving small-car sector. Model-year '81 was the production peak -- nearly 434,000 units -- after which assemblies tapered off steadily each year. Yet even the swan-song '86s managed over 100,000 sales, and the lack of change enabled Chevy to keep the lid on prices.

Appearance updates were confined to a full-width grille and square headlamps for '79, bigger taillights for '80. Major mechanical changes were limited to a five-speed manual option from 1983 and an extra-cost four-cylinder diesel (from Isuzu) that was rarely ordered, probably because it made a slow car even slower. Though few mourned its passing, the Chevette had done an able job. It was simply time for better things.

The same could be said of the 1978-vintage Monte Carlo, which departed during 1988. Here, though, there was reason to mourn. A handsome '81 facelift, similar to the big Chevys', was followed at mid-1983 by a revived SS bearing a smoothly raked new nose and a 305 V-8 tuned for 175 bhp (later upped to 180). You also got a beefy suspension with fat raised-white-letter tires, plus bold exterior graphics and trunklid spoiler. Things were pretty plain inside, but luxury options weren't long in coming.

If far removed from late-'60s muscle, this new SS was hardly your typical mid-'80s Monte. In fact, it was the starting point for Chevy's latest racing stockers, which began cleaning up in NASCAR and elsewhere.

To help its teams do even better, Chevy released an SS "Aerocoupe" at mid-1986 bearing a huge, compound-curve backlight that allegedly added a few more mph on the long supertracks. It only lasted through 1987, and only some 6200 were built -- which only makes this a gilt-edged future collectible.

As ever, the most-popular Montes were the luxury sort; they were even called Luxury Sport from 1986. All sold well: more than 187,000 for '81, over 90,000 for 1982 and '83, an average 120,000 a year thereafter. Chevy might well have kept the decade-old coupe going a little longer but, again, it was time to move on.

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Chevrolet Celebrity, Chevrolet Citation, and Chevrolet Cavalier

The 1984 Chevrolet Celebrity sported square, notchback styling.

For Chevy, "moving on" at the bottom of the line meant moving to smaller, more-efficient front-drive models. The compact Citation had been the first. Cavalier and Celebrity would follow for the subcompact and midsize segments, respectively.

Celebrity was one of four GM A-body lines announced for '83 in early 1982. All were essentially X-cars in tailored suits. Inner structure, chassis, even drivetrains were all the same, but squarer, more-formal notchback styling contrived to make Celebrity look more expensive than the slopeback Citation -- which it was, by some $1500-$2000. Two- and four-door sedans were the only body styles at first, but an attractive wagon arrived for '84. All could be dressed up with trim packages variously called Custom, CL, and Classic.

Also new for '84 was a Eurosport option group, available for any model. A gesture to enthusiasts, this delivered Chevy's firmer F41 handling suspension, plus special emblems, less exterior chrome, and sporty accents inside. It gilded a very middle-class lily, but the result was good enough to beg comparison with much costlier Euro­pean sports sedans.

Planned to replace Malibu, Celebrity ran alongside the old rear-drive line through 1983, then soldiered on alone. Not that Chevy needed to worry, for the Celebrity handily surpassed Malibu's peak sales in this decade (278,000 for '80) by averaging 350,000 a year for 1984-87 peaking at nearly 405,000 for '86.

Sales dwindled thereafter as the two-door was killed after '88 and the mainstay four-door departed after '89. But this was only because a replacement was at hand. Overall, Celebrity was a winner.

The same could not be said for the Citation that spawned it. Buyers spurned the first front-drive Chevy in rapidly growing numbers amidst a welter of safety recalls, drivability problems, and damaging publicity about weak brakes that locked up too early in panic stops.

The division tried to stem the tide for '84 with detail changes and "Citation II" badges, but fooled no one. A high-output, 135-bhp V-6 arrived for the 1982 X-11 package, then became optional for any model, but that didn't help either.

In unit volume, debut 1980 would be Citation's best year: over 811,000. The tally plunged nearly 50 percent for '81, dropped under 166,000 for '82, then fell well below 100,000 through the last-of-the-line '85s. It only seemed to prove what some critics had been saying -- that GM left final "shakedown" testing to its unwitting customers.

Far fewer complaints attended the front-drive Cavalier subcompact. Replacing Monza for '82, it rode the new 101.2-inch-wheelbase J-body platform, the first ever offered by all five GM divisions.

Cavalier was basically "right" from the start. Nobody much liked the original engine -- a new Chevy-built 2.0-liter four with old-fashioned overhead-valve head (some called it the "junk­yard engine") -- and the four-speed manual transaxle ­wasn't the slickest around, but that was about it.

And there were some tangible strengths: decent room for four, neat styling, initial choice of four body styles -- two- and four-door sedans, four-door wagon, and two-door "fasthatch" coupe -- and competitive prices, initially less than $6000 base.

Customers responded strongly to Cavalier, snapping up better than 195,000 for the extra-long '82 model year, over 462,000 of the '84s and some 432,000 of the '86s. Steady improvement helped: a five-speed manual option, throttle-body fuel injection, more power, a neat convertible for '83, new frontal styling for '84, "mini-muscle" V-6 Z24 coupes for '85, a major facelift and a Z24 convertible for '88, and detail changes most every year.

Sales continued strong through 1994, last year for the original J-body. Demand throttled back some in the face of fresh competition, yet Cavalier did no worse than 225,000 for 1992. Even the '94s managed almost 274,000, not bad for a basic design in its 13th season.

Evolutionary changes helped. Budget-priced VL ("Value Leader") models bowed for 1988. A larger 3.1-liter V-6 making 135 bhp was added in '90. For '91, the pushrod four grew to 2.2 liters and 95 bhp; by '94 it was up to 120 bhp thanks to multipoint fuel injection and other improvements. The '91 Cavs also sported a minor facelift, a more-ergonomic dash, and better-equipped base models tagged RS.

Later years brought more cosmetic touchups and extra standard features like larger wheels and tires for some models, plus cupholders, extra instruments, automatic door locks, and GM's ABS VI antilock brake system. Still, starting prices remained comfortably below $10,000, though the natty Z24 convertible was pushing $20,000 by mid-decade.

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Chevrolet Corsica, Chevrolet Berretta, and Chevrolet Lumina

The 1988 Chevrolet Berreta used Chevy's exclusive L-body platform.

Succeeding Citation as Chevy's compact were the Corsica sedan and Beretta coupe, introduced in March '87 as early '88 models. Both used a new 103.4-inch-wheelbase L-body platform exclusive to Chevrolet, though with engineering that owed much to the J-car and the front-drive N-body models at Buick, Olds and Pontiac.

Among other things, that meant coil-spring suspension with front struts and a twist beam rear axle on trailing arms, rack-and-pinion steering, and front-disc/rear-drum brakes. Standard power at first was the latest Cavalier four, with the division's 130-bhp 2.8 V-6 optional.

Styling was also unique to Chevy -- and a welcome change from GM's earlier "cloning:" smooth, rounded, aerodynamically efficient. Best of all, these cars reflected Chevy's strongest efforts yet to ensure tight, thorough fit and finish. Corsica/Beretta got off to a strong sales start, with 225,000 built in calendar '87 alone. The "true" '88s saw only running changes. So would most later models.

A Euro-style Corsica called LTZ arrived for 1989, along with a four-door hatchback that was hard to tell from the normal notchback. That same year, Beretta's sporty GT option became a separate model and gained many appearance features of the racy GTU package from mid-'88.

The GTU (named for the under-2.0-liter Grand Touring class in the International Motor Sports Association) was distinguished by 16-inch aluminum wheels, "ground effects" lower-body skirting, a five-speed manual gear-box designed by Getrag in Germany, and a tinted upper-wind-shield band with "Beretta" in big, bold letters.

Beretta GT, GTU, and the Corsica LTZ all came with a V-6. A firm Z51 handling option made Berettas corner as slick as they looked. A similar Z52 setup did the same for '91 Corsicas, though it killed the LTZ.

The GTU bids fair as a minor collector's item, being a low-volume short-timer with only 3814 built for '88 and 9813 for '89. Its 1990 replacement was the Beretta GTZ, identified by a neat grilleless face instead of a broad eggcrate. Under the hood sat the High-Output version of Oldsmobile's vaunted new 2.3-liter "Quad-4," a genuine Euro-style twincam engine with four valves per cylinder and an excellent 180 bhp.

But though faster than a GTU, the GTZ was far noisier and stiffer-riding. As if to acknow­ledge its shortcomings, Chevy offered a credit-option V-6 for '91 GTZs, a 140-bhp 3.1-liter unit.

Chevy made an odd bit history by announcing a 1990 Beretta convertible that never made it to showrooms. A handful were built for Indy 500 pace-car duty, but all were prototypes.

Like Oldsmobile's new 1990 Cutlass Supreme ragtop, which did see series production, the open Beretta was basically a roofless coupe with a structural metal "hoop" bridging the B-posts. The hoop helped restore some lost torsional rigidity and preserved the coupe's pillar-mounted outside door handles.

Chevy dropped Cavalier convertibles to make way for the soft-top Beretta, only to revive them when quality-control problems proved insurmountable on the Beretta. It was a minor but embarrassing episode symbolic of larger troubles.

Spring 1989 ushered in the belated 1990 replacement for Celebrity. Named Lumina, it rode the front-drive GM10 platform first used for 1988 coupes at Buick, Olds, and Pontiac. This time, though, there was no delaying the planned sedan. Base Luminas carried a humble 2.5-liter four -- the old "Iron Duke" still hanging on -- and offered the 3.1 V-6 at extra cost. The latter was standard for a sporty Euro coupe and sedan with black exterior trim, sport suspension, and wider 16-inch wheels and tires (versus 14s or 15s).

All Luminas naturally boasted the GM10's laudable all-independent suspension and four-wheel disc brakes. But the Euro, as Car and Driver observed, was really quite "Amero" in ride, handling, performance, and interior treatment.

That wasn't necessarily bad, of course, but Ford's Taurus remained a much more-popular midsize. Even into the '90s, Lumina was handily outsold by Taurus and Japanese rivals Honda Accord and Toyota Camry. Styling was a likely factor. Even Charles M. Jordan, then GM design chief, admitted that Lumina sales suffered because the design sat on a shelf for some seven years before the public saw it, by which time it was no longer "clear" or "up to date."

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

  • Chevrolet New Car Reviews and Prices
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Chevrolet Camaro Third Generation

A five-speed manual transmission was standard for the 1985 Chevrolet Camaro.

V-6s ousted straight sixes as standard power for the 1980 Camaro, when an interim 267-cid V-8 option joined the 305 and 350 engines. Sales held up well, all things considered: 152,000 for 1980, a bit more than 126,000 for '81.

A smaller Camaro was a foregone conclusion by then, and it duly arrived for 1982 on a trim 101-inch wheelbase. Though retaining the traditional format, the third generation was nearly 10 inches shorter, three inches narrower, and almost 300 pounds lighter, yet looked terrific.

Chevy design chief Jerry Palmer precisely tailored styling to the smaller package: chiseled yet obviously aerodynamic. A new liftup rear hatch provided luggage access, and its compound-curve backlight was said to be the largest, most-complex piece of car glasswork ever. Beneath the swoopy new body was a more-modern all-coil suspension with front struts, and rear disc brakes were optionally available to complement the standard front discs.

The Rally Sport temporarily departed as the base '82 sport coupe became the first Camaro with a standard four, the aged 90-bhp "Iron Duke." A 2.8 V-6 was standard for Berlinetta.

As ever, the hunky Z28 got the most attention. It packed only 305 V-8s: a four-barrel 150-bhp unit or a 165-bhp version with "Cross Fire" twin-throttle-body electronic fuel injection, as on that year's Corvette. Four-speed manual gearbox was standard except on the 165-bhp 228, where it was three-speed automatic only (optional elsewhere). The base Camaro could be ordered with V-6, Berlinetta with the carbureted 305.

Once again, Chevy scored big with a smaller car, the new Camaro garnering 50,000 more model-year sales than its '81 predecessor. By 1984, it was up past a quarter-million.

But 1985-86 production plunged to some 185,000, the '87 tally was 50,000 units below that, and 1988 volume was under 100,000. New competition from all quarters contributed to the decline, but so did indifferent assembly and persistent mechanical troubles.

Nonetheless, the third-generation Camaro -- Z28 especially -- was very much in the ponycar spirit of the '60s. Changes through 1992 were evolutionary but well timed. For example, a T-bar roof option appeared for '83, when the Z28 switched to a fuel-saving four-speed automatic and other engines became available with a five-speed manual option.

The Cross-Fire V-8 disappointed, so a high-output 190-bhp carbureted engine replaced it for '84. That year's Berlinetta acquired a gimmicky dash with hard-to-read electronic digital/graphic instruments and spacey minor controls; thankfully, these didn't last long.

Providing genuine excitement for 1985 was a hot new IROC-Z performance package for Z28, honoring the Camaros used in the revived International Race of Champions "top gun" driver's contests. The H.O. V-8 was exclusive to the IROC and available with a five-speed manual transmission, now standard for all Camaros. More-efficient "Tuned Port Injection" (TPI) yielded a new 215-bhp option for Z28s.

IROC hunkered down on 16X8 five-spoke aluminum wheels wearing meaty Goodyear Eagle performance tires, came with its own handling suspension and high-effort power steering, and looked ready to race with its full-perimeter lower-body "skirts."

Chevy again turned up the wick for '87. The IROC got the TPI V-8 and could be ordered with the 350 Corvette engine packing 225 bhp (delayed from a promised mid-'86 debut). Z28 returned with standard four-barrel 305. The underpowered four was gone and Berlinetta reverted to being an LT.

But the real treat was the first Camaro convertible in 18 years. A mid-'87 arrival, it was quite a head-turner in IROC trim, but could be had in other lines, too. They were crafted "out of house" to Chevy specs, making these "semi-factory" models, but hardly anyone cared when blasting top-down on a winding two-lane.

Then suddenly, the Z28 vanished -- a big surprise -- though the 1988 sport coupe was much the same thing save a standard V-6. The LT disappeared too. Minor tweaking added five horses to all three V-8s, though you lost 25 on the injected 305 when teamed with automatic. Base prices had risen some $2000-$3000 in five years, a rather modest increase, really. The ragtop IROC was the costliest '88 Camaro with a starting tariff around 18-grand.

The hallowed RS designation returned for 1989 on a V-6 coupe marketed the previous season only in California. It looked a lot like the IROC, but had its own suspension tuning and equipment mix. The RS also came as a convertible with a standard V-8. The IROC itself could now be had with 16-inch wheels and new Z-rated tires certified safe for sustained speeds above 149 mph. Production hit nearly 111,000 for the model year in a modest sales recovery, though there was no particular reason for it.

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

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Chevrolet Camaro Fourth Generation

The 1990s Camaros were regarded as the most solid-feeling Camaros in history. Shown here is a 1994 Chevrolet Camaro.

The 1990 Camaros comprised RS and IROC coupes and convertibles with some extra standard features. Among the goodies: 16-inch wheel/tire package for IROCs, a torquier 3.1-liter V-6 with 140 bhp for RS, and a tilt steering wheel, driver-side airbag and GM "PASS-Key" antitheft ignition for all models. A deliberately shortened model year held production to just under 35,000.

Camaro's 1991 began in the spring of 1990. Z28s took over for IROCs. The reason? Dodge now sponsored the IROC series and owned rights to that name. At least Z coupes could be quicker now with a new 245-bhp 350 option, the extra power reflecting a switch to more-sophisticated sequential multipoint injection. The 305 also got that and rose to 230 bhp. Reworked front and back ends freshened all models, and Z28s wore a higher-flying rear spoiler that looked faintly ludicrous.

For all the recent additions to standard equipment, Camaro was still a bargain performance buy, ranging from $12,000 for the RS V-6 coupe to just under $21,000 for ragtop Z28. To Chevrolet's delight, sales more than tripled, '91 production soaring beyond 100,000. Volume then faded to 70,000, likely because a new Camaro was known to be coming for 1993.

The third generation thus closed out after '92 with only one further change: a $175 "Heritage Appearance" package to mark Camaro's 25th birthday. Available in white, red, or black, it involved only badges and some hood and decklid stripes. It was a feeble gesture, but at least Chevy didn't forget its ponycar's anniversary.

A ground-up fresh Camaro promised some new glory days. Arriving for '93 in base and Z28 coupe models, it was about the same size as its well-liked predecessor (wheelbase was unchanged) but more-sculptured and futuristically swoopy, patterned on the recent "California Camaro" show car -- and not that much more-subdued.

Yet the new fourth-generation design was unmistakably Camaro, carefully preserving hallowed appearance "cues" like tunneled headlamps, broad taillights, a low Vee'd nose, even optional T-tops for the coupe.

Despite added standard features, the '93 was only some 150 pounds heavier than previous Camaros. One reason was a lighter, yet stronger, unit body/chassis with steel-reinforced composite panels over a steel framework as on GM200 minivans and the small Saturn.

The nominal weight gain bode well for performance, especially on the Z28, which now packed a 350 LT1 V-8 with 275 bhp, 30 more than before. The base Camaro also muscled up via a new overhead-valve 3.4-liter V-6 with a creditable 160 horses. Transmission choices comprised standard five-speed manual for the base model, a new six-speed for Z28 (again borrowed from Corvette), and optional four-speed automatic for both.

Front suspension reverted to Detroit-traditional twin A-arms, though with unique geometry and premium gas-pressure, coil-over deCarbon shocks. The latter were also featured in back, where the live axle was now located by a torque rod and trailing arms.

Each end had a hefty stabilizer bar. Antilock brakes were standard, with rear discs on Z28. A tantalizing new option was RPO 1LE, an ultrastiff performance suspension package for Z28. It was "not recommended for street use" but worked wonders on the track.

With 70 more horses than a Mustang GT and a starting price on the right side of $17-grand, the '93 Z28 was immediately hailed as the new best buy in Detroit performance. That came from "buff books," who typically reported 0-60 at just over five seconds with manual.

For buyers of all stripes, Camaro appealed with standards like dual airbags, full instrumentation, and a good sound system (with even better ones available). Options were still fairly numerous but easier to comprehend, being grouped into sensible packages.

A deliberately slow "ramp-up" limited '93 Camaros to just 40,224, all coupes, but they were the tightest, most solid-feeling Camaros in history. Production then hit full stride to pass 125,000 for '94, when promised base and Z28 convertibles went on sale with standard power top; glass backlight; and a low, tidy "top stack."

Six-speed Z28s became a bit quicker that year thanks to shorter final gearing (3.42:1 vs. 2.73/3.23). Unhappily, their shifter acquired CAGS, the Computer Aided Gear Selection feature first used on Corvettes.

Electronic watchdogs "forced" a short-shift from 1st to 4th at certain speeds and throttle openings, a bit of nonsense prompted by government fuel-economy standards. But enthusiasts found that CAGS could be defeated by pulling a little wire, and many did pull it.

As ever, the torquey Z28 was a prodigious tire-smoker off-the-line, and a standard limited-slip differential was no substitute for modern traction control. Chevy finally obliged for '95 by offering the Corvette's ASR (Acceleration Slip Reduction) as a Z28 option.

ASR would restore lost grip by braking a spinning wheel and/or throttling back on engine power as needed -- a boon for wet-road control. And when the road was dry, you could switch it off if you wanted. Street racers loved that.

Though a new Mustang had galloped away with the ponycar market, Camaro mostly held its own for 1995, slipping to 110,595. Arriving late that year was a stronger "3800" V-6 option for base models sold in California. This became standard for all '96s, bringing a useful 40 extra horsepower and 25 more pound-feet of torque over the displaced 3.4. With that, a base Camaro could at least keep up with a Z28 on winding roads, though not on a dragstrip, of course.

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

  • Chevrolet New Car Reviews and Prices
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Chevrolets of the Early 1990s

Although Chevy had fallen below Ford, it still had annual sales of around one million units. Pictured here is the 1992 Chevrolet Lumina.

Any chance to celebrate was doubtless welcome by now, for the '80s had not been kind to Chevrolet. True, the division had more models than ever, but it wasn't selling that many more cars. Worse, Ford was entrenched as number one, and seemed destined to remain so.

Nevertheless, Chevrolet was a strong "USA-2" through the mid-'90s, with yearly domestic car sales of around one million units. As with the '80s Nova, the California-built Geo Prizm was counted in those results, but not other Geo cars, which were classed as imports on the basis of "domestic content" even though some came from Canada instead of Japan.

Chevy had launched the Geo nameplate for 1989 as a marketing umbrella for Japanese-designed models like Prizm. The idea was to distinguish these products from "real" Chevrolets in the minds of those most likely to buy them -- what marketing types called "import intenders."

But the ploy worked only in the beginning, and Geo sales dropped steadily. A big blow was losing the popular Isuzu-built Storm sporty coupe after model-year '93. By '98 the remaining Geos were badged Chevrolets. The Toyota Corolla-based Prizm was redesigned that year and contin­ued through 2002.

Though Chevy had been "The Heartbeat of America" since 1987 (an ad slogan adopted for the make's 75th anniversary), its mainstream cars of the early '90s offered little to raise anyone's pulse.

Indeed, motor-noters began chiding GM for building mostly "rental cars": dependable but dull underachievers compared to class rivals. Nevertheless, the Chevys most-popular with buyers were the least interesting to enthusiasts: Cavalier, Lumina, and Beretta/Corsica, usually in that order. Each was typically good for more than 200,000 model-year sales, sometimes a bit more.

Yet there were flashes of interest in this mundane group. The Beretta GTZ was one, as was its 1994 successor, called Z26. Also replacing the Beretta GT, the Z26 was usefully more-refined, thanks to an updated Quad-4 with 170 bhp. In the Lumina line, 1991 introduced a sporty Z34 coupe, named for its new 3.4-liter "Twin Dual Cam" V-6. This engine, the latest version of Chevy's venerable 60-degree pushrod design, delivered a punchy 210 bhp with five-speed manual or 200 with optional four-speed automatic.

Also included were firm suspension, fat tires on alloy wheels, a louvered hood, "ground effects" body add-ons and a more-driver-oriented interior. The result was a lively package many enthusiasts could warm to. Lumina sedans from 1992 were similarly entertaining when ordered with the "Euro 3.4" option, though it was limited to automatic.

Otherwise, both these model lines evolved pretty much like Cavalier. Corsica lost its sporty LTZ after 1990 and its four-door hatchback body after '91, but both Corsica and Beretta gained progressively stronger 2.2-liter base engines, a more-coherent dash (from '91), larger front brakes with standard antilock control (1992), and more-aggressive "value" pricing. Luminas also benefited from better base engines, as well as ABS, automatic power door locks, and other improvements.

A very different Lumina was the APV ("All Purpose Vehicle"), premiering for 1990 as Chevrolet's first front-drive minivan and one of three "G200" models (the others were Pontiac Trans Sport and Olds Silhouette). Unlike Chevy's rear-drive Astro, APV was a direct reply to the hot-selling Chrysler minivans that owned at least 50 percent of the market, thanks to their carlike convenience and road manners.

Accordingly, APV was sized roughly between the standard and extended Chrysler models, riding a 109.8-inch wheelbase and boasting the comfort advantage of all-independent suspension.

Body construction was novel, with outer panels of plasticlike composites attached to a steel inner "skeleton," as on Pontiac's late two-seat Fiero. Equally novel was optional "modular" seating for seven, with lightweight individual buckets that could be easily moved or removed to create a variety of useful configurations.

Only Chevy offered a blank-side cargo model, but all GM200s arrived with a 120-bhp 3.1 V-6 and three-speed automatic. That made for weak performance, especially with a full passenger or cargo load, so an optional 3.8-liter Buick V-6 was added for '92, bringing 165 bhp and a more-responsive four-speed automatic. Befitting a Chevy, APV prices were the lowest of the three corporate cousins, initially in a narrow $14,000-$16,000 range.

Unfortunately, APV's pointy-nose styling was too radical for most buyers. Critics typically likened it to an "anteater" or "Dustbuster." Worse, the design dictated a massive dashtop and huge windshield that made for lots of unwanted reflections; a wide extra set of front roof pillars only hampered vision further. The APV also suffered a relatively low-roof interior that compromised both load volume and rear-cabin access.

Hoping to improve sales with an improved product, Chevy bobbed the nose of the '94 APV and offered a new option: a unique power right sliding door (operated by remote control). Chevy also changed the name to Lumina Minivan and capped base prices at $16,800-$17,500. But nothing seemed to help, and the APV/Minivan was no more a threat to Chrysler's minivan dominance than the Astro. Sales languished mostly in the 50,000-60,000 area, about a tenth of Chrysler's volume.

There seemed nothing to do but try again, and Chevy did for '97 with the conventionally styled all-steel Venture. Though a competent competitor, it was never a threat to the top-selling Chrysler and Dodge models -- or some import-brand rivals.

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

  • Chevrolet New Car Reviews and Prices
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Chevrolet Caprice

Minivans had all but eliminated demand for traditional full-size station wagons, so it was rather surprising to see one among the redesigned Caprices of 1991. Even more surprising was the big rear-drive Chevy's new shape. Clean but blimpy, it reminded some of a Step-Down Hudson -- and that wasn't meant as a compliment.

There was no denying the new Caprices looked heavier. And they were, the sedan by 200 pounds, the wagon by about 150. Extra sheetmetal was partly to blame, as overall width bulged two inches and overall length added two-three inches. An unchanged wheelbase implied the vintage-'77 B-car chassis was still underneath. It was, but modernized a bit with revised suspension geometry and standard antilock control for the usual front-disc/rear-drum brakes.

Returning unchanged was a single powerteam comprising four-speed automatic transmission and a 170-bhp 305 V-8 with throttle-body injection. Inside was a new, if rather uninspired dash with standard driver's airbag, plus a bit more room for heads, legs, and elbows.

The '91 Caprice was an early starter, reaching showrooms in the spring of 1990. Sedans initially offered base and ritzier Classic trim, both six-seaters with a bench front and rear. The wagon was a plain Caprice, but included a roof rack, rear wiper, and a nifty two-way tailgate (swing-out or drop-down) with separate liftup window. An optional foldaway third seat gave eight-passenger capacity.

In all, these new Caprices were just old wine in more-contemporary bottles, but they offered a lot of metal for the money at $16,500-$18,000. Perhaps even to Chevy's surprise, model-year sales almost doubled to a over 200,000, though it obviously helped that the '91 run was much longer than usual.

Included in that tally were a relative handful of Classics with a sporty option package, another LTZ. A late addition to the roster at $825, it delivered wider wheels and tires, a firmer suspension than the famous F41 setup (still available), heavy-duty brakes and cooling system, and additional gauges including a digital speedometer to replace the normal strip-type analog device.

Most of these items were borrowed from the Caprice police package (law enforcement having become a major sales venue for these cars), but the result wasn't pleasing.

Handling was little better than stock, yet ride was stiff to the point of ­irritation. And there was no more power to pull the near two-ton curb weight, so 0-60 proved a leisurely 10.1-second affair in Consumer Guide® tests. Nevertheless, the Caprice LTZ was Motor Trend's 1991 "Car of the Year."

Caprice carried into '92 with minor changes: transmission safety interlock (you had to press the brake pedal to get out of Park, as on a growing number of cars), standard tilt steering wheel, and no-cost power rear vent windows for the wagon.

Also new for the wagon was an optional 350 V-8; it made only 10 more horses than the 305 but packed an extremely useful 45 extra pound-feet of torque -- 300 in all. The 350 became an LTZ standard for '93, when base models were retitled Classic and the Classic was tagged LS.

At the same time, Chevy answered styling critics by giving sedans a lighter look, achieved with fully radiused wheel openings, broader taillamps and a 1.6-inch wider rear track. Sales eased to just under 100,000.

Caprices picked up a new dual-airbag dash for '94 (as did the SS). They also got a new 200-bhp base V-8, a 350 cut down to original 1955 size (4.3 liters/265 cid). The '95s were unchanged except that sedans acquired the Impala's kicked-up rear side-window styling -- and looked miles better for it.

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

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Chevrolet Impala SS

The 1996 Chevrolet Impala SS was a top-seller, beating out the 1996 Caprice.

Just for fun, Chevy displayed a special Caprice sedan at early '93 auto shows. A mean, solid-black thing, it crouched two inches lower on five-spoke 17-inch alloy wheels with fat Goodyear Eagle GS-C tires. Most chrome was erased, a new honeycomb grille installed, and a deft C-pillar insert imparted a jaunty kickup to the rearmost side glass.

Inside were leather-trimmed front bucket seats and center console. Under the hood: the same new 300-bhp LT1 V-8 that powered the latest Corvette. Chevy called it Impala SS, and showgoers went wild. "Build it," they pleaded. Replied Chevy general manager Jim Perkins, "You got it."

The first of the reborn big muscle Chevys rolled off the line in February 1994, thus putting the LTZ to rest. Tires were now Goodrich Comp T/As, ride height was lifted to within an inch of stock Caprice spec, and the LT1 was tuned for 260 bhp but no less torque.

Otherwise, the new Impala SS was just like the show car. That included a heavy-duty police chassis with quick-ratio steering, rear disc brakes (with massive 12-inch rotors), rear antiroll bar, uprated body mounts and premium de Carbon gas-pressure shocks.

Full power and luxury trim completed another amazing Chevy value in modern performance: $21,290 base, just $327 more than an ordinary Caprice Classic LS at the time of the SS's introduction.

Encouraged by rave "buff book" reviews, demand for the new Super Sport was super-strong. Chevy had planned 4000 of the '94s but ending up selling more than 6000 -- the most the plant could build.

Production was upped to over 20,000 for '95, when dark cherry and green-gray metallic were added to the paint chart. The '96s carried on with a new standard analog tach and console shift (instead of column lever) for the mandatory four-speed automatic. Impala outsold Caprice that year with sales of almost 42,000.

But by that point, both Caprice and the brawny Impala were doomed. Having decided there was more money to be made with big sport-utility trucks, GM sacrificed the full-size Chevys after 1996 to free up space at their Texas plant for truck production (a move that also claimed the related Buick Roadmaster and Cadillac Fleetwood).

Few mourned the Caprice, but it was sad losing the Impala so soon. Though an anachronism in the '90s, it was the kind of car a whole generation understood -- a happy throwback to the glory days of Chevy performance.

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

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1995 and 1996 Chevrolets

Working hard to reclaim "USA-1," Chevy redesigned two of its biggest sellers for 1995. The Lumina sedan got more of a reskin than a total revamping, and a rather conservative one at that, but the similarly restyled coupe resurrected the Monte Carlo name in an effort to stand more clearly apart.

Each offered plain and fancy models: base and LS for Lumina, LS and Z34 for Monte. The usual 3.1 V-6 was standard for all but Z34, whose 210-bhp 3.4-liter twincam engine was optional for Lumina LS.

Recalling the "baby Cadillac" Chevys of 1955-57, Monte Carlo looked faintly like Cadillac's latest Eldorado, but even the sporty Z34 wasn't exactly "eye candy." Nor was it that thrilling to drive despite the usual firm chassis and "enthusiast" appointments.

At least these Chevys finally had dual airbags (which the market much preferred over motorized "mousebelts" to meet the government's 1994 mandate for front passive restraints).

They were also aggressively priced: as little as $15,500 for a Lumina, about $16,800 for a Monte. Critics initially felt Chevy had done too little with its midsize cars -- until the new '96 Ford Taurus came along with controversial looks and much higher prices.

Cavalier was not only way overdue for an overhaul, it needed a very good one to stay competitive in the bruising small-car sales battle. Chevy came through with fresh, clean styling that looked good despite being a tad taller and two inches shorter than previous models. Wheelbase grew by 2.8 inches to help open up extra room inside.

Wagons vanished, leaving base coupe and sedan, LS sedan and convertible, and Z24 coupe (the last two bowing in spring '95). V-6 power was also gone, as Z24 switched to the latest 150-bhp "balance shaft" version of the twincam Quad-4. LS models could be had with this engine. Base Cavs stuck with the familiar pushrod 2.2.

Transmissions comprised a five-speed manual and an optional three-speed automatic (still). For '96, Quad-4 Cavaliers gained a little displacement and 10 pound-feet of torque (to 2.4 liters and 150), and were available in LS trim.

Apart from that, newly standard PASSLock ignition, daytime running lights, and optional low-speed traction control (included with a newly available four-speed automatic), Cavalier was unchanged for '96. Though production snags hampered early sales, output remained quite substantial at well over 229,000 units for calendar '95.

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

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Chevrolet Strategy in the Early 2000s

As with archrival Ford, trucks loomed ever larger in Chevrolet's total business picture during the 1990s and into the twenty-first century. Indeed, car sales at both makes were eclipsed by demand for light-duty pickups, sport-utility vehicles (SUVs), and minivans as early as 1990. This reflected a change in buyer preferences that would see light trucks surpass cars in total U.S. sales for calendar 2001.

Chevrolet fought the truck wars well. All-new full-size pickups arrived for 1999 under the Silverado banner, followed by a separate new line of more-competitive heavy-duty pickups, tagged Silverado HD, and redesigned Tahoe and Suburban SUVs. For 2002 came a larger new midsize SUV, the TrailBlazer, though some of the older Blazer models hung on as price-leaders for that segment.

Also new for '02 was the Avalanche, basically a Suburban with an open cargo box instead of a closed cargo bay, plus "tough guy" styling touches. The box was a short 5.3 feet long, but a "midgate" could be folded down with the rear seats to extend load length to 8.1 feet. Avalanche answered a question no one was really asking, but proved ­fairly popular.

Not so for Chevy's 1984-vintage Astro minivan, which steadily waned in popularity until its 2005 exit. The newer front-drive Venture minivan languished too. On the other hand, the compact Tracker SUV, sourced from GM affiliate Suzuki of Japan, did good business, especially once redesigned for 1999.

Trouble was, the market clamor for trucks led Chevy (Ford as well) to put less apparent effort into cars -- understandable, what with the car/truck sales gap widening each year.

As a result, Chevy's replacement car models in this period were usually judged underwhelming against class rivals. And though they generally sold well, they sold more to rental and corporate fleets than retail buyers, to the detriment of both image and trade-in value. Either way, discounts were deep in a market long accustomed to "deal of the week" incentives.

But a sale is a sale no matter who the customer is, and Chevy was happy to keep building around a quarter-million Cavaliers each model year through 2004. Highlights in the Cav's later years included the 1998 return of a Z24 convertible, replacing the LS version, and a mild 2000-model revamp featuring added standard equipment. The ragtop body style was dropped altogether for 2001, reflecting continued lack of buyer interest.

Collectors may one day note the low yearly production for all Cavalier convertibles, which never exceeded 10,000 and was often less than half that (just 4108 of the 1985 Type 10s, 5011 of the '98 Z24s, to cite but two examples).

The Z24 coupe was canned for 2002, but lived on in a similar LS Sport model with GM's new 2.2-liter "Ecotec" twincam four-cylinder, good for 140 bhp and shared with a new LS Sport sedan.

Other models adopted this engine for 2003, shedding the old overhead-valve unit, and all got modest styling revisions. Tellingly, though, the recently standardized antilock brakes moved to the options list (joining newly available front side airbags protecting both head and torso, plus GM Onstar assistance and satellite radio).

Chevy was trying to maintain price parity with small cars from import brands that could set prices more aggressively because they had far less overhead to cover than GM did.

This largely explains why Chevy returned to selling rebadged imports for 2004, adding the little Aveo four-door sedan and hatchback as new bottom-rung offerings pitched below Cavalier. Sourced from low-wage South Korea and a GM subsidiary recently formed from the remains of bankrupt Daewoo Motors, Aveo was a fair sales success. Meanwhile, buy-domestic diehards could opt for a $10,135 Cavalier coupe with no frills and no options.

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

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Chevrolet Malibu and Chevrolet Lumina LTZ

The 1997 Chevrolet Malibu's spacious interior and other standard features made it an excellent value.
The 1997 Chevrolet Malibu's spacious interior and other standard features made it an excellent value.

Chevy shored up its position among midsize sedans with two models, each reviving a great name from Chevrolet's past. Replacing Corsica for '97 was a very different new Malibu, offering front-wheel drive in a sedate looking package sized closer to Lumina than Cavalier.

In fact, while Malibu stood 10.5 inches shorter than Lumina, it was only a half-inch trimmer in wheelbase, resulting in a spacious interior.

Both the base and LS models came with a good load of expected standard features, plus an optional 155-bhp, 3.1-liter V-6 with the size and power that most competitors either didn't match or offered at a hefty surcharge. A 150-bhp 2.4-liter Twin Cam four was standard, but vanished for 2000 in the face of strong buyer preference for the V-6, which added 15 horses that season.

Like Cavalier, this Malibu offered no thrills, just honest value, with base prices in the $16,000-$20,000 range. Buyers responded to the tune of around 200,000 in most model years after the shortened inaugural season. The name changed to Malibu Classic for 2004, when the advent of a redesigned Malibu relegated the older car mainly to fleet sales.

Though the 1997-2004 Malibu was arguably a better buy than Lumina, Chevy's older midsize car showed surprising sales strength before its departure, drawing more than 200,000 ­annual orders through 1999.

An interesting new addition for '97 was a sporty LTZ version with front bucket seats, rear disc brakes, and an optional 215-bhp 3.4-liter twincam V-6. Chevy upped its appeal for '98 by substituting GM's veteran "3800" pushrod V-6, which made only 200 bhp but had more usable low-end torque.

That same year, Lumina joined Monte Carlo in offering GM's then-new OnStar communications system as an $895 option. Basically, OnStar tied the car by cell phone and a satellite link to a 24-hour staffed operations center that could provide route guidance and other assistance, including summoning emergency help.

OnStar was a boon to owner peace-of-mind, with particularly high appeal for women. It soon spread throughout the Chevy line, cars and trucks alike, as either standard or optional equipment.

The LTZ lost its rear disc brakes for '99, but added the 3.8-liter V-6 as standard. Total Lumina sales plunged 33 percent that model year, but that was partly in anticipation of a bigger, better successor. Lumina thus made a final stand for 2000 with a lone model aimed at the fleet market.

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Chevrolet Impala LS

The 2000 Chevrolet Impala was the first Impala with front-wheel drive.

Chevrolet’s replacement for the Lumina, which made a final stand for 2000, was another Impala, a very different sedan from the rear-drive biggies of a few years before.

For starters, it shared a much-revised GM W-body platform with the latest Buick Century/Regal and Oldsmobile Intrigue, which made it the first Impala with front-wheel drive. That also meant a more-rational size, with overall length of 200 inches (about the same, incidentally, as GM's rear-drive 1980s intermediates) and a rangy 110.5-inch wheelbase providing ample back-seat room and a capacious trunk.

Powertrains were familiar fare, with a four-speed automatic the only transmission. The base Impala used a pushrod 3.4-liter V-6 with 180 bhp; the uplevel LS carried the 200-bhp "3800." Both came well equipped with four-wheel disc brakes, 16-inch wheels, air conditioning, and power windows and locks.

The LS added antilock brakes, traction ­control, a firm-ride suspension for tighter handling, and a side airbag for the driver, all of which were available for the base model when optioned with the 3.8 V-6. The LS also sported front bucket seats in lieu of a three-person bench. A rear ­spoiler and other trim options gave it a passing resemblance to the 1994-96 Impala SS.

But that's where the similarities ended. Though much easier to thread along tight, twisty two-lanes, even 3.8-liter Impalas had nowhere near the sizzle of their V-8 predecessors. They were quick enough, thanks to a favorable power-to-weight ratio. In fact, Chevy claimed real-world performance suitable for police duty, and even developed a police package for the new Impala.

John Law wasn't much interested, though. He still preferred the extra perceived ruggedness of the old rear-drive Caprice -- enough that one Southern California entrepreneur profited hugely by restoring used squad cars for law-enforcement agencies as a money-saving alternative to a new Ford Crown Victoria.

The front-drive Impala also took heat for styling, especially the use of two taillamps instead of the traditional three. At least they were round again, not oblong.

Despite such debates, the front-drive Impala was a solid success, topping 200,000 model-year sales each season through 2003 and an impressive 300,000 for '04. Like Malibu, it offered no-nonsense family transportation at attractive prices in the Chevrolet tradition.

But Chevy couldn't resist spicing things up a bit, hence a new Impala SS for 2004, this time with a supercharged 3.8 V-6 cranking out 240 horses. Though not a sports sedan of the European stripe, this SS was a fast and capable tourer, helped by a firmed-up suspension and grippier tires on standard 17-inch alloy wheels. All that, plus special trim, black-only paint, and other exclusive touches, made the $27,355 asking price seem like a darned good deal.

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

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Chevrolet Monte Carlo LS

Arriving slightly ahead of the front-drive Impala was a redesigned 2000 Monte Carlo with the same platform, powertrains, general size, and features. The base model was again tagged LS, but the sporty Z34 was retitled SS and given a standard 200-bhp 3800 V-6.

Further emphasizing high value, Chevy gave both models standard four-wheel antilock disc brakes, air conditioning, and a tire-pressure monitor. The SS added firmer suspension, performance tires, and larger alloy wheels.

Styling was more elaborate, with curved upper-body character lines intended to evoke 1973-77 Montes, though it's doubt­ful many younger folks made the connection. Enthusiasts still didn't much connect with the performance or handling, though both were more than acceptable. Indeed, Consumer Guide® said the "SS shines on twisty roads" and found its ride "compliant enough on bumpy city streets."

Summing up, the editors felt the latest Monte Carlo "trounces [compact coupes] in size, comfort, and performance, and beats [rival Honda and Toyota] coupes on a features-per­dollar basis. It isn't as polished as those…rivals and won't hold its value as well, but this new Chevy does have its own brand of American-car character."

Alas, it proved no more popular than the previous Monte. In fact, model-year 2000 production fell more than 5000 units from the '99 tally. Volume then rallied to some 71,000 -- and stayed there until 2005, when it dipped below 65,000. A near-zero market for midsize coupes didn't help. Neither did a lack of year-to-year change.

But there were two interesting Montes in this period that merit mention. One was the 2002 Dale Earnhardt Signature Edition SS, of which just 3333 were built between October 2001 and March 2002. This model was created to honor legendary NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt, who was tragically killed just short of the finish line in the 2001 Daytona 500.

Like the "Intimidator's" own racing Montes, the Earnhardt Signature Edition was finished in black. It also sported silver metallic "ground effects" lower-body skirting, "diamond-cut" alloy wheels, and graphics of Dale's signature, his famous No. 3 I.D., and the logo of team owner Richard Childress Racing. The graphics were repeated inside on a commemorative plaque and elsewhere on the dashboard.

The interior also featured ebony bucket seats with pewter leather inserts and embroidered bow-tie emblems on the headrests. Several regular SS options were part of the package, including power moonroof, heated six-way power bucket seats, and a free year of OnStar service. If any turn-of-millennium Monte stands to be a future collector car, this may be it.

Unless it's the Supercharged SS of 2004-05. Predictably, this was much like the "blown" Impala, with the same forced-induction V-6 and chassis upgrades including standard ABS with traction control. Like its sedan sister, this Monte was a good performance deal at just over $28,000 base, but even Chevy's NASCAR fans weren't that impressed.

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Chevrolet Camaros of the Late 1990s and Early 2000s

The 2006 Camaro concept car had Camaro fanatics clamoring for the model's comeback.

Enthusiasts had always been fond of the Camaro, so many were surprised and shocked when Chevy announced that 2002 would be the end of the line for its storied ponycar.

But industry analysts had expected the move. After all, Ford's Mustang regularly outsold Camaro in the 1990s, and the gap grew each year even though most critics judged the Chevy superior for go-power, handling, and, arguably, appearance. Of course, people don't always buy based on what critics say, and some sales were likely lost to pickups and SUVs.

In any event, Camaro model-year production fell steadily, dropping some two-thirds between 1996 and 2001. By that point, GM was struggling to cut costs and regain market share (then under 30 percent, a historic low that would go even lower). The ailing Camaro was an obvious target for the budgetary axe. (Ditto sibling Pontiac Firebird with its even lower volume.)

Accordingly, Camaro was not fundamentally altered after 1993, though there were developments with definite collector interest. For example, Z28s added 10 horsepower for '96, and you could up that to 305 via a new SS package available late in the model year.

Created and supplied by outside contractor SLP Engineering, the option also included a functional hood scoop (which contributed to the power boost), uprated suspension with bigger wheels and performance tires, a racy rear-deck spoiler, broad dorsal striping and other special trim, all for a reasonable $3000.

That year's base models offered a new RS package with spoiler and "aero" lower-body skirts, as well as a perfor­mance group comprising the Z28's limited-slip differential, four-wheel disc brakes, quicker steering, and dual-outlet exhaust, provided you ordered optional 16-inch wheels. The RS made a one-year stand as separate coupe and convertible models for '97, when the SS option went to $4000.

Priced at just $575 that year was a special 30th Anniversary Package for Z28s, including SS-equipped models. Recalling 1969, this delivered white paint, orange striping, and white alloy wheels, plus white upholstery with houndstooth-check cloth inserts.

A reshaped nose updated styling for '98, when V-8 Camaros got a power boost by exchanging their iron-block LT1 engine for the all-aluminum LS1 unit from that year's new "C5" Corvette. Displacement was still 350 cubes, 5.7 liters, but Z28s muscled up to 305 bhp, the SS option to 320. Base models became a bit safer for '99 by offering optional traction control previously restricted to V-8s.

For 2000, all three engines were retuned to cleaner LEV (Low Emissions Vehicle) standards, a laudable achievement that Chevy topped for '01 by extracting five more horses from each V-8.

Farewell 2002 brought another Camaro milestone, observed with a 35th Anniversary Package for Z28s. Included were the 325-bhp SS engine, Rally Red paint, checkered-flag hood/decklid stripes, anodized brake calipers, unique alloy wheels, and an ebony/pewter leather interior with strategically placed birthday logos. Chevy even threw in an "owner's portfolio" chronicling Camaro history.

That chronicle may soon need updating. In January 2006, at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Chevy wowed the crowds with a concept Camaro that looked all but ready for the showroom. It was like 1967 all over again. Ford's new Mustang had been a sales smash since its '05-model debut, and GM wasn't about to let Dearborn have the field to itself. What's more, Dodge was showing a concept for a revival of its Challenger ponycar -- and all but promising production within three years.

Will Camaro be reborn too? The odds at this writing look very good. It's known to be on the wish list of key GM executives, and sales numbers for the newest Mustang help them make a business case with the bean counters.

Assuming Camaro is reborn, it's likely to be a "gotta-have" not very different from the '06 concept. That design, penned by Tom Peters of Cadillac XLR and C6 Corvette fame, reinterpreted '69 Camaro styling to achieve a thoroughly modern look, with angular lines and a muscular stance accented by 20-inch wheels in front, 21s at the rear. The interior was also retro-modern, but the powertrain was state of the art.

A 6.0-liter, 400-bhp Corvette LS2 V-8 resided under the hood. The show car featured all-independent suspension, massive 15-inch four-wheel disc brakes, and a modified, 110.5-inch-wheelbase version of the Pontiac GTO's Zeta platform. Should GM decide to build the Camaro, it looks like it will be well worth the wait, with a 2008 or 2009 debut most strongly rumored as we write.

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

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Chevrolet Strategy in the Late 2000s

Chevrolet’s future depends on how quickly and well the company tackles a number of serious problems that came to a head in 2005, when GM bled $8.6 billion in red ink, its worst loss since crisis 1992. Even before that, some financial gurus had said GM's situation was so bad that declaring bankruptcy might be the only way out.

While this isn't the place for a Harvard Business School-type analysis, GM had basically lost its competitiveness. Though still the world's largest vehicle maker, it was also still a bloated company building too many vehicles for too few buyers -- and buyers had been deserting for years.

In addition, huge "legacy" costs -- pensions and health-care obligations per UAW contracts -- left GM with a significant price disadvantage of $1500 per vehicle versus comparable Toyotas and other import-brand models.

One wag remarked that GM had evolved into a health-care provider that made vehicles as a sideline. Workers, for their part, were understandably reluc­tant to make concessions. After all, they'd made ­plenty since the early 1980s as GM closed plants, laid off workers, and reorganized itself time and again.

A final conundrum involved the high-cost incentives (rebates, low-interest loans, cut-rate lease deals) that buyers expected because the Big Three kept offering them. In the brutally competitive market of the early 2000s, Detroit found it tough to move the metal without "cash on the hood," and the economics were such that keeping factories running, even at a fraction of their capacity, was cheaper than closing them.

With all this and more, GM faced a crisis recalling the desperate Depression era, a once-unthinkable fight for survival. We hope that the company succeeded in turning itself around.

Meanwhile, the bow-tie brand moved to be a stronger player in the mainstream car market with four fresh entries starting with the 2004 model year. First up was a redesigned Malibu sharing a new Epsilon front-drive platform with near-luxury 9-3 models at GM-owned-Saab.

Somewhat daringly, bread-and-butter sedans were joined by extended-body Maxx hatchbacks on a six-longer wheelbase. The Maxx was actually hatched in Europe, which knew it as the Opel/Vauxhall Signum -- and didn't like it much.

At least Chevy was trying to woo more-active buyers over here, equipping the Maxx with a fore/aft sliding back seat for apportioning cargo space and rear legroom as needed. Reclining rear seatbacks were also standard, as was a fixed "skylight" above. Another exclusive was optional DVD entertainment for keeping the kids happy back there.

Both new 2004 Malibu body styles listed LS and nicer LT versions with a 200-hp 3.5-liter V-6 and four-speed auto­matic transmission. A price-leader sedan used the 145-bhp 2.2-liter Ecotec four-cylinder, but that was mainly for advertising. Laudably, Chevy standardized ABS, traction control, and head-protecting curtain side airbags for all but the base sedan, and rear disc brakes for Maxxes.

Options were fairly upscale for a family midsize, with power-adjustable pedals, a remote-control engine-starting system, and satellite radio among the choices. Front torso side airbags were added for '05 as standard on LTs, optional other­wise.

Styling, arguably a bit disjointed, became more coherent for '06, when leather-trimmed LTZ and sporty SS versions were added. The SS pair was notable for a new 240-bhp 3.9-liter pushrod V-6, plus a manual shiftgate for the automatic transmission, uprated suspension with 18-inch alloy wheels, a rear-spoiler, and a spiffed-up interior with leather/cloth upholstery.

A deliberately modest production ramp-up limited model-year '04 Malibu sales to 150,640, but '05 volume was back to previous levels at nearly 242,000. There was no mystery in that. The new-generation Malibu was keenly priced in the $18,000-$25,000 range, and it was a noticeably better car than its predecessor: stronger, tighter, more refined, and more pleasant to drive.

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

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Chevrolet Cobalt

Standard features of the 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt included curtain and front side airbags, OnStar, and satellite radio.

With a 2005 debut, the Cobalt was two years behind the Saturn Ion despite sharing GM's front-drive Delta small-car platform. Chevy used the extra time to pen more-orthodox styling and improve refinement.

Helping the latter was the use of sound-deadening "Quiet Steel" for some body panels -- no Saturn plastic skin here -- and some evident attention to engine mounts and similar details. Of course, the engines themselves were also shared: workhorse 2.2-liter Ecotec for base and LS sedans and coupes, and a 171-hp 2.4 for sporty SS models added as early '06s.

A genuine eye-opener was Cobalt's Supercharged SS coupe, Chevy's lob at the fast-growing "sport compact" youth market. This delivered a class-competitive 205 bhp from a blown 2.0-liter Ecotec, plus mandatory five-speed manual gearbox, standard 18-inch wheels (vs. 16s or 17s), appropriate chassis upgrades including rear disc brakes (shared with regular SSs), plus a high-flying rear spoiler and other racy exterior add-ons.

Supercharged buyers were well advised to order the $1500 Performance Package for its limited-slip differential, a near-necessity for controlling the front wheels under power. Its genuine Recaro seats and trendy A-pillar-mount instruments (including a boost gauge) were just a bonus.

All Cobalts offered the safety of optional curtain and front side airbags, plus OnStar and satellite radio. A luxury-oriented LTZ sedan with standard automatic, heated leather seats, and premium audio highlighted an otherwise stand-pat 2006 season.

All this marked a change in Chevy's small-car strategy. With the imported Aveo catering to price-conscious shoppers, Cobalt was pitched one rung higher as a "premium" subcompact with world-class fit-and-finish, performance, and features -- or so Chevy said.

Refreshingly, the cars lived up to that claim on the road. From the sedate LS sedan to the eager Supercharged SS, Chevy had finally produced worthy alternatives to the likes of Toyota Corollas and Honda Civics.

Consumer Guide® bestowed its Recommended ribbon on Cobalt as a "pleasant, solid, well-equipped compact with many appealing features…If you can live with subpar rear-seat room and comfort, Cobalt merits a look." A good many buyers also liked it: nearly 161,000 for model-year '05 -- encouraging in that annus horribilus for old GM.

The jury is still out on three 2006 models, but all suggest that Chevy is once again dead-serious about building truly desirable cars.

Perhaps the shakiest of the three in terms of longevity is also, unsurprisingly, the trendiest, the Cobalt-based HHR wagon. The initials stand for "Heritage High Roof," a veiled reference to styling allegedly in the mold of Chevy's circa-1950 Suburban wagon.

The resemblance may be strained, but there is no mistaking Chevy's intent: a youth-oriented "lifestyle accessory" in the mold of Chrysler's retro-look PT Cruiser, which still sold respect­ably in its sixth season. Celebrated GM product czar Robert Lutz bridled at that comparison, but some journalists couldn't help but see the HHR as a "Me-Too Cruiser."

Still, imitation is flattery, sincerely meant or not, and the HHR, as Consumer Guide® observed, was no less "a practical blend of look-at-me style and utility in a not-too-large package." Handling wasn't the best, and neither was performance with the Cobalt's mainstream 2.2- and 2.4-liter fours, even with a standard five-speed manual transmission.

But the HHR was well-equipped for its mid-teens base prices, and all the right safety, convenience, and appearance options were available, yet wouldn't much damage your pocketbook. Not one of Chevy's best efforts, perhaps, but a welcome sign of life on the car side of the business.

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

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Chevrolet Impala LTZ and Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS

The Impala and Monte Carlo underwent an extensive 2006 makeover. The update was particularly crucial for the top-selling Impala. GM literally couldn't afford to get it wrong. And at first glance, it didn't.

Though the old W-body persisted, Chevy gave the sedans and coupes clean new styling, modernized interiors, and a much-revised suspension that aimed to up driving fun without compromising comfort. Parallel lineups listed base LS and LS 3.5 models with a 211-bhp 3.5 V-6, plus LT 3.9 and luxury LTZ versions with a 242-bhp 3.9-liter V-6.

But the real news was the return of V-8 power for the SS Impala and Monte Carlo. This was the 5.3-liter overhead-valve unit already familiar in midsize Chevy trucks, enhanced by GM's new Active Fuel Management system, once known as Displacement on Demand.

Recalling Cadillac's "V-8-6-4" engine of 25 years before, AFM was designed to save fuel under light throttle loads by automatically shutting down cylinders -- four in this case.

But unlike the hapless Caddy engine, the AFM 5.3 was glitch-free and virtually seamless in operation, reflecting huge advances in electronic engine controls since the early 1980s.

Though AFM couldn't make the V-8 yield minicar fuel thrift -- an Impala SS tested by Consumer Guide® logged 20.3 mpg in mostly highway driving versus the EPA estimated 18/28 city/highway -- it was a selling point at a time when record gas prices had people looking for the best mileage they could get.

Just as timely, GM tuned the 3.5-liter V-6 to run on E85, a mix of 15 percent gasoline and 85 percent ethanol. E85 not only tended to be cheaper than regular gas, it also burned cleaner, a fact that appealed to the environmentally conscious.

And because ethanol is made from corn and other renewable sources, it promised to reduce the country's dependence on foreign oil, another selling point in an age of increasingly tight oil supplies.

E85 aside, however, there was frankly little to get ­excited about in the latest Impala and Monte Carlo. Consumer Guide® judged Impala "affordable, relatively roomy, and has competent road manners.

Powertrains are improved for 2006, and curtain side airbags are available for the first time. But this sedan still feels dated compared to midsize-car-class pacesetters, the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry. In the same vein, Monte Carlo is a throwback to the era of the midsize domestic coupe."

Harsh words, but perhaps mitigated by the likelihood of clean-sheet replacements with rear-wheel drive by 2010, perhaps sooner.

Critics can argue that Chevrolet and the GM still have much catching up to do, and the sooner, the better for GM workers, stakeholders, and customers. But Rome wasn't rebuilt in a day, and GM is making progress.

At Chevrolet it takes the form of needed new full-size SUVs and pickups for 2007, refinements to popular newer fare like the Equinox "crossover" SUV, and weeding out peripheral products, however attention-getting, like SSR (born 2003, terminated after 2006).

We should also note that Chevrolet was again "USA-1" in 2005, besting a faltering Ford in total calendar-year car and truck sales for the first time in two decades. That's got to count for something.

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

  • Chevrolet New Car Reviews and Prices
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