Most celebrations of Chevrolet's centennial surround the automaker's production vehicles. Why not? After all, this is the brand that birthed legends like the Bel Air, Corvette, and Camaro, among others. Those vehicles are certainly worth celebrating, but we can't help but wonder: what about the Chevrolet cars that never saw a production line? We've scoured through the history books (and our memory banks) to pick out ten of our all-time favorites.
After the Corvette appearead as a concept at GM's Motorama show in 1953, GM management quickly signed off on producing the first-generation Corvette -- but that didn't stop designers from toying with the design for the 1954 Motorama show. Though the production 1953 and 1954 Corvettes were all two-seat, soft-top convertibles, two new concepts investigated if the 'Vette could spawn other body styles.
Arguably, the most outlandish idea was the Nomad. While the Corvair concept called for a fixed-roof, fastback variant of the Corvette, the Nomad was a six-passenger, two-door station wagon. "We thought this would be a good double-cross," designer Clare MacKichan once said. "Nobody would expect to see a wagon version of the Corvette."
From the A-pillars forward, the car was all Corvette, but designers added a tasteful fixed roof, complete with sweeping B-pillars and near-panoramic rear glass. Rear fenders resembled those used on the stock Corvette, but a rounded tailgate, accented with chromed ribs, seamlessly flowed upwards from the rear valance panel. Other novelties included transverse roof flutes, and exhaust tips re-routed through new ovoid ports placed on the rear quarter panels.
While the Nomad was unconventional, it was one of the stars of the Motorama show. Public reception proved so positive that Harley Earl, GM's vice president of design, ordered a version be placed into production post haste. The Nomad entered production the very next year, but as a model based off the full-size 1955 Chevrolet instead of the Corvette. The original Nomad inspired a 2004 concept based off the Pontiac Solstice, but much like the 1954 show car, the idea never made it to production as shown.
1959 Sting Ray
What do you do with a prototype Corvette racecar once corporate management issued a company-wide ban on motorsports activities? For new GM design vice president William Mitchell, the answer was to rebody the car and go race on his own dime, although the result -- the 1959 Sting Ray -- profoundly influenced future Corvettes to come.
Mechanical failures and GM's official withdrawal from motorsports all but doomed the Corvette SS program at the close of 1957, but instead of scrapping the finished racer and a semi-completed prototype, Corvette chief engineer/ patron saint Zora Arkus Duntov carefully stored both cars within GM's warehouses. Once Mitchell was appointed a VP in 1958, his enthusiasm for motorsports - along with his taste for racing - drove him to pull strings and acquire the car for use as a "styling exercise."
What little bodywork remained on the car was quickly removed from the SS' tubular space frame - itself loosely patterned after the Mercedes-Benz 300 SL. Mitchell tasked stylist Larry Shinoda to develop a new look for the car, based loosely on a 1957 prototype (the so-called Q-Corvette) developed by Pete Brock and Bob Veryzer. The car had a thin, tapered nose, which led to a long, flat hood highlighted by sharp, rounded fenders and a bulge running down the center of the hood. Out back, the car's tail tapered in a similar fashion as the nose. The car didn't wear Chevrolet, Corvette, or GM emblems of any kind -- after all, GM didn't build (wink, wink) or campaign race cars (nudge, nudge) of any sort.
Apart from a new cooling system and a Rochester fuel injection system bolted up to the 283-cubic-inch V-8, the Sting Ray was mechanically identical to the SS - which, by the time the car debuted in 1959, was close to 2-3 years old. Forced to run in the SCCA's C-Modified class, the car wasn't quite as competitive as the Listers and Ferraris it was stacked up against, but still proved relatively successful at the hands of Mitchell-sponsored privateers. In fact, Dr. Dick "The Flying Dentist" Thompson coaxed the car to a series win in 1960.
Mitchell hoped to run the car again in 1961, and assigned employees to address several issues (including lift generated by the shapely-yet-aerodynamically-unsound nose). However, even the mighty Mitchell had to abide by pressure from upper management, who felt his racing adventures were embarrassing to the company and a violation of its rules. The Sting Ray was retired, its 283 swapped out for a carbureted 377 (and later a 427), and modified slightly for use as Mitchell's personal daily driver.
1963 Bertone Corvair Testudo
The first-generation Corvair incorporated quite a few interesting ideas cribbed from its European competitors, but hid these mechanical innovations in dowdy sheetmetal. Fortunately, some of Europe's top coachbuilders saw fit to lend the Corvair some additional European flair.
Bertone's example was perhaps the most flamboyant of these efforts. The Italian firm received a Corvair to tinker with in late 1962, and was transformed into a low-slung, space-age coupe over the course of the winter.
The radical shape was the creation of a young Giorgetto Giugiaro, then employed as Bertone's chief stylist. Measuring only 3 feet, six-inches high, the Testudo looked a bit like a flying saucer, an effect only aided by novel flip-up headlamps and a panoramic glass canopy that hinged forward to provide access to the cockpit. Mechanically, the Testudo was surprisingly pedestrian: although the Corvair's chassis was shortened in the conversion process, its 83-hp, air-cooled flat-six remained untouched.
In some ways, the Testudo like Helen of Troy: it seems to have launched a thousand sports car designs, although it never did become a production vehicle. Anatole Lapine -- who, at the time, was employed at GM -- admits the car served as an inspiration when styling the Porsche 928. Squint, and you can also see hints -- notably in the nose, headlamps, and B-pillar air intakes -- of the Lamborghini Miura, which debuted three years later.
Though Giugiaro reportedly hoped to take the care with him after he left Bertone for a stint at Ghia, he was unable to acquire the car. The Testudo remained in Bertone's stewardship until early 2011, when it sold at auction for $460,000.
1963 Bertone Corvair Testudo photos courtesy Tom Wood/RM Auctions