The 1960s saw Chevy flexing its muscles as it battled rivals on the track and in showrooms.
45. The Corvair
The Corvair debuted for 1960 as a coupe and a sedan, with an air-cooled, horizontally opposed rear engine and rear-wheel drive, just like the most popular import of the day, the Volkswagen Beetle. Ford and Plymouth released more conventional compacts that same year, and the Falcon easily outsold the Corvair. The sporty Corvair Monza Spyder, with a 150-hp turbocharged version of the flat six, debuted in 1962 and was the first turbo production car (46). But Chevy hedged its bet on the Corvair, bringing out the front-engine, rear-wheel-drive Chevy II that same year. It was immediately more popular. Then, in 1965, came the death blow, as an obscure Washington, D.C., lawyer named Ralph Nader (47) published Unsafe at Any Speed, an indictment of the Corvair's tendency to oversteer. The book launched Nader's career, which in turn led the U.S. Congress to begin regulating the auto industry. The Corvair, meanwhile, got a handsome redesign for '65 but little else, and it was quietly allowed to die in 1969.
48. Bill Mitchell
GM's second-ever design chief left his mark on Chevrolet in all the cars and trucks designed during his reign (which ran from 1958 to 1977), but none more so than the '63 Corvette Sting Ray, the '65 Corvair, the '67 Camaro, and the '68 Corvette.
49. Super Sport
Chevy's hot-rod designation first appeared in 1961 as a special option on the Impala. Engine choices started with the 305-hp, 348-cubic-inch V-8 and topped out with the 409; the package also included power steering and brakes, a heavy-duty suspension, and a tachometer. The Chevy II got an SS package for '63, and many other models have offered it since, with varying degrees of credibility.
50. The 409 V-8
Immortalized by the Beach Boys, the 409 was a bored and stroked derivation of the underwhelming 348-cubic-inch V-8. It also used a unique casting, an aluminum intake manifold, and a four-barrel carburetor, and it was rated at 360 hp. The engine debuted in January 1961 and immediately went to the Winternationals drag races in Pomona, California, where, with Don Nicholson at the wheel, it scored a decisive victory with a 13.59-second quarter mile at 105.88 mph. Revised for 1962 (the early engines were not known to be robust) with a new block casting and other changes, output increased to 380 hp -- or 409 hp with dual four-barrel carbs. "She's real fine" indeed.
24 Hours of Le Mans, 1960
51. With back-door support from Chevrolet, Briggs Cunningham took a trio of C1 Corvettes to Le Mans. Despite major overheating woes, John Fitch and Bob Grossman finished eighth overall.
52. 1963 Corvette Sting Ray
The Corvette was a significant car from its 1953 debut, but it only became a great car ten years later. Zora Arkus-Duntov, who had spent the better part of the 1950s racing Corvettes (often in defiance of GM's fickle stance on the activity), poured the acquired knowledge into a new independent rear suspension supported by a transverse leaf spring -- an eccentric layout that survives in Corvettes to this day. Not to be outdone, design chief Bill Mitchell contributed the highlight of his illicit Corvette racing program, the Sting Ray designed by Larry Shinoda (53). Shinoda penned an even more dramatic production car that bore the influence of European sports cars such as the Mercedes-Benz Gullwing and the Abarth 207A while also paying homage to its namesake with a rear "stinger."
At first meeting, the forty-eight-year-old coupe stirs no nostalgia in this twenty-six-year-old writer -- just blind lust. Are you trying to seduce me, Mr. Shinoda? The fuel-injected, 360-gross-hp, 327-cubic-inch V-8 doesn't want to be some dull relic, either. At idle, the chatter of its solid lifters drowns out the usual small-block burble, and it sputters impatiently as if to say, "Let's go!" OK, fine. The exhaust crackles as the tachometer -- perfectly placed along with the rest of the round gauges -- struggles to keep up with the frantically building cacophony. The engine revs so quickly toward its 6500-rpm redline that Chevrolet installed a buzzer to warn drivers when to upshift.
With each run, the tiny driver's-side mirror flops in the wind as if in acknowledgment of its own futility, but the much criticized visibility afforded by the split rear window (eliminated for '64) doesn't seem so bad in this age of thick A-pillars and shoulder-high doorsills. Time has been less kind to the power drum brakes, the bias-ply tires, and the fixed-back driver's seat. The four-speed manual, lauded in contemporary reviews as being very precise, isn't. And yet the Sting Ray, unlike so many 1960s icons, remains very much alive as not just a significant car but also a great one. -- David Zenlea