Before the War
It was boom then bust for America in the decades leading up to World War II, and Chevrolet saw its fortunes similarly ride highs and lows.
11. Alfred P. Sloan
In the period immediately after Billy Durant's second (and final) ouster, GM was in disarray and so was Chevrolet, with stale products and sinking sales. GM president Pierre S. du Pont considered shuttering the division, but Sloan prevailed upon him to keep it. It was also Sloan's plan to try to escape the scorched-earth price slashing necessary to compete directly against the Model T and instead to create a new price niche that skimmed from the top of the T range. Later, as GM president, he would be credited with the concept of planned obsolescence, which spurred the annual model change.
12. The Copper-Cooled Chevrolet
GM research chief Charles Kettering (13), who invented the self-starter, advocated for an air-cooled engine that was supposed to be lighter and cheaper than a conventional water-cooled engine and had fewer parts and greater performance. The air-cooled unit used copper cooling fins and was installed in the 1923 Chevrolet. Of the 500 or so copper-cooled cars that left the factory, 100 ended up in the hands of customers. Detonation problems were so bad that GM bought them all back (netting all but two) and eventually dumped many of the cars in Lake Erie. Luckily, the company had hedged its bets by also offering a water-cooled engine.
14. William S. Knudsen
Knudsen arrived at GM after a bitter departure from Ford (there being no other kind) and became Chevrolet general manager in 1924. He aggressively pursued Ford, solidified Chevrolet's position as a higher-quality low-priced car, brought out the Chevrolet six, and tirelessly pushed the brand to the number-one spot in sales.
15. 1927 Chevy outsells Ford
Surging Chevrolet was still a ways behind faltering Ford in 1927, when Henry Ford shut down his huge River Rouge factory to retool for the new Model A. The shutdown lasted seven months and effectively handed the sales crown to Chevrolet, which produced more than a million cars for the first time. It did the same in 1928, once again outselling Ford (which was slow to ramp up production of its new Model A).
16. 1932 1 of every 3 cars sold is a Chevrolet
Chevrolet outsold Ford (fair and square this time) in 1931, and in 1932 its market share peaked at 34 percent.
17. "Knee-action" independent front suspension debuted on the Chevrolet Master series cars -- and Pontiacs as well -- in 1934.
18. Harley Earl
GM's inaugural design chief first lent his pen to the design of a Chevrolet with the 1928 model. He would later oversee historic Chevys such as the first Corvette and the '55 Bel Air.
19. The 1929 Chevrolet
The Chevrolet lineup had new chassis and bodies for 1928, but Chevy boss Knudsen held back the most noteworthy feature, an in-line six-cylinder engine, until the '29 model year to let the furor over Ford's new Model A die down. Introduced in November 1928, the so-called Stove Bolt Six (20) -- which soon evolved into the Blue Flame Six -- displaced 194 cubic inches and produced 46 hp, six more than the Model A's larger four-banger. It was the first six-cylinder engine in a low-priced car (the original Chevrolet Six was not cheap in its day) and was advertised as "a six for the price of a four." We rode in Lonnie and Darlene Courtney's 1929 International four-door Imperial Landau semiconvertible, which, at $725, sat atop the 1929 Chevy range. Harley Earl's deft touch is evident in all ten body styles of the 1929 lineup, but the Landau's elegant lines are especially attractive these eighty-two years later. The Courtneys, of Lafayette, Indiana, also own a 1929 two-door sedan, or "coach," which was the best-selling Chevy that year, with 367,360 sold. Production figures for the Landau remain in dispute, with some sources indicating as few as 300 and others as many as 8000, but either way the Courtneys own an example of the lowest- and highest-volume versions of the 1929 Chevy, which set a new sales record for the brand and put it on a path to surpass the Model A two years later. -- Joe DeMatio
21. The Suburban
Launched in 1935, the Chevrolet Suburban is the longest-running nameplate in the auto industry. The original Suburban Carryall was a two-door, steel-bodied, truck-based wagon that could seat eight or carry considerable cargo with its rear seats removed. In its first decades, the Suburban was largely a commercial vehicle, and modern amenities appeared slowly: a V-8 and an automatic transmission came with the '55 redesign, four-wheel drive two years later, air-conditioning in 1965. Interestingly, the Suburban has been offered as a two-door (through '66), a three-door (from '67 to '72), and a four-door (since '73). It's been called the National Car of Texas, but the Suburban has been embraced by Americans everywhere. By 2002, sales reached 151,000, nearly six times the total from thirty years earlier.
22. The '37 Chevrolet
A handsome redesign for 1937, featuring an all-steel body by Fisher, put Chevrolet ahead of Ford and out front again in the sales race, where it would remain, with very few exceptions, for the next several decades.
23. As a result of sit-down strikes in dozens of GM plants, most importantly its main manufacturing complex in Flint, the UAW was recognized as the bargaining agency for General Motors workers on February 11, 1937.
24. Juan Manuel Fangio Fangio drove a '40 Chevy Master 85 to victory in the 5900-mile Buenos Aires-Lima-Buenos Aires endurance race in 1940 for his first major win. Fangio went on to capture five grand prix world championships in a seven-year span.
25. World War II
GM president William S. Knudsen directed wartime industrial production for the Roosevelt administration. Chevrolet factories were converted to build trucks, armored cars, aircraft engines, and artillery shells as part of GM's huge war effort.