Following the end of World War II, pent-up demand, rising prosperity, and booming innovation transform America -- and Chevrolet.
26. The '49 Chevy
After three years of building what were basically carryover 1942 models, the '49 Chevy was the brand's first new car of the era. It wasn't an exciting design but it was new, and with it bow-tie sales topped one million for the first time since 1927. That was enough to keep Chevy in first place against an equally new '49 Ford.
27. Thomas H. Keating
Keating, who became division chief in 1948, was asked in 1952 by GM president Charles Wilson what he needed to reinvigorate Chevrolet. He got what he wanted: Ed Cole as chief engineer, the Corvette, an overhead-valve V-8, and a dramatically redesigned '55 Chevy.
Chevrolet offered the first low-priced car with a fully automatic transmission, the two-speed Powerglide unit, which first appeared as a $159 option on 1950 models. Even after the introduction of a more sophisticated three-speed automatic (the Turbo-Hydramatic), Powerglide stuck around through 1973.
29. Power Steering
Making driving easier was a theme in the 1950s, and power steering was a major part of that effort; Chevrolet had it on its '53 models, before its low-priced competition.
30. "See the U-S-A in your Chevrolet!"
Sung by TV's Dinah Shore starting in 1951, Chevrolet's advertising theme song blended salesmanship and patriotism in a formula that would mark the brand's advertising for decades.
31. 1953 Corvette
Chevrolet in the early 1950s was an unlikely purveyor of a two-seat sports car, but division chief Tom Keating was happy to grab the '53 Corvette (which had already been designed and had been offered to other divisions) in an effort to give Chevy a new image. Styled by Harley Earl and engineered by Ed Cole, the '53 Corvette -- with its unexciting Blue Flame six, automatic transmission, and minuscule production numbers -- is important not for what it was but for what it would become.
32. The '55 Chevy
The '55 Chevy transformed the brand's image overnight. The styling by Clare MacKichan (33), with long and low proportions, was a sensation, and the car marked the debut of the seminal small-block V-8. Although the finned '57 ended up being the 1950s icon, the blockbuster '55 was the most important Chevy of the era. We fire up Gerald Nagy's four-door in the parking lot of his alma mater, Flint Central High School, take in the throaty burble from the two-barrel, single-carb V-8, and put the two-speed Powerglide transmission into Drive. Grasping the huge, thin-rimmed steering wheel and sinking into the squishy, flat bench seat with Nagy riding shotgun, we ease out onto the streets of this once-proud Michigan city and quickly adjust to the lack of power assist for both the steering and the brakes. Nagy points to the freeway entrance ramp. The two-tone Bel Air surges forward onto I-475 and reaches 65 mph effortlessly. Visibility through the curved windshield is superb, and as the car settles into a 70-mph rhythm, bias-ply tires humming along the concrete and sunlight streaming into the airy cabin, it's easy to imagine how good life must have seemed to the millions of Americans who drove Chevys in that era of limitless opportunity. People like Nagy's parents, who had a Bel Air identical to this one, right down to the turquoise-and-cream color scheme. "I went 95 mph in my parents' car," Nagy recalls, then says that he was born in the back seat of a new 1940 Chevrolet Master Deluxe just a few blocks short of Flint's Hurley Hospital. This man has Chevy in his blood. Treating himself to a '55 Chevy convertible when he graduated from Flint Central in June 1958, he clearly cut a wide swath through town. "Oh, I loved that car!" he says, wistfully. "I miss it." This '55 sedan is not a bad consolation prize. -- Joe DeMatio
34. The small-block V-8
The result of a crash program, the seminal '55 small-block V-8 engine was designed and built in only fifteen weeks. The small-block was not the first Chevy V-8 (a V-8 was offered for one year, in 1918), but the 265-cubic-inch unit was the first modern one. It was originally rated at 162 hp -- or 180 hp with the $59 power pack, which added a four-barrel carburetor, a revised air cleaner and intake manifold, and dual exhaust. The next year, the top-spec version was up to 225 hp. Displacement grew to 283 cubic inches in 1957, and with the new fuel-injection option, the engine achieved 1 hp per cubic inch. An engineering home run, the small-block Chevy V-8 would prove so versatile that its basic design continues to this day.
35. La Carrera Panamericana, November 1953
Driving a humdrum Chevy 210 sedan with a Powerglide transmission in the small-bore stock-car class of the notoriously dangerous Mexican road race, fifty-four-year-old C. D. Evans scored Chevrolet's first victory in international competition.