Even with a hundred years of history behind it, General Motors has refrained from looking too much into its past.; That said, with its centennial celebrations scheduled for September 16, 2008, GM decided to dig into its archives and select its ten favorite cars ever built.; In chronological order, here they are:
1996 GM EV1
Given that its cancellation continues to irk EV advocates to no end, we’re a bit surprised to see this one here.; Then again, it may be the single greatest piece of engineering GM’s put into (limited) production.; Thinking outside the box is one thing; implementing those thoughts for real-world driving and building a business case for them is quite another.
1964 Pontiac GTO
GM cites this as being the first “Muscle Car,” a claim possibly challenged by the 1955 Chrysler 300C and the 1957 Rambler Rebel.; That said, the GTO seems to be the epitome of what we love about ’60s American iron: taught lines, plentiful interior space, and substantial amounts of power underhood.; We’ll also give it (and John Z. DeLorean) credit for reviving Pontiac, a brand that, at the time, was considered stodgy – not unlike today’s Buick.
1955 Chevrolet Bel Air
The change from the 1954 to the 1955 Chevrolet couldn’t have been more noticeable.; Gone was the lumpy, ovoid shape introduced in 1953; in its place was a contemporary, cleanly-styled car with just the right amount of ornamentation.; Look closely, and you’ll also note just a hint of tailfin in the rear flanks.
1953 Chevrolet Corvette
Never mind the underpowered “Blue Flame” I-6 or the two-speed automatic transmission: the 1953 Corvette was still sporty, if in looks alone.; The fiberglass-bodied sports car has a pure, elegant form, in spite of a few bolt-on baubles.; Although it wasn’t the fastest thing on four wheels, the Corvette nameplate has since become a symbol for some of the greatest sports cars America can produce – ZR1, anyone?
1950 Saab 92
You’ve heard it in all those ads: a team of sixteen Swedish aircraft engineers put their heads together, and produced this: the ovoid Saab 92.; Although more complex than Citroen’s 2CV, the 92 was still remarkable in its simplicity: that two-stroke two-cylinder engine produced only 25 hp, while the uncomplicated shape yielded a remarkable drag coefficient of .35.; In Sweden, simple sold – nearly 20,000 examples were built over a seven year period before being replaced by the Saab 93.
1936 Opel Olympia
Though GM notes the Olympia was the car that introduced Germany to unibody construction, we’ve also this car to thank for Russia’s auto industry.; During the chaos that was World War II, designs and tooling for the Olympia mysteriously made their way into Soviet hands, and became the 1946 Moskvitch.
1930 Cadillac V-16
Although it was a pre-war Cadillac that won the esteemed DeWar Trophy, it’s hard to argue that the 1930 V-16 wasn’t a “standard of the world.”; Indeed, the sixteen cylinder engine remains a legend in Cadillac’s legacy.; Essentially two straight-eights joined with a common crankshaft, the 7.4-liter monster produced 185 hp – paltry in today’s world, but superb in its day.; Perhaps more impressive is the engine’s refinement: you may see a V-16 running at a concours d’elegance, but you’ll be hard pressed to hear it…
While many GM brands focused on offering bang-for-the-buck or engineering marvels, none put any focus upon styling.; That all changed with the LaSalle, a brand intended to slot between the Buick and Cadillac portfolios.; GM turned to Harley Earl, a young designer then known for customizing cars for movie stars, to style the car.; The LaSalle’s success led to GM hiring Earl as a full-time designer, who then formed the Art and Colour Section – GM’s first real design studio.
No history of GM is complete without mention of Charles “Boss” Kettering, an engineer and founder of the Dayton Electric Labs (aka Delco).; Although Kettering had a part in many important innovations, the one that kick-started his career with General Motors was an electric self-starter, first launched on the 1912 Cadillac.; The device was ingenious – no longer were drivers faced with the dangerous task of hand-cranking a motor, and Cadillac was able to sell the starter as yet another luxury.
1910 Cadillac Model 30
Yes, GM went on a Cadillac kick here, but there’s no denying the Model 30’s role in history: it’s a hardtop.; In fact, it’s the first hardtop, built in an era where an “enclosed” car was little more than a convertible with ill-fitting side curtains attached to the top.; Buyers may have found the upright styling unusual, but the fully-enclosed cabin allowed them to travel unimpeded by the elements or debris.