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In honor of Chevrolet's 100th anniversary this November, Super Chevy's editors compiled a list of what we feel are the 100 most significant Chevys of all time. They agonized and argued for days and we know you'll have your own ideas.
The countdown starts with number 100 August 1 and runs every day until mid-November. What car will be number one? Will your favorite be on the list? Check back every day to find out!-Jim Campisano, Editor
Some 57 years since it was first introduced to the public, it's often overlooked how revolutionary this car was for Chevrolet. The body was completely new and the Bel Air hardtop model was a first from the low-priced three (the other two being Ford and Chrysler). On appearance alone, the car was breathtaking. It was a stunning automobile that looked like it could have been from a far more expensive brand. Even the lower-priced models had charisma and grace. The interior was equally appealing.
Then there was the all-new chassis, with longer and wider rear leaf springs located outside the framerails. Up front was a short-long arm front suspension with coil springs and ball joints. These features gave the '55 Chevy unprecedented handling ability.
Of course, what made the car legendary for many was Ed Cole's new overhead-valve V-8 under the hood. Designed from a clean sheet of paper, it was Chevy's first such V-8 since 1917. Displacing 265 cubic inches, it introduced Chevrolet's loyal customers to a whole new world of performance. Of course, once the hot-rodders got hold of it, the brand's image would change forever. The Bow Tie division went from reliable, affordable, and stodgy to powerful, durable, and desirable--without losing the "affordable" part of the formula.
The '55 went on to become the best selling Chevy ever to that point. It helped steal the youth and performance market from Ford, whose flathead V-8 was the engine to have. Without the '55, we might all be driving Fords or Dodges all these decades later. From the moment of its introducton on, the automotive world would never be the same. For this reason, it earns the title of the Most Significant Chevrolet of All Time.
The engineers and management at Chevy knew the jig was up. Between the hippies who only wanted to take their trips pharmaceutically, an insurance industry that punished anyone who bought a muscle car, and the government's press for cleaner tailpipe emissions, the days of unencumbered muscle machines were coming to a close. Chevy knew it, all of GM knew it, so they went down swinging. And swinging hard.
For 1970, gone was the edict that dictated no intermediates with engines larger than 400 cubic inches. Pontiac, Olds, and Buick answered with potent 455s, and Chevy had two answers: the SS454 LS5 with 360 horsepower and the SS454 LS6 with an earth-rotating 450 horses and 500 lb-ft of torque. This was the highest-rated engine in a Chevy since the early 427 '66 Vettes, which were also rated at 450 ponies.
The Chevelle got a new body for 1970 that was as packed with brawn as the new Rat motors under the hood. Once the magazines got a hold of the LS6 Chevelles, it was all they could do to contain their excitement. Track times were exemplary: Super Stock & Drag Illustrated ran 13.2 at 106; Hot Rod reported 13.44 at 108.17. Car and Driver got an automatic-equipped model to run 13.8 at 103.80. Headers and tuning tricks would have you in the 12s easily.
The following year, GM dropped compression ratios across the board, and performance like this was thought to be gone forever. This made the solid-lifter LS6 SS for 1970 an instant collector's item.
'70 Chevelle LS-6
Except for the '55 and '57 Chevys, and the '63 split-window Corvette, the '69 Camaro is perhaps the most recognizable vehicle ever produced by Chevrolet Motor Division. From the cheapest six-cylinder model to the fire-breathing COPOs and ZL-1s, everyone has either owned or wanted a '69 Camaro. People who know nothing about cars can tell you what it is. How many other muscle cars have been featured in an erectile dysfunction commercial on TV for heaven's sake?
The '69 Camaro's appeal is that it can be any car you want it to be, short of a station wagon: Six-banger econo-commuter? Check. Sporty convertible with a modest V-8? Sure. Sports car or drag machine? Take your pick from a number of different versions.
With an 18-month on-sale period, it's no surprise that the '69 was the best-selling of the first-gen Camaros. Its styling was reminiscent of the '67-68 models, but more sinewy and grown-up. You had your choice of two six-bangers, two base V-8s (307 and 327), three 350s and four 396s (if you count the L89 option), plus there was the 302 in the Z/28, the COPO 427/425, and the all-aluminum ZL-1 427.
This car gave Ford fits in the marketplace and had Mustang enthusiasts running for cover. It is an icon today.
The '57 Chevy with Rochester fuel injection and 283 horsepower was not the first car to have one horsepower per cubic inch. But it was the first to do so at a middle-class price. There were two fuel-injected 283 engines offered in '57, one with a hydraulic cam and 250 horsepower and one with a solid-lifter cam and 283-hp. This is the one everybody got worked up about. A fuel-injected '57 was a car that put blistering performance in the hands of the average working Joe. The rest of the line had people swooning, too. The body was perhaps the finest interpretation of the Tri-Five design.
'63 Corvette Split Window
When it came time to design the '63 Corvette, Bill Mitchell dictated that it be based on the Pete Brock-penned '59 Stingray racer. Legendary designer Larry Shinoda picked up the mantle and created one of the most enduring shapes in automotive history. While the roadster was sleek, it was the coupe's tapered roof with a split rear window that insprired uncontrolable lust. Zora Arkus-Duntov was opposed to the split window because it severely hurt rear vision, but what Mitchell wanted he got--at least at first. The '64 Corvette was converted to a single piece of glass. This made the split-window coupe an instant collector's item. Those 413s are still chasing fuel-injected Sting Rays.
'62-64 Fullsize 409
Chevy performance was advancing so rapidly in the early 1960s it was hard to keep up. In '62, the 409's horsepower made it to the magical 1-hp-per-cubic-inch level, then later in the year came the Z-11 with better heads, cam, and intake. Thanks to The Beach Boys, who had a double-sided hit with "Surfin' Safari" backed with "409" in June of '62, Chevy got the kind of free publicity it could only dream of. In '63, there were three 409s: 340-, 400-, and 425-horsepower variants--all of which were dwarfed by the 430-horse 427 Mystery Motor, which was offered for drag racing as well as NASCAR. Once Chevy pulled out of racing in '63, much of the magic was gone, and in '64 most of the street performance world was seduced by the new GTO. Still, Bow Tie enthusiasts could still get a 425-horse 409 that year.
'67 Camaro SS350
The first Camaro SS came with the 295-horse 350 as standard equipment. It not only introduced the 350 to the world (it was a Camaro exclusive then), but it was a legit performance vehicle for under $2,800. It would spank a 271-horse 289 Mustang without that car's solid-lifter tuning hassles. It could also take down many a big-block.
Much to the dismay of Zora Arkus-Duntov, the new '68 Corvette was essentially a rebodied '63 with a new interior and reworked suspension. He was in the minority. The general public did back-flips for the latest Corvette, which was based on Bill Mitchell's Mako Shark II concept car. Sales of the '68 exceeded any Vette from 1963-'67 and went up from there. The longest-running series in Corvette history (1968-'82), sales actually increased as performance declined. Corvette annual sales crested the 40,000 mark for the first time in 1976 (46,558) and peaked in '79 at 53,807--still the car's high-water mark. In the mid-'70s, the Vette became less of a street brawler and more of a luxury-oriented GT. Perhaps that was its ultimate appeal.
'66-67 Chevy II L-79
Pontiac may have created the midsize muscle car with the '64 GTO, but Chevy took it a step further with the 350-horse 327 Chevy II. This was the first compact muscle car, and it was a screamer. Bill "Grumpy" Jenkins made its presence known on the dragstrip when he started pounding Hemis in A/Stock with his '66 Black Arrow L-79 Nova. This Deuce was not a huge seller--5,481 in '66. After the first day orders we taken for '67, it was cancelled. Supposedly just six were built. No one knows for certain why it was killed so early in '67. Perhaps Chevy needed to concentrate on marketing the Camaro, but this is just speculation. The bottom line is these high-powered compacts are still making their presence felt on street and strip 35 years later.
As the modern musclecar era heated up with supercharged Mustangs, Hemi Chargers, and a host of other monsters, Chevrolet could only watch from the sidelines from 2003 until the spring of 2009. Sure, there were various Corvettes that could pummel these infidels, but if you needed a backseat or didn't have the green to wrap yourself in fiberglass, you were out of luck. The 2010 Camaro returned with styling that, while inspired by the '69, was not a slave to it. It has outsold the Mustang every month (save for two) since its introduction, exceeded all its internal sales goals (129,000-plus for 2010), and remains the only Chevy being sold without rebates. Most are fully optioned by customers, and with GM coming out of bankruptcy the F-body poured billions of much-needed profits into the corporate coffers. It literally helped save GM. The year 2011 saw the introduction of the convertible, and 2012 the 580-hp supercharged ZL1.
'66 Chevelle SS396
It's true that the '65 Z16 Chevelle was the first to pack Rat power, but this was the car that put that muscle in the hands of the masses. With a stylish, sleeker new body and interior, the '66 SS396 Chevelle was just what Chevy needed to slap around its internal rival from Pontiac--especially in 375-horse form. Production of the Z16 was a paltry 201, hardly enough for anyone to notice. Within a year of its introduction, there were 72,272 '66 Chevelles prowling the streets with 396s under their hoods.
Code named the Blue Devil inside GM in honor of Chairman Rick Wagoner's alma mater (Duke University), the 638-horsepower, supercharged 6.2-liter Corvette ZR1 is the most powerful, fastest car ever sold by GM. Its top speed is 205 mph, and it's packed with everything Chevy knows about building a cutting-edge automobile. Its body and chassis, while based on the current ZO6, take off where that car stops. In testing at Germany's Nurburgring, the ZR1 proved its worth by turning the fastest lap there for a production car. In 2011, Chevy engineers went back with its new tire package and cut over 7 seconds from its previous record.
'69 Yenko Camaro
Most famous of the dealer "Super Camaros" based on the factory-built COPO 9561 L72 cars, the '69 SYC cars received special graphics, gauges, and other tuning from Yenko's mechanics before they were sold from his lot in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, or sent to one of his network dealers across America. Only built in six colors (LeMans Blue, Fathom Green, Rally Green, Daytona Yellow, Hugger Orange, and Olympic Gold), today they are probably the most recognized and sought-after Camaros from the muscle-car era, easily fetching over $100K at auction.
'62 Old Reliable II
With its Bill Jenkins-built, 409-horse 409, Borg-Warner four-speed, and 4.56 gears, the Dave Strickler-driven Old Reliable II Bel Air was going to be one of the cars to beat in the '62 drag season. Jenkins added nine passenger station wagon springs to the front, stiffer springs to the rear, and relocated the frame mounts about an inch behind their stock location. All this was done in the name of improved traction. The car won the Super Stock title at the U.S. Nationals in '62, and the Winternationals the following year. Equipped later with an aluminum nose, Old Reliable II became the first B/FX Stocker to run in the 11s.
'68-70 Nova L-78
If ever there was a case of overkill in the Chevy lineup, it was the 375-horsepower 396 Nova SS. Sure, the freshly redesigned '68 Nova gained some weight over previous incarnations, however, the L78 engine made it a terrifying performer. On skinny stock tires, it was capable of low 14s at 100 mph in factory trim; with headers, slicks, and traction aids, it was an easy 12-second machine.
While the '55 Chevy line was sporty, with its Ferrari-inspired egg-crate grille, the '56 facelift was decidedly more formal. Still, the tagline in ads that year proclaimed, "The Hot One's Even Hotter." There was a Super Turbo-Fire, four-barrel 265 that produced 205 horsepower and the Corvette's 225-horse dual-quad version became optional as well. Style-wise, a four-door hardtop was added to the lineup, and perhaps the coolest feature was the gas cap hidden behind the left taillight.
'55 Cameo Carrier pickup
Not only was Chevy leading the way in styling in '55 with its passenger cars, but it took the once-lowly pickup to unprecedented heights with the new Cameo. It had a unique flush-side fiberglass bed and was full of car-like features (two-tone interior, chrome bumpers, and an available V-8). Talk about a vehicle that was some 30 years ahead of its time!
'59 Stingray racer
Chevy was out of racing by '59, but that didn't stop VP of Design Bill Mitchell from buying a leftover Corvette SS racecar chassis and draping Pete Brock's sexy Stingray racecar body over it. Mitchell then hired Dr. Dick Thompson, "The Flying Dentist," to campaign it in sports car races around the country. The pair won the SCCA's C/Modified National Championship in 1960. The car was clocked at 145 on the back straight at Road America, and top speed was believed to be about 160. The production '63 Corvette's styling would be based on this car.
'61 409 Chevy
While Motor Trend called the '61 Impala SS with a 409 "a family car that is really a racing machine," the bottom line was you didn't have to buy an upscale Impala to get the 360-horse 409 that first year. Drop it in a stripped Biscayne and you were competitive with just about any sedan on the road. The 11.25:1-compression 409 was a screamer and according to Motor Trend, a '61 Chevy with 4.56 gears would go 14.02 in the quarter-mile at 98.14.
'65 Chevelle Z16
Rounding out the top 20 is Chevy's first legit big-block/midsize muscle car. Caught completely by surprise by the '64 GTO and without a big-block with 400 cubic inches or less until mid-1965, the Chevelle Z16 was Chevy's overdue answer to the Goat. It was a limited-edition model and came with a 160-mph speedometer, 6,000-rpm dashtop-mounted tach, and a 375-horse version of the new 396. The Rat motor put its performance right on par with (or above) any stock tri-power 389 GTO.
'69 Camaro Z/28
Now in its third season, the Z/28 continued to skyrocket in popularity, reaching 19,014 in sales. The high-winding 302 with a solid-lifter cam was a thrill to row through the gears, and you could order the SCCA's racing version's dual quad induction setup, though it came in the trunk.
'67 Corvette 427 Tri-Power
This was a car that wasn't even supposed to exist, yet the 435-horse Tri-Power 427 Sting Ray become the most valuable and sought-after production Corvette of the '60s. The 1967 model year was to usher in a new body design based on the Mako Shark II show car of '65, but developmental problems kept it out of showrooms for another 12 months. Chevy freshened the Vette with new side gills, placed the backup lamp between the taillights, and gave it a new 427 engine with 10 more horsepower and two extra carburetors. The "stinger" hood told the guy in the next lane to back off. The vacuum-operated, three two-barrel setup flowed a lot of air, but was more problematic in service than a mechanical three-deuce setup. Guess what: No one cares.
'70-72 Camaro Z28
While GM Vice President of Design Bill Mitchell later chided the first-gen Camaros for being "styled by committee," he was much more enamored with the new-for-'70 second-gen, which he insisted was a much more pure design. As good as the first-gen Z/28 was, the '70 saw cubic inches increase to 350 and horsepower climb by 70. This was only 30 less than the 454 in the Corvette. You could even get one with an automatic transmission. Quarter-mile times fell by almost a full second from the year before to the 14.10/100 mph-zone with a stick. Handling was the best yet, and with the RS front end treatment, a timeless classic was created.
Fullsize '65 409 & 396
One car symbolizes the passing of an aging legend; the other ushered in a new one. The 409 was on its last legs in '65, and at midyear it was supplanted by the new Mark IV 396. Impala SS sales hit their all-time peak this year, with 243,114 units sold. The 409 could be had with either 340 or 400 horsepower, while the new 396 came in 325- or 425-horse incarnations.
Few people knew of this car's existence in 1967. It didn't even wear Z/28 badges. It was just an option code to homologate the 302-cubic-inch engine for the SCCA's Trans-Am series. With 290 horsepower, it theoretically had five less than the 350 four-barrel in the Camaro SS. In reality, it was a free-revving demon and was mated to a super chassis setup to create one of the first ponycars designed to go around corners. Only 602 were sold this first year, but it inspired competing models from Ford, Pontiac, Dodge, Plymouth, and even American Motors. Alas, the Z/28 was in a class by itself.