Monday, October 24, 2011

930 The First Hundred Years

930 The First Hundred Years

Quick, name all the logos you can identify instantly at a glance even if there’s no written name along with it.  Unless your head has been in the sand for awhile, there’s the Nike swoosh, the Apple apple, the NBC peacock, the CBS eye and the Target target.

But the one that’s been around longest and probably strongest is the Chevrolet whatever-you-call-that-thing.  For want of an actual name, people have been calling it a “bow tie” since 1913.  The car itself has been around since 1911 and has been part of General Motors since 1918.
That thing

Stories abound about its origin.  Maybe it was a variation of the cross on the Swiss flag (Louis Chevrolet was born in Switzerland.)  Maybe it was a wall paper design co-founder William Durant spotted in a French hotel room.  Or a doodle on a napkin.  No one knows for sure.

What they do know for sure is what the oddly shaped little thing stands for, and that it alone is more valuable a trade symbol than the entire rest of the company that makes it.

But Chevy is more than a car.  As a car, it ain’t all that much.  Never has been. As a symbol of America, the good the bad and the ugly, it’s an institution.

Chevy at 100 has come a long way from the first third of its life, spent as a dowdy cheapie for people who couldn’t afford an Oldsmobile, Mercury or DeSoto.  And although the 1957 Bel Air and Impala have come to represent the 1950s as “The” car, it was the ‘55 that changed everything for the brand.

That’s when they first shucked off frumpy for stylish.  That’s when they first built a small block V-8 with some oomph.  That’s when they first could take a corner at the speed limit without that then-famous stomach turning pogo stick ride.  Everything after that was an add-on.

So while Chevy marks its 100th birthday early next month, in a way it’s also its 56th birthday.  

The company website polled drivers and owners, asking which was the greatest Chevy of all time.  The result:  the 1969 Camaro.  Kind of a knockoff of the 1964 Mustang from rival Ford.  Better late than never.

Every car maker runs into quality problems.  Even currently mighty Toyota and Honda have had their share of recalls, some of them truly serious and potentially deadly.   But Chevy owners know -- and have always known -- from quality problems, both serious and frivolous.

GM is not the worst offender in the defect department.  But there have been years when they came close to leadership.  The Chevette, the Corvair, the SSR.  Oy!  These were chart toppers.  And the Aveo is in a class by itself.  Well, not exactly by itself.  There’s always the Renault Dauphine, the Fiat Multipla and the Yugo.

But no one expects anything of Renault or Fiat and the Yugo was only a Balkanized Fiat to begin with.

Chevy at 100 is, indeed, a symbol of what has always been right and what always has been wrong about cars, and about America.

I’m Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
Please address comments to wesrichards@gmail.com
© WJR 2011

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