Proud to Be an American: The Low Down on Chevrolet History

Vintage Chevrolet Car

Chevrolet cars roam the streets in the US and beyond — in 2019 alone, a whopping 7.7 million new Chevys hit the road. 

Seeing the gold cross-shaped emblem on the car in front of you — or on the vehicle in your garage — has you wondering, “What’s the story behind this iconic brand?”

As it turns out, Chevrolet history begins more than 100 years ago in Detroit.

Simple Beginnings

The history of Chevrolet began in 1911 when Louis Chevrolet and William C. Durant joined forces to form Chevrolet Motor Company. The organization’s namesake founder had the expertise for the job at hand. He worked as both a race car driver and automotive engineer. 

For his part, Durant had already started a successful motor company. In 1908, he founded General Motors but was let go from the business two years later. 

Still, Durant had some acute business sense. Take his decision to bring Chevrolet on board and name their new motor company after the race car driver. He knew that Durant’s reputation would help buoy their brand. 

The First Car — and the Fallout

Although Chevrolet Motor Company formed in 1911, it took two years for Chevrolet and Durant to produce their first car, the Series C Classic Six. 

The successful production of their first vehicle did little to solidify the partnership between Chevrolet and Durant. Instead, the partners started to argue over the design of their cars. By 1914, Durant sold off his share in the company, leaving Chevrolet in charge. 

Serious Success

Within two years of Durant’s departure, Chevrolet had a successful motor company on his hands. This fact became even more evident in 1916 when he used his profits to purchase the majority share in General Motors, the automobile company founded by his former partner, Durant.

Chevrolet’s success meant that the company had factories dotting the country. Along with their original production line in Flint, Michigan, Chevrolet had outposts in Ohio, New York, Missouri, Texas, California and Ontario, Canada. 

From the 1920s until the 1940s, Chevrolet worked hard to compete with Ford. Once the Chrysler brand appeared on the market, all three vied to be the affordable automobile retailer of choice. 

Highlights during this season of Chevrolet’s history include the Stovebolt, a car introduced in 1929. The Stovebolt had a six-cylinder engine, giving Chevrolet a boost over Ford. Four years later in Chevrolet history came the Standard Six, the cheapest six-cylinder car on the market at the time. 

The War and the Aftermath

A lot changed for Chevrolet in the 1940s. For one thing, Chevrolet himself passed away after suffering from a heart attack in 1941. 

Next came the threat of and eventual entry into World War II. Before the US declared its intent to engage in the conflict, Chevrolet refocused its production to boost the war effort. Rather than crafting passenger vehicles, they churned out ambulances, trucks and military equipment. 

By 1946, though, the country was out of the war, and Chevrolet could resume its regularly scheduled production. And soon enough, that included one of the brand’s most iconic cars. 

Meet the Corvette

By 1952, Chevrolet was ready to roll out an American sportscar with an all-fiberglass body. They called the stunning vehicle the Corvette — and it’s still a Chevy model you can purchase from this dealership nowadays. 

The Corvette was and is a fast car. Its creator, Zora-Arkus Duntov, won road races and set records when he competed with his design in 1956. And it kicked off a long line of impressively fast and powerful cars from the company. 

For instance, Chevrolet released its first fuel-injection engine the year after the Corvette hit the road. Their Impala model took on the famous Daytona racetrack in 1959. And a Corvette won Les Mans in 1960, the first Chevy car to win an international accolade. 

Chevrolet’s power was evident in more places than its engines, though. By 1963, one out of every ten cars on the road was a Chevy. 

Not Everything Worked, Though

Although Chevrolet saw great success in this era especially, not all of its efforts connected to American drivers. 

Starting in 1960, the company struck out on its first attempt at creating a small car. They called the initial model the Corvair, but the production of the compact vehicle was a bust for the auto giant. 

They waited more than a decade before rolling out the Vega in 1971, but it, too, failed to attract buyers. The 1976 Chevette and the 1980 Citation suffered the same fate. 

But Chevrolet didn’t fall apart with these pitfalls. Instead, their muscle cars continued to buoy the brand. For instance, they released the iconic Camaro in 1976. And the Corvette remained a popular model well into the 80s. 

Big Changes

Chevrolet history takes a turn in the 1990s. Up until that point, most people turned to the American brand when they wanted a fast, powerful set of wheels. But in 1997, the brand’s trucks started to outsell their cars. 

That’s not to say that the company stopped producing their signature sedans and sportscars. In fact, in the same year that their trucks became their most popular output, Chevy introduced the Malibu, as well as a new version of the Corvette. 

As it turned out, the late 1990s were only a taste of the changes to come for Chevrolet. The one-time auto giant would face a national economic crisis in the early 2000s, and they would have to change and adapt to survive it. 

The Economic Crisis

The US slipped into an economic crisis starting in 2007, which affected banks, the housing industry and, eventually, American automakers. 

Fortunately, Chevrolet survived the crisis by shifting their focus once again. Sure, they had found previous success with fast cars and extra-large gas guzzlers. But Chevrolet began making fuel-efficiency a focus, which enhanced their standing in the US and beyond. 

For instance, they introduced the Volt in 2010. The hybrid-electric plug-in vehicle won a slew of accolades, including the title of 2012’s North American Car of the Year. But it also won awards overseas, which made Chevy a more popular option for international buyers, too. 

Chevrolet History Continues

Since the economic crisis, Chevy has continued to focus on its most popular offerings. In 2019, their best-sellers included the Chevy Silverado truck and the compact Equinox SUV. Their smallest car, the Spark, saw a 32.5 percent increase in sales that year, too. 

So, it’s easy to say that Chevrolet’s history continues from here. The car company has only proven its resilience and adaptability. American and international auto buyers have responded resoundingly to these changes, too. 

Want to know what’s new with Chevrolet and your other favorite car brands? Be sure to check back with us for all of the auto facts, history and tips you need.