Chevrolet is a conundrum. At their very best, they are an enthralling and romantic American brand, complete with imaginative design and inspired powertrains that come together to create amazing vehicles.
The Bel Air. The Camaro. The Corvette. All groundbreaking and beautiful.
Founded by Louis Chevrolet and William C. Durant in 1911, and later merged with General Motors in 1918, Chevrolet would eventually grow to compete with Ford, overtaking Ford and starting one of the world’s most enduring rivalries.
Through the decades, Chevrolet has developed and sold all manner of cars, from economy vehicles to luxury barges. Here, however, it’s the creative best that we celebrate, because that’s where Chevrolet is unmistakable, iconic, and beloved. If you’re into motorsports, the Talladega Superspeedway near Birmingham is definitely worth checking out.
To do so, we looked back and came up with a list of ten great Chevrolets. We chose our ten based on a few simple criteria: be a best-seller, a trend-setting innovator, a design leader, or a performance superstar. In other words, make a difference.
1955 to 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air
Cars. They’re just such a necessary thing. An expensive appliance, much like a washing machine that takes us to where we want to go, no more and no less. Anything else is just a toxic cloud of marketing hubris.
Right. If you ever truly feel this way, remember the Bel Air.
A 1957 model will do, or really anything from the 1955 – 1957 second generation. That includes one of those crazy awesome Nomads, as well. My word: a 2-door wagon simply can’t be more beautifully crafted or more iconic.
As a part of the Bel Air series, the Nomad reflected the same sense of design balance and creativity that made the Bel Air so culturally relevant for the time. It wasn’t just chrome and taillights, though. The Bel Air also boasted the 1955 debut of Chevrolet’s famous small-block V8 engine.
Facts are simple things, and here’s one disguised as opinion. No other model better represents its era, or its automaker, than these beautiful creations of chrome, metal, and tailfins.
Think of it this way: A Bel Air weighs about the same as a current-day Chevrolet Equinox. I wonder: How many more of those SUVs GM would sell if they added a little Bel Air creativity, romance, and imagination?
1959 Chevrolet Impala
HOLY BAT WING, CAT EYES!
There’s creativity, and then there’s steel and chrome-stretching crazy ideas that somehow work themselves into magnificent vehicles. That’s the 1959 Impala, for sure, and it’s just too bad Chevrolet backed off so quickly and normalized the design.
I would sell my house to own a 1959 Impala. Heck, I’d have to, seeing as convertible models can go for around $100,000 on the auction circuit. Then again, is 100 grand enough for something as outrageous as cat eyes under bat wings? That’s worthy of a definite mid-life crisis, kids be damned.
Formerly a part of the Bel Air nameplate, the second-gen Impala spun-off and created its own lineup in 1959. That’s when they pushed those tailfins down, created the bat wing, and made heads explode.
Tucked inside the Impala were nifty features and design touches, like a contoured dash and a “speedminder” feature. The driver would set the speed limit, and when reached an alarm would sound.
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1963 Chevrolet Corvette Sting Ray
Split rear window, rear haunches, and “stinger” hood bulge – all perfect. The 1963 Corvette Sting Ray just might be completely perfect, and it may just about be the definition of automotive heaven.
Or sweet, sweet wickedness.
Take your pick, but really the 1963 model was certainly one of the most significant ‘Vettes ever released. Newly designed, lighter, and faster, it was yet another styling masterpiece from Chevrolet.
The rear of the coupe, with its split window, is actually a classic but controversial bit of inspiration. After ’63, the split window was gone, a victim of practicality and caution.
It’s not just styling that puts the 1963 model year on this list, however. The Corvette also featured four-wheel independent suspension and 360 horsepower from Chevy’s 327 V8 engine.
1965 Chevrolet Corvair Corsa
Hello there, Ralph Nader. We remember you. You sorta muddled Al Gore’s chance at being president in 2000, and wrote Unsafe at Any Speed in 1964, casting the Chevrolet Corvair to the rusty trash heap of history.
At issue was the infamous swing-axle suspension – and resulting oversteer.
But before you write off the Corvair, look a little closer: After 1964, General Motors switched to a fully independent suspension. And just a few years before the Camaro would come along and finish off the Corvair for good, Chevrolet popped up with the Corsa model – a bonafide best-ever vehicle for the bow-tie brand.
Thanks to the new suspension and more power, this rear-engine phenom was certainly unique, sporty, and a creative classic that stood out as an eclectic treasure.
Was it a poor man’s Porsche, as advertised? Maybe.
1967 to 1969 Chevrolet Camaro
This is the car that sparked a war of words – and races – for generations. The robust and in-your-face answer to the Ford Mustang, the first-gen Camaro had a unique body style and, like the Mustang, plenty of options and powertrains to choose from.
For example, the debut model had over 75 possible builds. That’s a concept that would make today’s online vehicle configurators flame out and literally melt off the server.
As special as they all were, however, it was the Z/28 that was truly unique. At 290 horsepower (ahem, officially), with front disc brakes, and optional Positraction, the Z/28 was called a “turn-key” racer. Only 602 were made in 1967, and as such today’s auction value is well over $100,000.
It was 1969 when the classic muscular Camaro style was introduced, with updates to sheet metal designed to make the car look more aggressive. By 1969, over 20,000 Z/28 models were sold.
The 1969 version was mostly used as inspiration for the Camaro’s fifth-gen return for the 2010 model year.