Inspired by ESPN’s recent promotion of the debut of the Broadway musical Hamilton on Disney+, we recently presented our twist on the Sports Center Top-10 with our Top-10 Favorite Fords. But, hey, we realize we can’t do Favorite Fords and ignore other brands, so here, in the same spirit of history and whimsy, we present our Top-10 Favorite Chevrolets:
10. Chevrolet El Camino — The car-based “ute” may have originated with Ford of Australia, but it was Chevrolet that made such a vehicle widely popular in the United States with its El Camino. Although some said it was the worst of both worlds — not quite a real pickup truck and not quite a real passenger car — the El Camino was in production from 1959-1987 except for a 3-year hiatus in the early 1960s and remains popular with car collectors.
9. Drove My Chevy to the Levee… — “… but the levee was dry, And them good old boys were drinking whiskey ’n rye, Singing, ‘This’ll be the day that I die, This’ll be the day that I die’.” Those lyrics are from the chorus of the popular, 8½-minute 1971 ballad American Pie by Don McLean, a sad tale inspired by the 1959 plane crash that claimed the lives of early rock ’n’ roll stars Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens.
8. Chevy Chase — Cornelius Crane Chase was nicknamed “Chevy” by his grandmother, not because of the city in Maryland by that name but because of The Ballad of Chevy Chase, a medieval English folk tune about a British hunting party enters Scotland, where it is taken to be an invasion and a bloody battle ensues. Centuries later, young Chevy Chase becomes a comedic actor starring in Saturday Night Live, the National Lampoon’s Vacation movies and Caddy Shack.
7. Small-block V8 — As we noted in our rundown of Favorite Fords, Ford had a great run with its Flathead Ford V8 engine, which was the engine of choice for hot-rodders, at least until the mid-1950s when Chevrolet introduced its small-block V8, which debuted in 1954 and which in LS forms remains in production today. Originally displacing 265cid, it is the 350cid version launched in 1967 that is the standard among both factory- and crate-engine installations.
6. IROC Chevrolet Camaro — Although it may have been less international than when it launched with Porsche Carrera RSR racing cars driven by stars from around the globe, the International Race of Champions became more entertaining when it shifted to Chevrolet Camaros and focused on drivers from Indy and stock car racing. As part of its participation, Chevrolet produced the IROC Camaro fir the street, which was equipped with a ground-effects aero package and suspension upgrades to enhance handling.
5. Chevrolet brothers — Swiss-born Louis Chevrolet was a mechanic who first emigrated to Montreal and then to the United States, where he drove racing cars for Buick and, with Buick owner Billy Durant, started the Chevrolet Motor Co. and designed the first Chevrolet passenger car, the Classic Six.
He was joined in the U.S. by his younger brothers Arthur and Gaston. After selling the rights to the family name to Durant, the Chevrolet brothers launched the Frontenac Motor Corp. producing high-performance parts for Ford engines.
Louis Chevrolet drove in the Indianapolis 500 four times, Arthur twice and Gaston won the race in 1920 in one of their Frontenacs.
4. National Corvette Museum — While there are Chevrolets in the GM Heritage Center in a northern Detroit suburb, the collection is not open to the public. However, in Bowling Green, Kentucky, just across the road from the assembly plant where Corvettes are produced is the National Corvette Museum and, just across the interstate highway, the new NCM Motorsports Park, so you not only can learn the history of America’s sports car, but where you can take the wheel for a few laps at certain times of the week.
3. See the U.S.A. in Your Chevrolet… — … “America is asking you to call, Drive your Chevrolet through the USA, America’s the greatest land of all,” Dinah Shore sang each week on her televised and Chevy-sponsored variety show from 1957-1962. The song dated to 1949 and was performed by Peter Lind Hayes and Mary Healy on their TV show before becoming the Shore show theme song, ending with her throwing a kiss toward the camera.
The song also aired during telecasts of Los Angeles Dodgers games in the 1960s, sung by the unlikely duo of catcher John Roseboro and pitcher Don Drysdale.
2. She’s Real Fine My 409 — The “small-block” Chevy V8 was great for powering passenger cars, but more power was needed for trucks, so in 1958 the company unveiled its 348cid “big-block” V8. Four years later came the 427 version, and in between literally and chronologically came the 409, which was immortalized by the Beach Boys with their song, by Brian Wilson and Gary Usher, released in the fall of 1963.
As Usher wrote, “Nothing can catch her… She always turns in the fastest times.”
1. Chevrolet Corvette — Either GM designer Harley Earl came up with the idea while attending post-war auto shows in Europe, or maybe it was a comment that Briggs Cunningham made to Earl during an early race at Watkins Glen, or perhaps it was a suggestion from sports car racing pioneer Gen. Curtis LeMay, or maybe Earl simply wanted to build a car for his sons, Jim and Jerry. Regardless of your favorite theory, late in 1951 Earl assigned his designer to create a European-style 2-seat roadster that would have a body made not from steel or aluminum but from fiberglass.
For inspiration, Earl parked a Jaguar XK120 in the studio.
In January 1953, Chevrolet unveiled the Corvette at the GM Motorama show in the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City.
Though the car looked sporty, it was handicapped by an inline 6-cylinder engine and 2-speed automatic transmission. A few years later, just as the Corvette experiment was about to end, Ford introduced the Thunderbird, Chevrolet created its “small-block V8” powerplant and a European-born engineer and auto racer who had been a spectator at the Motorama in 1953 was hired by General Motors.
With Zora Arkus-Duntov as the Corvette’s chief engineer, the sporty car became true sports car and the rest, as they say, is history. And that history has just opened a new chapter with the eighth-generation Corvette with its V8 engine mounted behind the cockpit, which is right where Arkus-Duntov wanted it oh those many decades ago.