The GM And Super Chevy ArchivesPhotographer
Editor's note - Heading into the new century, we felt compelled to take a look back at what will undoubtedly be one of the 20th century's biggest contributions to daily life-the automobile. Of course, Super Chevy looks at the history of the automobile through the eyes of the Chevrolet enthusiast. The following is the seventh in a series that will run throughout the year 2000 and cover the highlights of Chevrolet-from the creation of a company at a time when 270 other companies were vying for buyers of new automobiles, to the present day, when the competition is limited to just a handful of serious automobile makers. Much of the information is taken straight from Chevrolet sources, and some will be from the pages of this magazine's more than 25 years as "The # 1 Chevrolet Enthusiast's Magazine."
American's attitudes toward their cars changed drastically during the early '70s-more so than any other time during the 20th century.
For years, Americans had loved their big, bold automobiles. Gasoline mileage wasn't important, because gas was plentiful and inexpensive.
But the oil glut didn't last. In fact, the '73 oil embargo caused gas prices to double within two years. Suddenly, fuel economy was important...very important.
It was during the '70s that the Chevrolet vehicle lineup changed more radically than in any previous decade.
It started with the Vega. Produced through 1977 in response to the fuel-thirsty needs of America, Vega was built on a then-diminutive 97-inch wheelbase. Chevrolet introduced Vega as "The Little Car That Does Everything Well." Produced in hatchback coupe, notchback sedan, "Kammback" wagon, and panel express delivery versions, the base price of Vega started at $2,090 in September 1970.
Power was supplied through a 2.3-liter, 140ci, aluminum-block four-cylinder that produced a standard 90 horsepower, or an optional 110 with a two-barrel carburetor. With the addition of Vega, Chevrolet now offered seven different passenger car models, the largest lineup in its history.
The midsize lineup continued to thrive as well. In 1973, Chevelle received a new, handsome, clean, style, and a Laguna series was added above the Malibu line. The year saw more than 300,000 Chevelle models sold, with the image-oriented Malibu capturing the public's attention. The model line would see one more major restyle late in the '70s, adding more formal lines, and dropping the Chevelle name.
Despite the drop-off in performance in the early '70s, Chevy still produced a few popular musclecars for the public. The '71 Chevelle offered a V-8-powered "Heavy Chevy" option. There were also the 350 V-8 Rally Novas, the V-8 Camaro "mover" and, of course, Corvette. Another example was the Chevelle Laguna Type S-3, which featured an optional 454 V-8. From '74-76, it was an effective performer on the NASCAR stock car circuit.
The second-generation Chevrolet subcompact-Monza-evolved in 1975 as a sporty offshoot of the Vega platform. A front-engine, rear-drive hatchback, Monza provided smaller engines for the energy-conscious, yet offered optional V-8 power for those still wanting punch under the hood. In fact, its 262ci V-8 was the smallest eight-cylinder in Chevrolet history.
A second Monza body style-a two-door notchback "Towne Coupe"-appeared in mid-'75. It shared the same mechanicals as its brawnier-looking 2+2 brother, but sported totally new sheetmetal and a more formal appearance.
In other small car news, Nova popularity was at its peak by mid-decade. The line finished 1974 with approximately 400,000 sales, and a new Nova arrived for 1975. In the works was a more formal, luxury look; a "boxier" appearance than in the past. Fancier uplevels known as Customs and LNs were added, and the LN took a styling likeness to some of the more upscale European entries on the market. It caused Road & Track magazine to label it, "A European Chevy." Nova left the Chevy lineup in 1979, returning as a completely re-designed subcompact in 1985.
Camaro received a facelift at mid-decade, encompassing a new front and rear design to accommodate new, lighter aluminum bumpers. Optional power door locks and cruise control made their first appearance. The Z28, which took a surprising hiatus in the mid-'70s, returned to the lineup in 1977. In 1978, more than 278,000 Camaro models were sold, a record model year for the Chevy ponycars.
Corvette, the epitome of performance cars, never lost its sparkle during the decade. True, power decreased somewhat in response to government actions on emissions, yet the car's popularity increased. Sales records were shattered in 1976, when 46,558 Corvettes rolled off assembly lines.
During the decade, minor body changes had been made-the "Kamm" tail had been replaced by an "energy-absorbing," rounded rear end. Five-mile-per-hour impact bumpers had been added, made of polyurethane and integrated to the body color. An anti-theft alarm was added, a testament to the Corvette model's incredible value. The car was no longer targeted at the race enthusiast only, but the upwardly mobile, young professional as well. It was a marketing strategy that paid off.
The Corvette 25th anniversary in 1978 was commemorated by a special edition two-tone silver model. The same year, Corvette was selected as the Indy Pace Car, and 6,200 replicas were produced, one for each dealer. They are rare and valuable collector cars today.
By the mid-'70s, Chevy was at the height of its "All-American" image. Advertisements re-inforced this theme, singing about "baseball, hot dogs, apple pie...and Chevrolet," while depicting "slices of life" from rural and urban America.
With memories of a fuel-conscious America still fresh, Chevrolet set the wheels in motion to introduce a score of new products for the late-'70s. The era was marked by the new trend and a new word: "downsizing."
It started in 1976 with the smallest Chevrolet to that point, the two-door Chevette Hatchback. A full 17 inches shorter than Vega, the Chevette unit-body construction, front-engine, rear-drive layout and rack-and-pinion steering would provide a remarkably sound, sturdy small car platform for years to come. Automotive writers called the car "bulletproof" for its ability to endure. After a rugged 24,000-mile test, Car and Driver magazine gave the car high marks in 1976, saying, "Chevette is the most trouble-free, slam-the-hood-and-forget-it...machine we've ever encountered."
The first Chevette offered two engines: 1.4-liter and 1.6-liter overhead cam layouts. A four-door sedan was added in the '78 model year, as was a high-output version of the 1.6L engine. Buyers could choose from automatic transmissions, air conditioning, tilt steering, and multicolor sport stripes-all luxuries that many small cars of the day didn't offer.
The next step for the automotive sales leader involved the Impala/Caprice line in 1977. Chevrolet received a lot of bystander criticism for finally succumbing to the smaller trends, but the remarks proved to be just that-remarks. The new models were met with such public enthusiasm that they unseated the Oldsmobile Cutlass as the best-selling nameplate, helping Chevrolet capture 25 percent of total domestic sales.
The new fullsize vehicles measured 11 inches less in overall length, 5 1/2 inches less in wheelbase, and four inches less in width. Yet nothing was compromised in overall legroom-while the models actually gained headroom and space in the trunk. The car was more than 600 pounds lighter and earned fuel economy figures of 17 mpg city, 22 highway; unbelievable for a car its size at the time. Standard under the hood was a 4.1L L6, with two optional V-8s. No manual transmissions were available.
Styling was much more elegant and more angular, with fender-high horizontal lines and a crisp definition to the hood, roof, and decklid. GM stylists felt it reflected the modern look of architecture in the '70s. But to many buyers, it had a more distinguished appearance than any previous fullsize Chevrolet. It was just one of the reasons why Caprice accounted for 30 percent of standard-size car sales by 1979.
Monte Carlo received a more formal look in the late-'70s. "Monte" had become essential to Chevy dealers nationwide-it was the second best-selling Bow-Tie nameplate, and number four overall in domestic sales. The new look gave a sculptured, formal statement to the rear decklid and roof lines, adding to the feeling of personal luxury. It, too, came down in size, losing 12 inches in overall length and 817 pounds.
The final major change of the decade occurred in April 1979, when the Nova nameplate bowed out of the Chevy lineup and the newest Chevrolet compact appeared-Citation.