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Chevrolet Uses Detroit Auto Show To Kick Off Its Centennial in 2011

It’s not likely that 100 years from now Chevrolet will look back on the introduction of the Chevrolet Sonic at the 2011 Detroit Auto Show as a highlight in its history but the new compact is the first new model to kick off Chevrolet’s centennial celebration.

The Detroit Auto Show, held practically next door to GM’s Renaissance Center headquarters, is a perfect venue to start the Chevrolet Centennial that spans 2011 and celebrates Chevrolet’s beginnings in November 1911. No firm details have been supplied on other centennial events taking place. Ford published a great book for its anniversary – hint, hint – and from reading historical information supplied by Chevrolet there’s no reason to believe it couldn’t make a great book.

Well, maybe it would make for a great book except for the period from 1997 to 2011. According to Chevrolet, the only milestone in that timeframe came in 2007 when “Transformers” is a blockbuster movie and introduces Bumblebee, a character that transforms into a yellow Camaro. It's hard to argue.

The company was founded in Detroit, in November 1911, by racer Louis Chevrolet and General Motors founder William C. “Billy” Durant, who developed cars that quickly earned reputations for performance, durability and value. Fast forward to 2011 and Chevrolet is the world’s fourth-largest automotive brand (and the only one at the Detroit Auto Show entering its second century this year).

Chevrolet has a bit of a sordid past as concerns its founders. Billy Durant was forced out of GM two years after starting it. He partnered with Louis Chevrolet, a daredevil racer, and named the company after him because the Chevrolet name would sell more cars. The brand was wildly successful but the two disagreed on how it should be run. Louis liked the fact that the first Chevrolet sold for the equivalent of $50,000 in 2011 dollars but Durant saw the company’s future in entry-level vehicles. (Durant was a prescient man.)

Durant uses the money from the success of Chevrolet to buy back into GM and eventually ends up running the company until 1920. The Great Depression hits and wipes out the fortunes of both Durant and Louis Chevrolet who is reduced to working as a mechanic at the very company that bears his name. He died in 1941 and was buried in Indianapolis, near the famous speedway where he forged his reputation as a fearless racer and innovator.

Top Ten Highlights in Chevrolet’s Centennial

  • 1911 – Chevrolet is founded and the Series C Classic Six is unveiled, priced at $2,150.
  • 1914 – Chevrolet’s iconic “bowtie” logo is used for the first time. The Model H launches with a durable four-cylinder engine that helps build Chevrolet’s reputation as a dependable car. The engine would power Chevrolets through 1928. A 1914 Chevrolet Royal Mail Roadster is pictured with this article.
  • 1915 – The Model 490 is introduced. It was named for its $490 price, which was $5 less than the Model T.
  • 1917 – Chevrolet becomes a division of General Motors.
  • 1918 – Chevrolet’s first trucks are introduced; one based on the Model 490 chassis and a heavy-duty 1-ton chassis. Seventeen years later the Suburban would be introduced and its still in existence as a nameplate.
  • 1953 – The Corvette is introduced. Only 300 of the fiberglass-bodied sports cars are produced that first year, but they launch an American icon that is still going strong nearly 60 years later.
  • 1957 – Fuel injection is offered for the first time.
  • 1967 – The Camaro is introduced, offering a wide range of personalization options, as well as high-performance engines that would immediately establish it as a muscle car to contend with.
  • 1975 – The tagline “Baseball, Hot Dogs, Apple Pie and Chevrolet” is introduced.
  • 1997 – The Gen III small-block V-8 – dubbed the “LS” family of engines by enthusiasts – debuts in the redesigned Corvette. By Chevrolet’s own admission, the only highlight in the next 14 years would be “Transformers” is a blockbuster movie and introduces Bumblebee, a character that transforms into a yellow Camaro.
  • 2011 – The Volt is launched, ushering in a new age of electrically driven automobiles with extended range. It wins the 2011 North American Car of the Year.