“Beauties and Beasts” from General Motors, Ford, Chrysler and AMC will share the AutoFair’s Showcase Garage with other attractions, including a street-legal Radio Flyer wagon, high-riding “skyscraper” sedans that roll on 30-inch custom wheels, a Legends of Drag Racing display and a collection of electric and hybrid cars.
The cars and manufacturers that make up the Beauties and Beasts exhibit include:
“No automaker from any country has a perfect history,” said automotive author and collector car expert Brad Bowling, who consulted on the display. “There will always be hits and misses, sweet and sour, cheers and jeers. Sales charts do not define success and failure to car buffs. A poor-selling car might make it to a ‘best of’ list based on its styling, innovations, performance, reliability or value for the dollar. A company’s cash cow can appear on a ‘worst of’ compilation because it lacks any driving appeal. We assembled the Beauties and Beasts based on our past driving experiences and ignored objective facts.”
One-hundred-year-old Chevrolet has been the top-ranked car/truck producer in the United States more years than any other manufacturer. Of the 180 million Chevrolets sold in North America alone since its founding in 1911, nothing generates more excitement and nostalgic thrills than an early Corvette.
Legendary automotive stylist Harley Earl personally oversaw the 1953 Corvette’s development. He liked sports cars made by Jaguar, Porsche and Alfa Romeo and felt GM – the biggest corporation on Earth at the time – should have a stake in that growing market. In the early 1950s, Chevrolets wore conservative, stodgy bodies and were powered by reliable but poky six-cylinder engines. When Earl’s design studio turned out its first full-size clay model, Chevrolet head Ed Cole saw it as a way to fix his division’s “old man” image and claimed it.
Planners chose to make the car’s body out of an innovative fibre-reinforced plastic developed during World War II because the material could be shaped quickly and cheaply for low-volume production. “Fiberglass” was also lighter than traditional steel, which would give this Corvette better acceleration and handling. Budget limitations prevented Earl and Cole from creating a new chassis or engine for the sports car, so all 1953 and ’54 models carried the 235.5-cid inline six-cylinder that put out a meager 150 horsepower. For 1955, however, the Corvette received the division’s all-new small-block V-8 – a 265-cid unit that put out 195 horsepower when packed into Chevy’s lightest car.
The Corvette is now in its sixth generation and – in ZR1 form – is one of the fastest production cars in the world. It is truly a “Beauty.”
On the other end of Chevy’s excitement spectrum sits the subcompact Chevette. Utterly without personality, the Chevette debuted in the U.S. market in September 1975 as a ’76 model. Its standard 1.4-liter, 52-horsepower four-cylinder engine and four-speed manual transmission delivered 40 miles per gallon on the highway at a time when gas prices were rising daily. This box with headlights, available only as a three-door hatchback initially, was built on a rear-wheel-drive platform when its competition was already making the transition to a more efficient front-drive layout.
Real bargain hunters chose the Scooter model, which came with no frills. A back seat and glovebox door were “frills” absent from the $2,899 Scooter. Chevette buyers looking for more pep stepped up to the Rally 1.6, whose larger engine produced a lethargic 60 horsepower. At 1,924 pounds, the Chevette was the lightest four-passenger car sold domestically – a distinction that showed itself when encountering crosswinds or being passed by a truck.
In spite of its charmless packaging and depressing driving experience, the Chevette racked up 187,817 sales in 1976. After a dip in 1977, annual sales increased steadily, peaking at 451,161 in 1980. Chevette enthusiasm fell off through the remainder of the run, ending with a paltry 46,208 units in 1987. It must have been a money maker because very few improvements were made during the 12 model years. Some automotive historians consider Chevy’s first solid import fighter to be a success with 2,793,353 examples made, but anyone who has ever driven one places it high on the list of forgettable “Beasts.”
Food Lion AutoFair
Hours for the April 7-10 Food Lion AutoFair are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Thursday through Saturday, and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sunday. Ticket prices are $10 per day for adults or $25 for a four-day pass; children under 12 are admitted free when accompanied by an adult. Parking for the event is $5. For more information on the four-day event, contact the speedway events department at (704) 455-3205 or visit www.charlottemotorspeedway.com.