General Motors celebrates it's 100th anniversary on September 16, and the road that led the company to that 100-year marker has been a curvy one. GM has blazed many trails in the areas of design, engineering and sheer marketing muscle. The company was once such a behemoth that it inspired the oft-cited quote, "What"s good for General Motors is good for America."
As GM looks to the future with its Volt plug-in hybrid, and prepares to make changes to stay the leader in the automotive world, it seems fitting to acknowledge its past - particularly, some of the most innovative and notable vehicles that GM produced. What follows is a list of GM's most notable vehicles of the last 100 years ÔøΩ one for each decade since 1908 ÔøΩ compiled with some input from GM historians and archivists.
Unveiled at the New York Auto Show in November 1907, the Model 10 was one of the key vehicles of GMÔøΩs early years: Nearly half of all Buick's sold in 1908 were Model 10's. Buick was the No. 2 carmaker in the country at the time, and was a cornerstone of the newly-formed General Motors. The Model 10 was powered by an inline, valve-in-head, 4-cylinder engine that delivered 22.5 horsepower and had a sticker price of a whopping $900.
The 1912 Cadillac is significant in that it introduced the electric self-starter, eliminating the labor-intensive and sometimes dangerous task of hand-cranking the engine, thereby revolutionizing the auto industry. By 1916, the electric self-starter was featured on 98 percent of all cars built in America. This car earned Cadillac its second Dewar Trophy, awarded by the Royal Automobile Club of London, for the most important automotive contribution of the year.
The '27 LaSalle was historic in that it was the first vehicle designed from the ground up by a professional designer, as opposed to in-house draftsmen and engineers. That designer was Harley Earl, who had been customizing cars for movie stars. Earl gave the LaSalle a low body profile, with lines that flowed from front to rear, making the LaSalle stand out from other production models of the era.
Before the 1936 Olympia was rolled out in Germany, almost all production cars were built by constructing the body and chassis separately, and then attaching them, which resulted in a "loose" ride. The Olympia changed that, in that its body and frame were built as a single unit, yielding a more lightweight vehicle, a tighter ride, improved safety and better aerodynamics. This "unibody" construction soon became the industry standard.
The Custom Cruiser is most noteworthy for the fact that if offered the first automatic transmission, the Hydra-Matic - which made driving a lot easier for many folks who were weary of pumping the clutch. The Series 90 Custom Cruiser was Oldsmobile's top-of-the-line model in the '40 model year. The Cruiser was powered by a 257 cu.-in. inline 110-hp 8-cylinder engine. Base price was $1,069.
Introduced in 1955, the Bel-Air was a GM stalwart for many years, but the '57 is generally regarded as the peak year for the Bel-Air in terms of styling. Some of the more eye-catching design touches were the gold grille and rear fender scripts, distinctive two-tone interiors, and the striking, chrome-trimmed Caddy-like tailfins that imbued the vehicle with a more upscale appeal. The Bel-Air was Chevy's top-of-the-line entry that year.
Though the original 1953 ÔøΩVette caused a huge buzz when it was originally launched, it was the '63 Stingray coupe that re-cast the 'Vette as a high-performance road-burner. The '63 Stingray was sleeker and sportier, and the body lines drew heavily on the Stingray race car that debuted in '59. It was the first 'Vette to be offered as a coupe, and sported the now-iconic split rear window, which was available only on the '63 model year.
Muscle-car enthusiasts agree that the '70 Chevelle SS was the high-water mark of that era and sadly, it represented the end of the true muscle-car era. The SS package included a 402-cu.-in. V-8 engine, popularly known and badged as the SS396, which came in two versions, cranking out 350 and 375 hp respectively. Or you could get the 454 cu.-in. V8 (badged as the SS454), which produced either 360 or 450 hp depending on configuration.
The '80 Citation and its siblings, the Buick Skylark, Oldsmobile Omega, and the Pontiac Phoenix, were the first compact front-wheel-drive cars produced by GM, as the company predicted a demand for smaller, more fuel-efficient cars. These vehicles employed a new front-drive X-body platform, and were about 800 pounds lighter than the rear-drive compacts they replaced. The '80 Citation was named Car of the Year by Motor Trend magazine.
The Escalade brought the luxury-SUV into the mainstream. It would become ubiquitous with sports and entertainment figures where it seemed every rapper, actor or athlete worth his weight in bling was stylin' around town in high-line Escalade - or one of the other high-priced, fully-loaded SUVs that followed in its footsteps. The Escalade was the first truck-based vehicle in Cadillac's history and was the result of the quickest development program in GM history, a mere 10 months.
The Volt points the way for GM's future. GM is confident that the Volt (a plug-in electric hybrid) will be ready to launch in November, 2010. Owners will be able to fully charge its lithium-ion battery by plugging it into a 110-volt outlet. With most drivers only commuting 30 miles a day, GM predicts that most Volt owners will be able to drive up to 40 miles a day on electricity only - no gasoline. The future for GM seems bright.