General Motors was founded in 1908 by Billy Durant and is currently owned by the United States Department of Treasury. In GM’s 102 years of production it has created thousands of individual models. Here are 10 that make GM proud.
The 1912 Cadillac put women behind the wheel. With early automobiles, starting the engine was both difficult and dangerous and almost unanimously a man’s job. In 1911 the electric self-starter was invented. The inventor was Charles Kettering, known to many as “Boss” Kettering. Kettering owned and operated (DELCO) Dayton Engineering Laboratories Company. Negotiations between Kettering and GM’s Cadillac division were made and in 1912 all 7 Cadillac models were introduced to the public with self-starters. Cadillac won a Dewar trophy for the most important contribution to the field of automotives for the year. By 1916 only 2% of American cars were being built without self-starters. In 1916 Kettering sold DELCO to GM and in 1918 he went to work for them as a full time employee.
The model 30 1910 Cadillac put an end to being covered by mud when it rained and being hit in the head and chest by flying rocks and gravel. It was the first mass produced closed body automobile. Before this GM innovation most cars had neither windshields nor tops. Going for a ride in the rain, sleet, snow or hail was not a comfortable experience. The 1910 Cadillac model 30 offered a 30 horse power, 4 cylinder engine at a cost under $2000. Like most other cars of the era it came equipped with a tire repair kit, side oil lamps, 1 tail light and its own tool kit. By 1920 the closed body feature was available on almost every vehicle produced by American manufacturers.
The 1936 Opel Olympia introduced a unitized assembly, giving it’s passengers an extra smooth ride. Opel originated as a German automobile manufacturer and was purchased by GM in 1929. The 1936 Opel Olympia, named after the 1936 Olympic games was the first car built as one unit. This new process was called unibody. Both frame and body were created as one uniform piece. This Opel came equipped with a 4 cylinder engine and offered 24 horse power. It could reach the speed of 60 miles per hour. Unitized assembly is used extensively today.
The 1950 Saab 92 was the most aerodynamic drag co-efficient car of it’s time. Few 2010 cars can compare to its efficiency. Saab was originally a Swedish airplane and jet fighter manufacturer. After World War II there was little demand for their product. They made the decision to develop an automobile from an aerodynamic approach. In 1949 they presented the Saab 02 with a 2 cylinder engine offering 25 horse power. Using their old aircraft plant as their production site, they could only produce and assemble 4 cars a day and they were all painted what has come to be called Saab green. In 1950 they made upgrades to the model and the name calling the new version the Saab 92. Again in 1956 additional upgrades were made and it became the Saab 93. GM owned Saab from 1989 until 2010 at which time they sold Saab to Spyker a Dutch super car producer.
In 1927 LaSalle began the era of custom designed production cars. The wealthy had always paid professional designers to create their custom cars as ” one of a kinds.” In 1937 the Cadillac division of GM hired Harley Earl an outside custom designer to create a new design exclusively for them. Harley created the LaSalle which came equipped with a V-8 engine. The LaSalle reached speeds of 95 miles per hour and was priced under $3000. The project was such a success that Harley joined GM as a full time employee. He created the first “inside” design studio which came to be called the GM art and color section. Cadillac produced and marketed the LaSalle until 1940. The move from in-house draftsman design to professional designer changed the industry dramatically. The full effects of this change were not fully realized until after the depression.
GM developed the Chevrolet brand name in 1917. With the introduction of the 1955 Chevy Bel Air the automobile industry went beyond custom design. The Chevy Bel Air brought in the “bling.” The Bel Air entered the market , “stylin’ and profilin’ ” and could be purchased complete with fins and curves at around $1800. The Bel Air presented a 265 cubic inch V-8 engine. It could be purchased with dual exhaust offering 280 horse power. GM sold 760,000 Bel Airs the first year. The Bel Airs promotion slogan read, ” Try this for sighs.”
The 1964 Pontiac GTO was America’s first high performance “muscle car.” The goal at GM was to produce a mid-size body capable of handling the largest displacement engine available. GM took a Pontiac Tempest and added a standard 389 cubic inch V-8 engine which provided 325 horse power and with this the GTO was born. It came complete with 14 inch wheels, dual exhaust, a firm suspension, sporty trim and hood swoops. GM had planned to produce 5000 units the first year, but ended up selling 32,000 with customers across the country on waiting lists. Understanding that Ronnie and the Daytona’s song ” Little GTO” sold over one million copies tells the rest of that story sufficiently. GM sold their Pontiac division in 2010.
GM purchased Cadillac in 1909 and in 1930 unveiled the Cadillac V-16 at the New York auto show. GM gave no advance notice of their new model which took the United States automotive market by storm. It was the first V-16 cylinder car to be mass produced and offered more power than any other luxury car on the market. Only 4000 were ever built and the project was discontinued in 1940 due the economic effects of the Great Depression. The 1930 Cadillac V-16 was the automobile that defined Cadillac as the luxury car leader of the world. Anyone owning a Cadillac V-16 today truly owns a classic.
The 1953 Chevy Corvette made owning a sports car affordable. It was the first car ever produced with a fiberglass body, Unlike steel the fiberglass was so flexible that it allowed GM engineers to design sporty contour lines for mass production. The Corvette provided 150 horse power in a 6 cylinder engine that went from zero to 60 in only 11 seconds. The first year 300 white with red interior Corvettes were built. The second year 3640 Corvettes were produced and new colors were introduced.
The 1996 EV1 was the reintroduction of the electric car. It was powered by rechargeable batteries. It did not require gasoline, which meant no fuel tank and no harmful emissions. This GM production was not offered for sale. It was distributed on a lease program through the GM Saturn division at dealerships in California and Arizona. Gm produced 1000 electric models. The program was discontinued in 2003 because production costs were too high and there was little demand. Today a single EV1 model is on display at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History.