Have you ever wondered how car manufacturers choose the names for their car and truck models?
Geographic locations, major cities, numbers, letters and made-up words are all covered. Sometimes manufacturers like to connect the new model with a successful model they already produce.
The car featured in this issue is called a Chevrolet Chevelle, and while there’s no clear evidence, some believe the Chevy model’s name originated because managers thought the smaller, graceful gazelle would match the mid-sized impala, the name which is used for their very successful model. So it is said that by combining “Chevrolet” with “gazelle” the new model was called the Chevelle, which turned out to be a good choice.
The first generation Chevelles started in 1964 and ended with the 1967 model year. They were hot from the start. Smaller cars sold well in the early 1960s. The leader in the development of the smaller car market was American Motors Corp. (AMC) with the Rambler American and Classic models. Led by George Romney (Mitt Romney’s father), the AMC Rambler became the third best-selling car in 1961 behind Chevrolet and Ford.
Ford released the Falcon for the 1960 model year and it sold well. Chrysler brought out the Dodge Dart and Plymouth Valiant, which also performed well. The Chevelle was larger than their Chevy II and Corvair models, but smaller than the Impala models. In fact, it was about the same size as the full-size 1955-1957 Chevrolet models.
Chevelles came as two-door hardtops, convertibles, station wagons and four-door sedans. That first year, 338,286 Chevelles were sold. The Super Sport, or “SS” models were Chevy’s entry into muscle cars, but not too much muscle was added. The models include extra bright work components, full wheel covers and SS decals, as well as bucket seats and other relatively minor features.
The second generation Chevelles was from 1967 through the 1972 model year. It presented a completely new look with a longer hood and shorter trunk. Quad headlights came and went during this generation and government regulations requiring side marker lights came into effect. In 1969, the Chevelles was marketed as “America’s most popular mid-size car”, and by 1972, the Chevelle was the second best-selling car in the country.
On June 3, 1972, a 17-year-old boy named Michael Saunders walked into Dailey Chevrolet in San Leandro and bought the featured car of this number.
“My dad wanted me to buy a Chevy Vega,” he said, “because they were cheap. But I didn’t like it. I wanted a Camaro, but the Camaro factory was on strike. So I chose the Chevelle with the SS package. No big engine, no power windows, nothing. That was all I could afford.”
Included in the SS package was the still-popular 350-cubic-inch V8 engine with the 350-turbocharged automatic transmission and mag wheels. It is also equipped with power steering and brakes, but no air conditioning. It only has the left wing mirror, and there wasn’t even an option for a right wing mirror from the factory. It was not only Saunders’ first new car, but also his first car ever. Its purchase price was $3,700, or about $26,225 in 2022 dollars, and its monthly payments were $63.
“I searched the car 37 years ago just for cosmetics, and I sort of restored it. It has 84,600 original miles, and it’s (the car is) all original,” said Saunders, now of Castro Valley.
As part of his restoration work, Saunders himself repainted the car in its original factory colour. He found a body shop he could use, but it turned out there was a problem with the vent system in the workshop.
“When I put on the first coat, there was dust on the hood and trunk,” Saunders said. “So I stopped, fixed the vent and shot the whole thing again. Now with dust particles on the hood and trunk, I put strips on the hood and trunk to hide it.”
He has put new upholstery on the seats, but otherwise the interior is completely original.
“I built in a more modern AM/FM cassette radio 45 years ago,” he said.
Saunders and his wife, Darlene, met in 1976 and this was their courtship car. Some of the courtship took place in some of the local drive-in theaters that were popular at the time.
Laughing, he said: “This car has been a lot of fun. This was a drive-in movie car. You could probably fit three people in the trunk comfortably. There were five seat belts in that car, but we could have seven or eight people in the car.”
The car has been very cost friendly. Aside from the paint job and very minor interior upgrades, he estimates he invested about $10,000, including the original purchase price. Now he drives the car about 2,000 miles a year and has no plans to sell it. For Michael and Darlene, it’s a lot of memories sitting on four wheels.
Do you have an interesting vehicle? Contact David Krumboltz at [email protected] For more photos of the vehicles from this and other issues or to read more of Dave’s columns, visit mercurynews.com/author/david-krumboltz.