It took General Motors nearly 50 years to build its first 50 million vehicles, and right around 12 to build its second 50 million. Therein lies irrefutable evidence of GM’s stronghold on the average consumer in mid 20th-century America. It probably was no coincidence that vehicles 50 and 100 million were ostensibly Chevrolets, but the choice for 100 million was a bit surprising, or was it?
GM’s 50 millionth car seemed like the perfect (and obvious) choice–the now iconic 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air Sport Coupe, resplendent in an appropriate gold hue. This one rolled from the Flint, MI, assembly line in November, 1954, which is also appropriate because GM incorporated in Flint under the larger than life auspices of Billy Durant (if you haven’t read Lawrence R. Gustin’s biography of him, you should). If ever a vehicle showcased GM’s styling, engineering, and marketing might, it was the wildly popular shoebox Chevy with its new for ’55 V8.
On the other hand, the choice for the 100 millionth GM car seemed like an afterthought. In 1967, Chevrolet produced vehicles like the Camaro, Corvette, and Chevelle SS. Oldsmobile had their innovative Toronado. Buick produced the sinuous Riviera, Cadillac the tailored Eldorado. Pontiac was in its own universe under the GM umbrella. So why did they choose a Caprice hardtop?
I guess if I’m going to be questioning the choice of a vehicle for a celebration, I should at least use the preferred nomenclature: this is a Caprice Custom Coupe. I am an unabashed fan of ’65-’70 full-sized Chevrolets, but the ’67 is probably my least favorite, for reasons I don’t understand and can’t really explain. In my little world, the original ’65 is full-sized heaven, the boxier ’69 is runner-up, and the ’68 is probably third. I’m not in love with the ’66 restyle, and it seemed like they went the wrong way again in ’67. Obviously, that’s just my opinion, and it’s dubious, since I own a ’65 Dart wagon and a Corvair.
I do, however, like the one-year only round instrumentation, and saying the ’67 is my least favorite is like saying Rocky Road is my least favorite ice cream. It’s still ice cream. The styling is deft, like it is on almost all 1960s GM products, but the Caprice just doesn’t scream “100 million” to me. There’s no special color here, no special engine (I believe this Caprice is propelled by the 275-horsepower 327); it’s just a basic top-of-the-line B-body. This one was even built at the Janesville, Wisconsin, plant, which was not exactly located in GM’s epicenter.
It does appear that “100 million” is optioned up to rock and roll. It seems to have an 8-track tape player and air conditioning, along with a really awesome upholstery pattern. The three-spoke steering wheel in the ’67s was also a nice, sporty, perhaps unexpected touch. The ’67 Chevy’s interior practically invites a person to embark on a road trip, and I absolutely want to do Kingman, Barstow, and San Bernardino in this anniversary Chevy.
Strangely enough, the 100 millionth car had a bench seat rather than the sportier buckets shown in the ’67 brochure. Personally, I’d rather have the bench, and it’s probably more appropriate for a Caprice, but with all of the other options on this car, any omission is strange.
I photographed this special Caprice at the Sloan Museum in Flint in 2011, during Chevrolet’s 100th anniversary display. I believe Sloan Museum owns the car, and it’s apparently a very low mileage example, but this is the only time I’ve seen the car displayed, even though I’ve been visiting the Sloan for years.
Maybe Sloan Museum even wonders why such an important automotive milestone seems like such a letdown. I can’t imagine trying to wade through GM’s accounting labyrinth to determine what car was the 100 millionth anyway, but if you’re going to commemorate such a car at all, why this one? (I feel like I must reiterate the fact that I have nothing against 1967 Chevrolets here).
Is it possible that GM screwed up? Is their accounting department a deadly sin? I happened across the above photo online, and it clearly proclaims that the innovative ’66 Toronado is indeed the 100-millionth GM car, built over a year before the Caprice that is the focal point of this discussion. So which one is correct? I can find precious little in my own materials or on the internet to solve this (admittedly rather unimportant in the scheme of things) mystery. The gorgeous and iconoclastic Toronado is a more obvious choice for a milestone machine, but there is some fairly convincing evidence (such as the big sign on the side of it) pointing to the Caprice. The internet stories I’ve found are split about evenly between the two.
Can anybody in CC land shed some light on a possible interdivisionary rivalry in the making? Until then, I feel I’ve raised more questions than answers.