Automotive History: Shockingly Low Volume Production Cars – The Chevrolet Edition

(first posted 5/16/2017)    Welcome to a new series about routine production cars that realized relatively scant production volumes.  For this inaugural journey, we start with Chevrolet, examining the time period from 1946 to 1995, and look at cars with production volumes of less than 1,000.

1946 Chevrolet Fleetmaster 8 passenger wagon

Production:  804

In the immediate post-war period, cars were hot commodities but the eight passenger Fleetmaster wagon wasn’t one of them.  Part of this failure to hit the mark is due to the intense amount of work required to fabricate the wood sides; part of it was the price dictated by the amount of work that went into it; part of it was the shortened model year for Chevrolet combined with an autoworkers strike.  With a base price of $1,712, by far the highest of any 1946 Chevrolet, this wagon was $614 more expensive than the Stylemaster Business Coupe.

In fact, the wagon was $250 more than the Fleetmaster convertible.  For the $1,712 price to obtain this wagon, one could have instead purchased a new Buick Series 40 and had nearly $200 left in their pocket.

For 1947, Fleetmaster wagon production was just under 5,000 units.

1967 Chevrolet Impala SS six-cylinder

Production:  400

Chevrolet built approximately 74,000 Impala SS coupes and convertibles for 1967.  As had been the case all along, one could equip their Impala SS with a six-cylinder, with 1967 seeing the 155 gross horsepower, 250 cubic inch six-banger as standard motivation.

Only 400 were so equipped, translating to just 0.5% of Impala SS buyers that year who opted to save $115.  With the base price of an Impala SS coupe being $3,500, opting for a V8 was only a 3.3% price penalty.

Finding one today would be quite a feat, though likely not impossible.

1971 Chevrolet Impala hardtop coupe six-cylinder

Production:  939

For a company whose products were exclusively six-cylinder powered from 1929 to 1954, the popularity of this engine faded almost as fast as an ice cream cone at the state fair.

When Chevrolet (and GM, for that matter) introduced their new B-bodies for 1971, they were bigger in every way, with dry curb weight for the Impala hardtop coupe being 3,742 pounds.  A lightweight it was not.

Being powered by a 145 gross horsepower, 250 cubic inch straight-six was likely an exercise in frustration for the new owner.  It’s easy to see why the V8 powered hardtop coupe sold nearly 53,000 copies.

Don’t think the base Impala sedan was setting the sales charts ablaze when powered by the six-banger – it sold all of 1,606 copies, making both of these the most rare Chevrolets for 1971.

1972 Chevrolet Impala hardtop coupe six-cylinder

Production:  289

As in 1971, these six-banger coupes just weren’t hitting the sweet spot of the market.  Power was now advertised as being 110 net horsepower and weight was up 122 pounds.  None of the six-cylinder cars were popular, but this one was the least popular of the unpopular six-cylinder big B-bodies.

Having a 350 or 454 in your Impala was a much better, and less tedious, way to see the U.S.A.

1975 Chevrolet Chevelle Malibu Classic six-cylinder

Production:  1

The Colonnade cars from GM were the most sane mid-sizers built by an American manufacturer during this period.  Sales reflected the sanity, but most buyers had their limits.  While six-cylinder engines were available in these, the vast majority were not so equipped, as a 100 net horsepower engine to propel a nearly 3,800 pound car would have made for a painful experience.

This finding was the impetus for the series, but contradictory information has been found.  Page 217 of The Encyclopedia of American Cars (copyright 1996) is where this number originated; conversely, while the Standard Catalog Of American Cars, 1946 – 1975, Revised Fourth Edition does not have the level of specificity found in The Encyclopedia, it says a total of 3,844 Malibu Classics of all body styles were equipped with a six-cylinder in 1975.  This number deviates from what can be derived from The Encyclopedia.

Suffice it to say a six-cylinder Malibu Classic wasn’t exactly a car that was setting any sales charts afire.  Base model Malibus with a six were much more common but were still outsold by their V8 brethren by a factor of two.

Since we are still on 1975 Malibus, the six-cylinder Malibu Classic Landau coupe is reported as having sold 378 copies.

1986 Chevrolet Chevette diesel three-door sedan

Production:  124

With 51 throbbing horsepower, the Chevette diesel earns the dubious distinction of having the lowest power-to-weight ratio of anything seen here, with each pony having to lug around forty-five pounds.  However, its EPA rating (by 1983 methods) of 60 highway miles per gallon easily earns it the honor of being the most fuel efficient.

The diesel Chevette came about for 1981 in the United States, selling over 14,000 copies.  By 1983, diesel sedan production had tumbled to 439 for the four-door and 1,501 for the two-door.  This number continued to spiral downward until its last year of being offered in 1986, when a total of 324 diesel Chevette’s were offered in both two- and four-door body styles.

As was evident, these low production numbers were generally a combination of engine and trim.  What will be found when looking at other manufacturers?  Stay tuned.