The Best and Worst Chevy Cars Ever Built
Are Your Favorite Chevy Cars Hits or Failures?
Updated January 11, 2018
Chevrolet was founded in 1911 and put its first car onto the market two years later. In 1918, Chevrolet was acquired by General Motors (GM) and has been operating under the GM umbrella ever since.
There are millions of Chevy cars out on the road – many of which are fantastic. Like any big manufacturer though, Chevy has its fair share of bombs, too. We decided to take a look at the best and worst Chevy cars over the years.
Keep reading to see which Chevy cars were the best they ever made and which ones were the worst.
Here are just a few of the best vehicles Chevy put out on the road. We stuck with some oldies but goodies. Check out some of the best Chevy cars ever made.
While not technically a “car”, this SUV is one of Chevrolets biggest hits. It has been in production since 1935 and has been a major seller for Chevy. While it has undergone a variety of different updates and changes over the years (it’s in its 11th generation) its main purpose has always stayed the same. The Suburban is a large SUV that can haul eight or more passengers on or off road while also towing a major load.
The current Suburban measures a little over 18 feet long so hauling 8 or 9 passengers is not a problem. In addition, it has a towing capacity of 8,300 pounds so you don’t have to leave the boat at home. The latest version of the Suburban has a 5.3L V8 under the hood that puts out 355 hp and 383 lb-ft of torque.
While not known for the most comfortable ride in the world, its longevity is legendary. It is not uncommon to find older Suburbans still on the job with over 250,000 on them.
While the older ones are pretty cool looking, we recommend something from the latest generation (2015 to now) as they have all of the latest bells and whistles. Pricing starts around the $50K mark but can spiral upwards when adding packages and accessories.
1969 Chevy Camaro ZL-1
The Camaro is one of most iconic Chevy cars ever produced and has had a long run in the Chevy lineup. Introduced in 1967, the Camaro was Chevy’s response to the Ford Mustang and it quickly became a big seller, moving 220,906 units in its first year.
Over the years the Camaro has dropped in and out of production but ultimately survived and is now in its sixth generation. While there are a number of Camaros that could easily make this list, we like the 1969 ZL-1 the most.
Only 69 of these exotic beauties were sold, mainly because dropping in the ZL-1 engine added a significant amount to the price tag. The aluminum 427-cubic-inch (7.0L) V-8 was rated at 435 horsepower but could be tuned to produce over 500 horsepower.
This engine was not originally intended for street use, mainly being used for Can-Am racing and track running in the Corvette. In the Camaro, the ZL-1 could run through the quarter mile in the 11-second range.
Fred Gibb, who owned the high-performance Gibb Chevrolet dealership, was responsible for dreaming up the ZL-1. In order to get Chevrolet to produce the vehicles, he had to commit to ordering 50 of these speed demons. Unfortunately, he was only able to sell 13, the rest being returned to the factory or shuffled to other dealers.
The high price probably limited demand. Back in 1969, the sticker price on this bad boy was $7,500, which equates to just under $51,000 nowadays. If you managed to scrape the scratch together and hung on to it until now, though, you would be sitting on a gold mine. In 2008, a ZL-1 sold for $848,000 at Mecum Indy.
While most of us cannot afford a ZL-1, if you have the budget, put one of these in your garage – you won’t regret it.
2017 Chevy Camaro ZL-1
The Camaro is so good that it made our Chevy cars list twice. The latest version of the Camaro (2016 to present) is a big performer that is fun to drive and quite the looker. This year marked the 50th anniversary of the Camaro with a ZL-1 version being offered.
While you can’t go wrong with any of the trim levels, we like the 2017 Camaro ZL-1, which has a 6.2-liter supercharged V8 that produces 640 hp and 640 lb-ft of torque.
It cranks through the quarter mile in 11.5 seconds at 125 M.P.H. and did the world famous Nürburgring Nordschleife in 7:29:60 which is almost 12 seconds faster than the last-generation ZL-1.
The ZL-1 comes standard with a six-speed manual but a 10-speed automatic is an option.
The ZL-1 shares many parts with the Corvette Z06 but with a starting price of $63,000 it comes in roughly $17,000 under the awarding winning Vette. Bolstered Recaro seats keep you in place as you push the ZL-1 through the corners and a variety of tech features make it a pleasure to drive.
A Heads-Up Display, power seats with memory and a heated steering wheel make this performer comfortable as a daily driver. While we still prefer the 1969 ZL-1 this version is just as much fun while being much easier (and cheaper) to find.
1963 Chevy Corvette Stingray Coupe
Like the Camaro, the Corvette has a long history in the Chevy lineup and is considered by many to be the best Chevy car ever produced. The ‘Vette was originally designed as a concept car for GM Motorama in 1953. It was so popular that GM decided to put it into production.
Named after a type of small maneuverable warship, the Corvette has now been through seven generations. While there are plenty of great Corvettes to choose from, we decided on the 1963 version.
This is not the most powerful Corvette ever produced but is widely considered to be the most beautiful. The 1963 version was the first year of the second generation and its lovely fenders, tail and shark mouth front end made it an instant classic. This was also the first Corvette with a fixed roof, fastback design, and absolutely iconic split rear window.
Under the hood, the ‘Vette had a 327 cubic-inch V-8 that that put out 250 horsepower but buyers could upgrade to engines that pushed the horsepower up to 340. At the top of heap sat the “L84” Rochester fuel-injected powerplant that cranked out 360 horses.
It was also possible to opt for the optional Z06 package which stiffened the suspension, tightened up the ratios in the four-speed manual gearbox, and added bigger drum brakes as well as an unusually large 36.5-gallon fuel tank. Leather seating, air conditioning, and an AM/FM radio were also optional equipment.
The 1963 Corvette was new on a number of different levels. It had an all-new chassis as well as independent suspension, which put the Corvette in the same league as the Shelby Cobra.
We like this year the best because it really is the most beautiful iteration of the Corvette produced. While still a great performer, it’s not the quickest ‘Vette ever made, but we consider it one of the most beautiful cars to ever roll off Chevy’s production line. A total of 21,513 ‘Vettes were built that year, and pricing started at a mere $4,037.
2009 Corvette ZR1
The Corvette is such a staple of the Chevy lineup that it made our list of Chevy cars three times (two good, one bad). The 2009 was part of the sixth generation (C6) Corvette lineup and the ZR1 was the top dog.
There are a number of ZR1s to choose from but we like the 2009. It has a hand-assembled 6.2-liter supercharged V8 that puts out an astounding 638 horsepower. The ZR1 can hit 60 mph in 3.3 seconds and cranks through the quarter mile in 11.2 seconds at 130 mph. Its top speed is just over 200 mph.
Due to its huge engine the ZR1 also comes with a strengthened transmission, specialized tires, Brembo carbon-ceramic brakes, carbon-fiber body panels as well as specialized suspension tuning with adaptive dampers.
The ZR1 was (and still is) beloved by drivers and auto critics alike. A base price of $106,000 made it a pricy ride but if you have the coin, this is the Corvette to own.
1957 Chevrolet Bel Air
When many people think of a classic American car, this is the vehicle that springs to mind. The Bel Air was manufactured from 1950 all the way up to 1975 in the United States (and 1981 in Canada) but it’s the 1957 model that we (and many car enthusiasts) love the most. The Bel Air went through eight generations and the 1957 falls into the second generation, which was only produced from 1955 to 1957.
The second generation of the Bel Air, which was launched in 1955, has a design that is often referred to as the “shoebox” design due to its streamlined rear fenders. This design, along with the small block V-8 under the hood made it a popular drag racing option and in many cases, it dominated the circuit.
In the 1957 Bel Air, there were a few options when it came to what was under the hood. A 235.5 cubic inch inline 6-cylinder put out 140 horsepower, a 265 cubic inch V8 “Turbo-Fire” cranked the horsepower up to 162 while the “Super Turbo-Fire” V-8 with a four-barrel carburetor topped out at 220 horsepower.
The Bel Air was the top of the line model and offered a variety of options to up the luxury factor. Air conditioning, power steering, power brakes, power windows, and seats were all optional equipment.
A few of the more unique offerings included an “Autronic eye” which bolted onto the dashboard and dimmed the headlights when it detected oncoming traffic. An electric shaver that attached to the dashboard was also available in the event you had to clean up on your way to a big meeting.
The ’57 Chevy is one of the best Chevy cars ever made and an absolute icon thanks to its styling and the fact that the second generation of Bel Airs introduced the Chevy small-block V-8 that would become a legend on its own.
1968 Chevy El Camino SS 396
Is it a car, is it a truck? We don’t know and we don’t care, we just love it. Like the rest of the vehicles on this best/worst Chevy cars list, there are a number of different years we could choose from but we went with the ’68 SS for a few different reasons.
This is the first year of the third generation of the El Camino so it was all-new. This was also the only year that the SS was a stand-alone model and it was the debut year for the Turbo-Jet 396 engine, the largest engine to be dropped in the El Camino at this point.
The El Camino was produced from 1959–60 and then again from 1964–1987. It was originally designed to compete against the Ford Ranchero and it quickly outsold the less stylish Ranchero by almost two to one.
The 1968 SS was offered with a variety of engine options but it’s the 396 Turbo-Jet that we like best. This engine was available in three different versions with horsepower ratings starting at 325, scaled to 350, and topped out at 375 horsepower, which is the version we would choose. As the SS was a standalone model in 1968 and it has a unique VIN, so if the VIN number doesn’t end in an eight, you are dealing with a fake.
This version of the El Camino was a major hit and sales climbed 20 percent in 1968 to 41,791 units, which was a new high for the El Camino.
Chevy has built some real stinkers over the years and following are five of the worst Chevy (one is technically a GM product) cars ever built.
The EV1 was only produced for three years and has the honor of making a number of different “worst cars ever made” lists. To true believers, though, it was a car ahead of its time and its discontinuation was a mistake.
The EV1 was the first mass-produced electric vehicle and was built between 1996 and 1999 after GM received very favorable reviews for a 1990 electric concept car. Around this time the California Air Resources Board (CARB) passed a mandate that required the seven major automakers to produce and sell zero-emissions vehicles if they wanted to continue to sell their vehicles in California, making it the perfect time to introduce the EV1.
The EV1 was only available through limited lease only agreements to select residents in Los Angeles, California, Phoenix and Tucson. The EV1 could not be purchased, and lessees had to have their vehicle serviced at designated Saturn dealerships.
While the EV1 was well-received by drivers and even automotive critics, GM felt that electric cars would eventually prove unprofitable. In addition, the major automakers had banded together and sued CARB, weakening the mandate and letting them produce super-low emission hybrids and natural gas cars instead of all-electric vehicles. This put the final nail in the coffin of the EV1.
As of 2002, a total of 1,117 EV1s had been built but GM decided to cancel the program, repossess and destroy all of the EV1s out on the road. This was met with resistance from EV1 owners but in the end, GM repossessed and scrapped all of them. A number were sent to museums, but as of today, the EV1 is actually one of the rarest and most difficult (basically impossible) Chevy cars to find.
The Trailblazer was only in production for seven years, being introduced in 2002 and discontinued (in the U.S. at least) in 2009. It was widely panned due to its extremely poor ride quality.
Its rough ride was mainly due to the fact that it was built on a truck frame and Chevy made little effort to improve the ride quality. While the Trailblazer did manage to win a few awards, including the North American Truck of the Year award in 2002, critics and consumers had few nice things to say about it.
A 273 hp all-aluminum 4.2 L “Atlas” LL8 inline-six engine came standard while a 302 hp aluminum small-block 5.3 L V8 with Active Fuel Management was optional. Unfortunately, a less than impressive towing capacity left the Trailblazer struggling to keep up with the competition.
Currently, the Trailblazer is not in production in the U.S market but it is sold in Southeast Asia and other countries. Chevy has not ruled out bringing it back to the United States.
While we dislike all of them, if you need a cheap family hauler, you may want to consider a Trailblazer.
1979 Chevrolet Corvette
The third generation of the Corvette (C3) was a long run, it was produced from 1968 to 1982 and while it is widely considered one of the worst generations, the 1979 Vette stands out when it comes to the worst Chevy cars ever built.
Chevy’s engineers were focused on the next generation and let the 1979 Vette continue on without any upgrades or changes. There were no special editions offered in ’79 and the two engine options were less than impressive.
The L48 engine put out a wimpy 195 horsepower while the optional L82 cranked it up to a still unimpressive 225 horsepower.
The interior was just as bad with an AM/FM radio as standard equipment and little else being offered as an option. The C3 was widely considered overpriced and an underperformer when compared to rivals such as the Mazda RX-7, Porsche 924 and the Datsun 280ZX.
Surprisingly, it was a big seller, in fact it was the best selling Corvette of all time. Pricing started at $10,220 and a total of 53,807 units went out the door, a record that still stands.
However, it doesn’t change the fact that this is one of the worst Vettes ever made and you should avoid it like the plague.
Chevy Aveo – All of them
The Aveo is the epitome of an average car. It’s small, cheaply built and inexpensive to buy. Unfortunately, you get what you pay for with the Aveo. It is sold in more countries than any other offering by GM.
The Aveo started its life as a Daewoo Kalos and is now sold under 11 different names. It was introduced in 2002 and is still produced today although it is now called the Sonic in the United States.
The main issue with the Aveo is its poor build quality. Jalopnik.com had this to say about the Aveo: “Every Aveo that we’ve driven has had serious build issues. Parts fall off. Seats come apart. Electrical problems are everywhere. Our experience is not unique. Dealer techs and fleet mechanics hate Aveos, and rental companies avoid them like the plague.” Certainly not a ringing endorsement.
On the other hand, they are cheap. You can pick up a used one for a few thousand dollars and even a brand new Sonic starts at only $15K.
The Vega managed to snag the number five spot on Edmunds list of 100 Worst Cars of All Time, so you know it had to be pretty bad. The Vega is widely considered to be one of the worst Chevy cars ever made, despite its initial popularity with consumers. The Vega is so hated we couldn’t even pick a year – avoid them all.
Chevrolet did not directly design the Vega; instead, a corporate GM team pieced together the Vega and pushed it into production in only two years. The Vega was sold between 1970 and 1977.
Despite the eventual hatred that would surround the Vega, it sold very well during the first few years. In 1971 the Vega racked up 277,700 units sold and eventually hit 452,886 during the 1974 model year.
Unfortunately, the lack of engineers involved in the design and a desire to keep costs low led to numerous problems with the Vega. Extremely thin sheet metal and shoddy primer coverage led to rust issues. The Vega quickly earned a reputation as a rust bucket, and in many cases, the fenders had to be replaced due to rust after only one or two winter seasons.
In addition, the aluminum block engine had a subpar cooling system, which led to overheating and performance issues. Vegas were notorious for burning oil as well as damaged head gaskets and completely destroyed engines.
As Vegas started falling apart their popularity plunged and Chevy discontinued them. Since most of them rusted out on the road, finding a Vega is actually a pretty tough chore. Our advice, even if you find one, leave it alone.
Chevrolet apparently didn’t learn its lesson with the Vega as the Chevette appeared in 1976 and is widely panned as one of the worst Chevy cars ever built. It was underpowered, loaded with shoddy components and filled with cheap materials.
The Chevette was introduced in 1976 and stayed in production until 1987. Only one generation of the Chevette existed and upgrades were pretty minimal from year to year which is why we didn’t pick a specific year – like the Vega, they are all bad.
The Chevette was rushed into production in an attempt to compete with Japanese imports and to fill the need for smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles thanks to the fuel crisis at the time.
In many ways, the Chevette was outdated as soon as it appeared. It was built on GM’s “T” platform, was rear-wheel drive and seriously underpowered with a 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine, which only put out 53 horsepower. An optional 1.6-liter put the horsepower up to 70.
The interior and ride were also less than impressive, with shiny plastic filling the cabin. A rough ride, lack of power, and poor suspension eventually sunk the Chevette, and a design that made the frequently faulty starter motor extremely difficult to remove made it unpopular with mechanics as well. Like the Vega, the Chevette was also partial to rusting and its engine failed on a much too regular basis.
Despite all of this, the Chevette was pretty popular with buyers. Chevy sold roughly 2.8 million units over its twelve-year run and in 1979 and 1980, the Chevette was the best-selling small car in the U.S.
While we feel you should avoid all model years, if for some crazy reason you are in the market for a Chevette, stick to the later years.
The Chevy Citation was just another example of Chevy’s problem with the compact car market. Much like the Vega and the Chevette, the Citation was fairly popular with consumers until a wide variety of quality issues cropped up. The Citation hit the market in 1980 and was produced for only five years before being mothballed.
The Citation was Chevy’s first attempt at a front-wheel-drive car and the introduction of the X-body for the GM group. It had a transverse 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, which put out 90 horsepower. A 2.8-liter V6 engine that made 115 horsepower was also available.
A sporty X-11 version was eventually introduced which included an updated suspension, body accents, striping on the side of the car and a V-6 as standard.
The initial reaction to the Citation was positive with Motor Trend naming it the Car of the Year and 800,000 units flying off dealer lots. It later turned out that Chevy gave car magazine reviewers Citations that were specially modified to correct the heavy torque steering issues that plagued the Citation throughout its history. Once they drove actual production vehicles, reviews changed.
The problems started pretty quickly with quality issues that left a horrid taste in consumer’s mouths. Trim fell off, rear brakes tended to lock up, transmissions were noisy and prone to failure and apparently, Chevrolet had still not addressed the rusting issue.
Recalls were rampant and the Citation still reigns as one of the most recalled cars in history according to U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Chevy tried to address the poor reputation of the Citation by renaming it the Citation II in 1984 before discontinuing the entire line in 1985.
1923 Chevrolet Series M Copper-Cooled
This vehicle is a dip into the past but it is one of the worst Chevy cars ever built with almost every single one of the 500 produced being recalled and destroyed.
The 1923 Chevrolet Series M Copper-Cooled was a car that was designed to be completely air-cooled. It allowed Chevy to dump the radiator, which was heavy, expensive, and often required repairs.
Charles F. Kettering, who was the head engineer at Delco Electronics, designed the air-cooled engine and it was dropped into an existing body style, the Superior B. While the air-cooled engine, which incorporated a cast iron engine with copper U-shaped fins that were welded to the engine looked good on paper, it proved to be a disaster out on the road.
The engine shaved 215 pounds off the weight of the car and managed to put out a mind-blowing 22 horsepower. The Copper-Cooled engine added about $200 to the price of the vehicle.
Unfortunately, the cooling system that Kettering designed worked well under high speeds but could not keep the engine cool at low speeds, idle, or when traffic was stop and go. Overheating led to detonation issues and a major power drop when the engine was hot due to warping cylinders.
Chevrolet only managed to sell 100 of these disasters to actual customers and eventually recalled all of them and destroyed them. Only two survived – one is in the Henry Ford Museum and the other in the National Automobile Museum.
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