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The Carchive: Chevrolet 2005. This time it’s personal.

Chris Haining August 29, 2013 All Things Hoon, The Carchive 11 Comments

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I hate tinned sweetcorn. The piquant yellow rotten-teeth looking vegetable is, to me, a blight on the otherwise utopian summer barbeque scene. A corn on the cob, I can deal with. Nicely Q’d and dripping with butter, yeah. Why not. But the individual molar-shaped hunks of repugnancy? Bleurgh.

It’s my Mum’s fault. Growing up, at an early age I made the quite legitimate decision that I didn’t like Sweetcorn. I didn’t like the colour, the taste or the shape. Mum simply wouldn’t take no for an answer, though, and so decided that she would persevere on subsequent meals. “I don’t like sweetcorn” I would protest. And after a few failures, this is what she came up with:

“It’s just yellow peas. You like peas.”

She was right. I did like peas. I do like peas. By realigning my expectations she had almost made me feel guilty that I was turning my back on a genus of vegetable that I had been loyal to for many years. And it worked. I began to eat the stuff, a few bits at a time, mixed with in my garden peas or petit pois. It went on like this for a few years. Until, suddenly, a few years later, Mum and I went shopping. I asked if we needed more yellow peas, and she pointed me in the direction of a tin of Green Giant. On it was printed; “Sweetcorn”.

She had been lying to me for all that time. At that precise moment in time I made a solemn vow that I would never, ever eat Sweetcorn again. Duplicity, deceit and dishonesty had forever ruined what could have been a perfectly pleasant vegetable. And now I’m here to say that GM did exactly the same thing to me again in 2005.

Read on for any of the above to make sense.

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Chevy, then. To a child of semi-rural, coastal, commuter-train distance from London, middle-class, dental-plan, mortgaged, mow-the-lawn-on-Sundays, dual-income, garden-long-enough-to-run-around-in, sandwiches on the beach, 6 o’clock news and no-watching-TV-after-the-watershed England, the name Chevrolet didn’t mean much. The abbreviated version, though, was a lot more widely thrown around.

A Chevy, to some folk, might have been a conveyance that you might drive, to a levee for example, before finding that the water level thereabouts was lower than expected. People had heard the term “Chevy” before, and not just because of that “Chase” character. Chevvies were well documented in films, most British people knew that a Chevy was an American car of some kind.

I, on the other hand, had seen Corvette Summer. I was probably seven or eight at the time, and the ‘Vette was the first Chevy I became aware of. I soon became familiar with it, to the point that I recognised the C4 every time it turned up in The A-Team, I could idenify Raven from MASK as being based on the C4, and I particularly enjoyed driving it around the carpet in semi-converted mode, e.g. still in car form but with the rocket boost engines deployed. Oh yes, I knew Chevvies.

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Bizarrely, I, along with many others (I suspect), knew the Chevrolet range pretty much from the top down. Anybody who knew anything about cars knew about the Corvette. The Camaro came next, with far fewer people knowing about them, and from that point onwards everything turned to mush. Very few people had any idea that Chevrolet offered an entire range portfolio, from Impala and Caprice land-yachts down to Chevette Scooters. Impala meant something to some of us, Caprice meant a bit to any kid who watched any film with a police chase in it, or, say, any film set in New York with yellow Caprice and Crown Vic cabs vying for screen space. But who knew that there was a Chevy Monza? Why would any British kid be able to spot a Citation or Celebrity?

The photos you see before you are of a brochure issued in 2005 (which was, like, yesterday, man) at the time that the Chevrolet marque was being re-launched in the UK. Actually, the bowtie never really went away, it was just never really successfully marketed here.

Throughout the ’90s and the first bit of the current millennium, C5 Corvettes occasionally trickled out of specialist Chevrolet dealerships dotted hither and thither across the land. Camaro, too, was marketed here, and the same dealerships also dispensed the Cadillac STS, largely unsuccessfully. The problem was, I should imagine, the fact that the name didn’t really mean enough to sell on its own, and the price, while undercutting certain Germans, didn’t equate well here compared to Tans-Atlantic comparisons.

The brochure makes no mention of the recent past. Instead, and predictably, it does its best to promote the image that it wants us all to recall. To whit; the glory days of the Bel Air, Camaro and Corvette.

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Photos abound of dragsters and race cars. The ’63 Sting Ray with its split rear screen, the square-grilled ’70 Camaro, and the inevitably yellow candy-painted Bel Air. It profiles the owners of some of these cars, why they like and relate to their chosen cars.

It also goes on to profile Michael Simcoe, GM’s Executive Director of Design. He speaks of the cars he owed at the time of going to press (Aurelia B20GT, ’61 DB4, ’67 Fulvia HF, poor bastard really ought to persuade the General to give him a raise….) and he speaks of the design features that he has loved the most over the years.  The detailing of the Alfa Montreal gets a mention (he isn’t very specific over which bits), the delicacy of the roof pillars on the Fulvia, the entire Stratos……and a Pavoni espresso machine. All very worthy, and all basically standard issue replies when you ask any automotive designers those sort of questions.

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However, the brochure up to that point was doing a good job of convincing me that Chevy were BACK! All those sexy, muscular, V8, hi-test technicolour machines were heading our way. Maybe our streets would see a bit more welcome Americana and our ears would ring with pushrod goodness once more.

And then for the betrayal.

After all the allure of the past, the designer’s floury claims of where Chevrolet were heading, here is where the bowtie admits to the products that we in the UK are actually receiving in 2005.

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There’s a big central splash, proclaiming “M3X- How concepts become reality”

“Here’s a glimpse of Chevrolet’s all-new M3X city car. Technically, this is a concept”

This, to me, was like somebody painting a horse in black and white stripes and calling it a zebra. Like taking a cheese pie, putting a cherry on the top and claiming to have re-invented the recipe. The M3X was, plainly, the Daweoo Matiz with some entertainingly aftermarket looking embellishments nailed to it. Oh, alright, the NEW Matiz, but it was hardly a wild departure from the old one. And it certainly wasn’t the kind of Chevrolet I had my mind set on.

Then there’s the Kalos; to you an Aveo. We had already had quite enough of this car, thank you very much, when it wore Daewoo badges. Yes, it wasn’t absolutely terrible, but it wasn’t what I wanted a Chevy to be.

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The Lacetti was next, and threatened to put me in an involuntary coma just from being looked at. The hatchback depicted was at least trying, with ludicrous sill-extensions and what-are-you-trying-to-prove big wheels. Bright red, too. But the Lacetti station wagon on the next page was literally murderously tedious to behold. So much so that I should by rights have nodded off before progressing any further through the publication. Yet, somehow I made it to page 42 where I was greeted by:

The Tacuma. It comes as a dose of salts after the Lacetti, but only because its extreme ungainliness makes it look part moray eel, part walrus. I urge you to immediately google for the Daewoo Tacuma, and disagree with me that the cars face looks like it’s just had its whiskers pulled out with vice-grips.

At the end of the brochure there’s a section where it invites you to explore Chevrolets heritage, which is ironic when you consider that the cars it was offering have absolutely zero to do with any of the great things they did in the past. It strikes me that the two halves of the brochure should never have been allowed to sit together. Why spend time painting such a vivid picture, displaying and suggesting such an appealing list of ingredients and seasonings, when the food on the actual menu amounts to turds drizzled with boogers?

And yes, I know it has everything to do with market forces, and that I’m being horribly moribund and melodramatic about the whole thing, and the only person who has enjoyed this whole assembly of words has probably been me. It’s been cathartic, thanks. But it still saddens me, that in 2005 a name that I used to associate with excitement, raw power, overseas unfamiliarity, American Teenagers doing things their own way and sticking it to the Man (whatever that involves), broken heroes on last-chance power drives, wide, open freeways with telegraph lines as far as the eye could see; abandoned mining settlements, windblown Detroit streets, the elevated railroads of Chicago, infinite deserts, dense woodland, Futurama and neon-lit skylines should appear on cars that we didn’t much like when they were Daewoos.

(Disclaimer: All images are of original manufacturer publicity materials. Chevrolet, I should stress, have moved on somewhat since ’05, but they still keep all their interesting stuff away from our shores. If anybody from GM is moved to change my mind by way of a demonstration, please, hit me up. I’d love to be impressed).

  • Devin

    The Kalos was pretty terrible, at least in Aveo form. I once described it as a worn out, half-broken version of an economy car from 1985 which was never very good in the first place that, somehow, was new on the lot.

    Also the one I drove squeaked if you turned left. I admittedly get very annoyed by extremely specific sounds, so that was the worst.

  • Dean Bigglesworth

    I enjoyed reading this, and it pretty much describes how I felt. The -57 Chevy was the first Chevy I knew about, one of my earliest memories is begging my parents to buy me a die-cast model of one. It was red with yellow flames and huge rear tyres. And later I learned about the other classics you mentioned.

    Dad drove a -89 Fiat Tipo back in the early nineties, and I remember thinking even my neighbors black(with red pinstripes and chrome wheels) -89 Starcraft Astro being awesome. I mean the engine was four times the size of the Tipo's carbureted four! Another neighbors kid had a red Mustang GT, with a five liter V8!. That was supercar stuff. Another neighbors kid's 180SX was a puny toy to the eight year old me. I've later learned to appreciate both, but there was no contest then.

    Any plans on writing about a Dodge brochure from around 2006..?

  • The foreplay in the brochure was much more interesting than the 'money shot'.

  • Mike Eldred

    Don't feel too bad. European and Japanese car companies do the same, and worse, to us here in the U.S. The problem is that car company marketing executives are selected by a committee of dunderheads who hate cars – It's the same committee of blind half-wits who select the most awkward, ungainly, and unappealing designs for production while passing up the ones that make enthusiasts' hearts thump.
    Their goal is to take no risk, to avoid any notice, to blend in with the guy standing next to them, and above all, to avoid thinking to hard.

    Chevy's marketing department probably thinks Europeans like small cars. In the U.S., people think small cars have to be cheap, slow, shitty cars. Therefore, you got a small car, American-style. See? Didn't you want a cheap, slow, shitty car that's made in Korea but with the same American badge as a Corvette? No? What's your problem, anyway? There's no pleasing some people!

  • "Very few people had any idea that Chevrolet offered an entire range portfolio, from Impala and Caprice land-yachts down to Chevette Scooters."

    The whole concept that the Chevrolet lineup could be anything less than plainly apparent (to the point of being almost instinctual) is a bit mindbending. It demonstrates the surprising degree to which growing up in the UK is truly different from the US, which is something I forget.

    • Vairship

      And through brilliant brand-marketing, everyone in Europe now associates Chevy with shitty cheap unreliable Daewoos…

  • ˏ♂ˊ mzs zsm msz esq

    Well I do say the Daewoo Tacuma has at the least a mostly straight and horizontal line running above the front bumper cover around to the whe….. Yeah even I can't do it, good post Chris, thanks.

  • PushrodRWD

    The truth is if Chevy did deliver a Chevy type performance car to England it would be ridiculed for being too big and having poor mileage (which somehow never applies to the ultra high end euro cars). The cost of getting one there would probably make a Camaro as expensive as a BMW, especially if it was something like a 1LE. It would be berated on Top Gear for not being as refined as said BMW and not as good around a track. Both would be true but over here they are cheaper (though not really cheap anymore). On the other hand you can get a VXR8 Clubsport and GTS as well as a Maloo (no wagon there either). But they are probably very expensive so the performance to cost ratio that makes GM appealing may not work there. We will get a tuned down version of the new Commodore, the Chevrolet SS, with NO MANUAL OPTION. It wasn’t as bad with the G8 GT, because they were cheap (about the same as a six cylinder Camry), but these cars are going to cost almost $20k more than I paid for my GT. There is also the Insignia wagon that we can’t get here… You guys get some cool stuff too.

  • dukeisduke

    Canned corn? Gag. Just the frozen, non-sweet variety for me, like my grandmother used to grow in her garden.

  • Van_Sarockin

    Enjoy those yellow peas and Korean Chevys. At least it's not creamed corn… Or a Citation.

  • Perc

    Detroit spent the better part of the 20th century convincing us that american cars were big and luxurious. Like the article says, your average european doesn't know what a base Chevy Citation is because we only got the Caprice and the custom vans.

    Now all of a sudden, Chevrolet is supposed to be a reasonably priced brand for sensible people. There's nothing inherently wrong with that, because that's what it always was in its home market. But not here.

    But Europe is guilty of the same thing. The average american has no idea what an Audi A4 1.6 is, or that the S class is available with a four-cylinder diesel. Or that the E class can be had with a stick.