What to buy the Chevrolet collector who has everything? How about the model that launched the Chevy brand into the big league and set up a rivalry with Ford that would shape automobile history? The Chevy 490 really was that important and the clue is in the name. Henry Ford's Model T had created a whole new car market for the rapidly expanding middle classes and Chevrolet - the marque created by Swiss racing driver Louis Chevrolet and William Durant, founder of General Motors - wanted a piece of the action. Chevrolet himself had already left the company but Durant pursued his vision of a car for the masses. The Model T was priced at $495 so Durant undercut the Ford by five dollars and unveiled the 'Four-Ninety'. More conventional in layout and operation than the Model T, the 490 was an instant success and hugely profitable for General Motors. History had been made.
Although as American as Mom's apple pie, our car has in fact never seen the United States. Built in 1916 in the General Motors plant in Oshawa, Ontario, it was exported to South Africa, hence the right-hand drive. It was restored to a very good standard and came to this country in 2002, since when it has been in regular use. The build date of 1916 has been authenticated by historian Mike Worthington-Williams, making it eligible for use in Veteran Car Club 'Edwardian' class events, and, we believe, the oldest Chevrolet in Britain today.
The car remains in really nice condition, with excellent paintwork and a superb interior. It has a full length hood but no sidescreens. The engine is a delight, with its exposed push rods and valve gear chattering away in a light mist of oil. A previous owner has kindly provided a typed sheet of starting instructions and we had it running sweetly within ten minutes of connecting up a fresh battery. With the exception of the centre throttle, the controls are conventional and we were soon happily tootling around our trading estate. The steering is suprisingly good and the performance quite sprightly. The brakes (rear only) are definitely of the First World War era but they do the job. The car's last MOT expired in October 2012 and although no longer required by law, we would happily re-test it for the next owner.
This is a charming and much rarer alternative to a Model T that would grace any Chevy collection.