Happy birthday, Mr. Chevrolet. Chevrolet, like David Buick, Henry Ford, Horace Dodge and Waler Chrysler have been awarded a dubious form of immortality. They are brands recognized throughout the world, but their many accomplishments, and often even their first name, have been forgotten.
With that as introduction, let me introduce you to Louis Chevrolet.
– Louis Chevrolet was born in Switzerland on December 25, 1878. His father was a well known watchmakers. He passed on his passion for mechanical things to his son, and Louis became enamored with bicycles at an early age. His family moved to France when he was nine years old, and a few years later he found employment as a bicycle mechanic. He also developed a reputation in France as a bicycle racer.
– Manifestations of his inventive side began with development of an innovative wine pump using a one-cylinder motor mounted on a three-wheeled bike. Next he perfected a multispeed axle for the bicyle, and began manufacturing these bikes under the Frontenac name.
– In 1900, he emigrated to Canada and then to the United States in the employment of De Dion-Bouton, and then Fiat. He also represented several companies as a driver at automobile races. That brought him, and his brothers Arthur and Gaston, to the attention of William C. Durant who was looking to create a factory race team to promote Buick. As a driver he won many races across the country and set records on tracks at Morris Park and Crown Point. Louis Chevrolet also worked for Durant in the development and engineering of new Buicks including the revolutionary 1910 60 Special, also known as the “Buick Bug”.
– On November 3, 1911, he co-founded the Chevrolet Motor Car Company with his brother Arthur, Durant, William Little and Dr. Edwin R. Campbell. He designed and built the first Chevrolet car, the 490. However, he soon clashed with Durant over the direction of the company. Chevrolet envisioned the company as the manufacturer of a high performance vehicle with a hefty price tag. Durant wanted to produce a car to compete directly with Ford’s Model T, and use the company to regain control of General Motors.
-Chevrolet promoted the cars with racing. In 1914 he drove in the last of the Desert Classic series. The course for the race was the National Old Trails Road from Los Angeles though Needles and Kingman to Ash Fork and then south to Phoenix. Shortly afterwards he sold his shares to Durant and left the company that bore his name.
– After leaving Chevrolet, he continued to work on various automotive projects, such as the Frontenac Motor Corporation, which he founded with his brothers in 1916 to produce racing cars and parts. He also designed engines for aircrafts during World War I and for boats during the Prohibition era. He returned to racing in 1919 and won the Tacoma Speedway race driving a Frontenac. He also competed in the Indianapolis 500 four times between 1915 and 1920, finishing seventh in his last attempt.
– In 1929, he rejoined General Motors as a consulting engineer, working on experimental cars and engines. He suffered from financial difficulties and poor health in his later years, and died of a stroke on June 6, 1941 in Detroit. He was buried in Holy Cross Cemetery in Indianapolis, near the Indianapolis Motor Speedway where he had raced.
The Chevrolet legacy lives on in the durable and industry leading cars and trucks at Findlay-Chevy-GMC in Bullhead City, Arizona. Take a test drive today, and take time to reflect on the many accomplishments of Louis Chevrolet.
Written By Jim Hinckley of Jim Hinckley’s America