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North Coast Current

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North Coast Current

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Historically Speaking: Chevrolet

By Tom Morrow

Like most of today’s automotive monikers, Chevrolet vehicles are named after its founder, Louis-Joseph Chevrolet. Most drivers and owners have no idea the name “Chevrolet,” or it’s more popular name, “Chevy,” was that of a Swiss-American, mechanic, engine designer and race car driver.
Chevrolet, who was born Dec. 25, 1878, was co-founder of the Chevrolet Motor Car Company, also was a founder in 1916 of the Frontenac Motor Corporation.
Chevrolet was born in Canton of Neuchâtel, a center of watchmaking in northwestern Switzerland. In 1886, Chevrolet’s family left Switzerland to live in France. There, as a young man, Louis developed his mechanical skills and interest in bicycle racing.
He went to Paris for a short time before emigrating to Montreal, Canada in 1900. Chevrolet worked as a mechanic and in 1901, he moved to New York City, where he worked for the Brooklyn operations of the French car manufacturer de Dion-Bouton.
In 1905, Chevrolet was hired by the Italian car company, Fiat, as a racing driver. Then in 1907, Chevrolet was hired by The Auto Car Company in Philadelphia for a secret project to develop a revolutionary front-wheel-drive racing car.
His racing career continued as he drove for the Buick company, becoming a friend and associate of Buick owner William C. Durant, founder of General Motors. With little in the way of formal education, Chevrolet learned car design while working for Buick and started designing his own engine for a new car in 1909. He built an overhead valve six-cylinder engine in his own machine shop on Grand River Boulevard in Detroit, Michigan. The basic design of that engine would power Chevrolet cars and truck for the next half-century.
On Nov. 3, 1911, Chevrolet co-founded the Chevrolet Motor Car Company with Durant and investment partners William Little and Dr. Edwin R. Campbell, The company was established in Detroit.
The origin of the iconic Chevy logo remains a mystery. One story tells the choosing of the company’s logo as a modified Swiss cross to honor Chevrolet’s homeland. Another story tells of the Chevrolet logo as a design taken from the wallpaper of a Paris hotel room where Chevrolet once stayed.
Chevrolet had differences with Durant of General Motors over the car’s design, and in 1915 sold Durant his share in the company and started McLaughlin’s Company in Canada, building Chevrolets. By 1916 the trading of Chevrolet stock for GM Holding stock enabled Durant to repurchase a controlling stake in General Motors, and by 1917 the Chevrolet company that its namesake had co-founded was merged as a company into General Motors after the outstanding Chevrolet stocks were purchased in 1918.
The McLaughlin Car Company then merged with his Chevrolet Motor Company of Canada Ltd. to become General Motors of Canada Ltd. in 1918, prior to the incorporation of the General Motors Corporation in the U.S. when General Motors Company of New Jersey dissolved.
In 1916, Louis Chevrolet and his brothers founded the Frontenac Motor Corporation to make parts for Henry Ford’s popular Model T.
Also in 1916, American Motors Corporation (unrelated to the later American Motors) was formed in Newark, New Jersey, with Chevrolet as vice president and chief engineer. By 1918, the company was producing cars in a plant at Plainfield, New Jersey. In 1923 it merged with the Bessemer Motor Truck Company of Pennsylvania into Bessemer-American Motors Corporation.
In 1919, as a race car driver, Chevrolet drove in the Indianapolis 500 four times, with a best finish of 7th. He also raced for the Buick racing team.
Chevrolet died on June 6, 1941, in Detroit as a result of complications from a leg operation which led to its amputation. He is buried in the Holy Cross and Saint Joseph Cemetery in Indianapolis, Indiana.
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum in Speedway, Indiana, features a memorial at the entrance to the building dedicated to the accomplishments of Louis Chevrolet. The memorial, designed by Fred Wellman and sculpted by Adolph Wolter, was created during 1968-1970 and installed in the spring of 1975. The centerpiece of the memorial is a bronze bust of Chevrolet wearing a racing cap and goggles; it rests on a marble and granite square base.
Around the world, the name “Chevy” is right up there with Ford as the two most popular vehicles – both autos and trucks.


To Learn More about Tom Morrow, the author click here.
E-mail Tom Morrow at: [email protected]

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Historically Speaking: Chevrolet