American (from 1915)
December 25, 1878|
La Chaux-de-Fonds, Canton of Neuchâtel, Switzerland
|Died||June 6, 1941
Detroit, Michigan, United States
Louis-Joseph Chevrolet (December 25, 1878 – June 6, 1941) was a Swiss-born American race car driver of French descent, founder of the Chevrolet Motor Car Company in 1911 and later, the Frontenac Motor Corporation in 1916 which made racing parts for Ford's Model T.1
The second child of Joseph-Félicien and Marie-Anne Angéline, née Mahon, Louis Chevrolet was born in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Canton of Neuchâtel, a center of watchmaking in northwestern Switzerland. In 1886, Chevrolet's family left Switzerland to live in Beaune, in the Côte-d'Or département of France. It was there as a young man Louis developed his mechanical skills and interest in bicycle racing.
He worked for the Roblin mechanics shop from 1895 to 1899, at which time he went to Paris, where he worked for a short time before emigrating to Montreal, Quebec in Canada in 1900 to work as a mechanic. The following year, he moved to New York City, where he worked briefly for a fellow Swiss immigrant's engineering company, then moved to the Brooklyn operations of the French car manufacturer de Dion-Bouton.
In 1905 he married Suzanne Treyvoux, the couple had two sons. In the same year, he was hired by FIAT as a racing car driver, and a year later became employed by a Philadelphia company developing a then-revolutionary front-wheel-drive racing car. His racing career continued as he drove for Buick, becoming a friend and associate of Buick owner William C. Durant (founder of General Motors).2 He raced at the Giants Despair Hillclimb in 1909.
With little in the way of a 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, Detroit.3
On November 3, 1911 Chevrolet cofounded the Chevrolet Motor Car Company with Durant (by now ousted from General Motors) and investment partners William Little (maker of the Little automobile) and Dr. Edwin R. Campbell (son-in-law of Durant). The company was established in Detroit, one story tells the choosing of the company's logo as a stylized Swiss cross, to honor his parents' homeland.4 Another story tells of the Chevrolet logo as a design taken from a Paris Hotel room wallpaper that Louis once stayed in.
Chevrolet had differences with Durant over the car's design and in 1915 sold Durant his share in the company. By 1916 the profits from the Chevrolet company allowed Durant to repurchase a controlling stake in General Motors, and by 1917 the Chevrolet company that Louis had cofounded was folded into General Motors.
Also in 1916, an American Motors Corporation (apparently unrelated to the more famous later corporation of the same name) was formed in Newark, New Jersey, with Louis Chevrolet as vice president and chief engineer.5 By 1918 it was producing cars in a plant at Plainfield, New Jersey.6 In 1923 it merged with the Bessemer Motor Truck Company of Pennsylvania into Bessemer–American Motors Corporation, which lasted less than a year before merging with the Winther and Northway companies into Amalgamated Motors. The latter company apparently ceased soon after.
By the mid-1910s, Louis Chevrolet had shifted into the racing car industry, partnering with Howard E. Blood of Allegan, Michigan to create the Cornelian, a state-of-the-art racing car, which he used to place 20th in the 1915 Indianapolis 500 automobile race. In 1916, he and younger brothers Gaston and Arthur Chevrolet started Frontenac Motor Corporation, designing and producing a line of racing cars. They became well known for, among other things, their Fronty-Ford racers.
Louis also drove in the Indianapolis 500 four times, with a best finish of 7th in 1919. Brother Arthur competed twice, and brother Gaston won there in 1920 in one of their Frontenacs, going on to win the 1920 AAA National Championship.
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, sculpted by Adolph Wolter and designed by Fred Wellman was created during 1968–1970 and installed in Spring of 1975. The centerpiece of the memorial is a bronze bust (32 × 17½ × 16½ in.) of Chevrolet wearing a racing cap and goggles, it rests on a marble and granite square base (59½ × 21 × 30 in.).
A marble and granite exedra (70 in. × 28 ft. 4 in. × 91 in.) serves as a seating area to reflect on Chevrolet's accomplishments which are showcased in four bronze reliefs (each: 19 × 47 × 1½ in.). The reliefs depict:
- Chevrolet with Durant and the first Chevrolet passenger car in 1911.
- Chevrolet's first winning car at Indianapolis, driven to victory in 1920 by brother Gaston Chevrolet, with four Speedway pioneers in the background – Carl G. Fisher, James A. Allison, L. H. Trotter, and T. E. Myers.
- Chevrolet's second Indianapolis winner, driven by Tommy Milton in 1921, with Eddie Rickenbacker, Col. Arthur William Sidney Herrington, Louis Schwitzer and C. W. Van Ranst.
- Chevrolet's 1923 Barber-Warnock Fronty Ford at the Speedway with Henry Ford at the wheel and Louis standing alongside, flanked by Barney Oldfield and Harvey Firestone.
They are all inscribed with identifying text and a bronze black on the back of the base is inscribed:
- Erected Under Auspices Of
- Speedway Old Timers
- Chevrolet Memorial Committee
- William B. Ansted, Jr., Chairman
- A. W. Herrington, Honorary Chairman
- Frank Bain Chairman Ex Officio
- Charles R. Keogh Treasurer
- Fred Wellman, Secretary
- Al Bloemaker Karl Kizer
- Clarence Cagle F. E. Moscovics
- Herman Deupree Lee Oldfield
- Ray Harroun Louis Schwitzer
- E. V. Rickenbacker/MCMLXXI
The front of the base is engraved:
- Louis Chevrolet
The original funding plan for the memorial requested 200 gifts at $200 each, and more than 58% of the donations needed to fund it were provided that way. The memorial cost $40,000.
- In 1992, Louis Chevrolet was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame.
- He was named to the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame in 1990.
- He was inducted in the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 1995.
- http://media.gm.com/me/chevrolet/en/corporate/c_history/index.htmldead link
- Clymer, Floyd. Treasury of Early American Automobiles, 1877–1925 (New York: Bonanza Books, 1950), p.179.
- McPhee, John La Place de la Concorde Suisse. New York: Noonday Press (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), 1984
- Editorial staff and correspondents (1916-03-01), "American Motors Corporation formed", Automobile Trade Journal 20 (9): 108.
- American Motors Corporation (1918-05-15), "Advertisement", Horseless Age 44 (4): 7.
- "Chevrolet brother's grave finally gets a tombstone". Edmonton Journal. 11 Nov 2011. Retrieved 31 May 2012.
- Smithsonian (1993). "Louis Chevrolet Memorial, (sculpture).". Save Outdoor Sculpture. Smithsonian. Retrieved 2 January 2010.
- Clymer, Floyd. Treasury of Early American Automobiles, 1877–1925. New York: Bonanza Books, 1950.
- Louis Chevrolet in German, French and Italian in the online Historical Dictionary of Switzerland.
- Sinzig, Martin. Louis Chevrolet, der Mann, der dem Chevy seinen Namen gab". Frauenfeld. Verlag Huber, 2011. ISBN 978-3-7193-1566-5
- Louis Chevrolet driver statistics at Racing Reference
- Louis Chevrolet at Find a Grave
- Louis Chevrolet at VanderbiltCupRaces.com
- Louis Chevrolet at nndb.com
- Footage of Louis Chevrolet Racing in 1919 includes his accident