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 a founder in 1916 of the Frontenac Motor Corporation, 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. There, as a young man, Louis developed his mechanical skills and interest in bicycle racing.
Chevrolet worked for the Roblin mechanics shop from 1895 to 1899. He then went to Paris, where he worked for a short time before emigrating to Montreal, Quebec, 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, Pennsylvania company developing a 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 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.3
On November 3, 1911, Chevrolet co-founded the Chevrolet Motor Car Company with Durant and investment partners William Little (maker of the Little automobile) and Dr. Edwin R. Campbell, son-in-law of Durant and friend of Samuel McLaughlin of the McLaughlin Car Company of Canada Ltd. The company was established in Detroit. One story tells the choosing of the company's logo as a modified Swiss cross, to honor Chevrolet's homeland.4 Another story tells of the Chevrolet logo as a design taken from the wallpaper of a Paris hotel room 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 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 Louis had co-founded was merged as a company into General Motors after the outstanding Chevrolet stocks were purchased from McLaughlin 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.
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 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 drove in the Indianapolis 500 four times, with a best finish of 7th in 1919. Arthur competed twice, and Gaston won the race 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, 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.
- 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.
- 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 on YouTube