Franco-American automotive designer, best known as co-founder of the Chevrolet Motor Car Company, now a part of General Motors (GM). Louis Chevrolet was born on Christmas day 1878 in La Chaux de Fonds, Switzerland, in the middle of the French-speaking Jura region. The son of a watchmaker, Chevrolet showed a strong mechanical aptitude at an early age. He immigrated to Montreal and worked as a chauffeur in Canada for six months before coming to New York, his ultimate destination. Driving hard-steering, rough-riding racing cars required a great deal of muscle at the turn of the century. The muscular young Frenchman was ideally suited to this pursuit. Slowly he established his reputation as a mechanic and a racer, winning his first road race on a cinder track in Morris Park, New York on May 20, 1905. Chevrolet brought his younger brothers Gaston and Arthur to America and left for Flint, Michigan to drive for William C. Durant, founder of General Motors. Chevrolet drove a Buick in the first Indianapolis 500 in 1911 but a broken camshaft put him out of the race early. Meanwhile Durant had been forced out of GM and privately hired Chevrolet to design the car of his dreams. Chevrolet was a consulting engineer, not an officer, in the Chevrolet Motor Car Company. When the Chevrolet Classic Six reached production in 1912 it was big, powerful and pricey. It carried a sticker of $2150, out of the reach of all but the wealthy. Durant realized that to make it really big, he needed to compete with cheaper cars he could sell at high volume. Chevrolet believed his name only belonged on a big, impressive automobile and resigned in October, 1913. He sold his stock, securities which later would have made him a millionaire many times over, when he left. Durant never missed the uneducated Chevrolet and his coarse ways, but loved his name and continued to build the company around it. The Chevrolet Motor Car Company prospered mightily building low-priced cars and proved to be Durant’s means of regaining the chairmanship of GM, as Chevrolet became its leading division. Louis Chevrolet formed the Frontenac Motor Corporation to build high-performance cylinder heads for Ford racing engines. By 1917 he had designed a whole new racing machine, complete with an aluminum engine, but lacked the resources to build it. Seeking a regular paycheck, he worked for American Motors for a time, but in the end his services were deemed expendable. His next job was to build a race car for the Monroe Company, an updated Frontenac racer, which won the 1920 Indianapolis 500 with his brother Gaston at the controls. Before the year was out, Gaston was to die tragically in a California racing accident. Chevrolet also built the straight-eight Frontenac driven to victory at Indy by Tommy Milton in 1921. His Indianapolis success attracted backers to incorporate Frontenac Motors, but the fledgling company collapsed before any cars could be produced. Another car company failed in 1924 and Chevrolet turned to boat racing, winning the Miami Regatta in 1925. Louis Chevrolet took his last laps at Indy in 1926 as the official pace car driver. In 1929 Louis and Arthur Chevrolet formed the Chevrolet Brothers Aircraft Company with a new engine of their design but lost the business to Glenn L. Martin. Finally in 1934, out of charity and a moral obligation towards the man who gave their best-selling car its name, GM put Chevrolet on their payroll. Illness forced him to retire in 1938. He died from complications of surgery on June 6, 1941 at the age of 63. He was buried in Indianapolis, scene of his greatest racing triumph.
Bio by: Edward Parsons
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