This year marks the 100th Anniversary of the Chevrolet Division of General Motors Company. The story starts with Louis J. Chevrolet, the namesake of this well-known automotive brand?
Copyright © 1929 Chevrolet Brothers Mfg. Co.
Before achieving success in building automobiles, Louis J. Chevrolet gained fame as a racing driver. In his first race in 1905, he defeated Barney Oldfield. On June 19, 1909, Chevrolet drove a Buick to victory in the first 400 mile Cobe Cup race in Crown Point, Indiana. At the time, the Cobe Cup race was known as the longest event of the kind ever promoted in America.
In 1911, with the encouragement of William C. Durant of General Motors, Chevrolet developed the first automobile to bear his name—the Chevrolet Classic Six retailing for $2,150. By 1913 there was a growing rift between the two individuals over the type of car that should wear the Chevrolet name. The man left the company, but General Motors retained the rights to the “Chevrolet” name.
Louis Chevrolet went on to design the lightweight Cornelian race car with four-wheel independent suspension and a monocoque chassis for the Indianapolis 500 in 1915. Both innovations proved to be successful about 50 years later. These innovations reappeared on the rear-engine cars used from the 1960’s to the present.
In late 1910′s, Louis built a number of Frontenac racing cars that he and his brothers, Arthur and Gaston, drove to many victories. For the 1920 Indianapolis 500, William Small of Indianapolis contracted with Chevrolet to build four Monroe and three Frontenac race cars. Gaston Chevrolet won the race driving one of the Monroes and become the first driver in Indy history to go the full 500 miles without changing tires. Another Chevrolet-design Frontenac, with Tommy Milton as the driver, won the 1921 Indianapolis 500. With this victory, Chevrolet became the first car builder to win two Indianapolis 500 mile races. Additionally, he accomplished that feat with new four-cylinder and eight-cylinder engines of his own design.
Later, Louis and Arthur Chevrolet and Cornelius W. Van Ranst developed a new overhead valve cylinder head that would develop higher horsepower from a Ford Model T engine and make it competitive in races on dirt tracks. They also incorporated the Chevrolet Brothers Manufacturing Company in Indianapolis to produce ” Frontenac ” cylinder heads in 1922. A Fronty Ford placed fifth in the 1923 Indianapolis 500, and the Chevrolet Brothers were deluged with more orders than they could fill during the next couple of years.
Louis J. Chevrolet was one of the outstanding drivers during the pioneer days of auto racing, designer of comfortable and dependable passenger cars, and designer and builder of fast and durable race cars. He and his brothers were truly automotive pioneers.