Chevrolet: A Brief History

Louis Chevrolet
Louis Chevrolet


America was exploding with innovation, invention, and technology in the early 1900’s which would lay the foundation for the modern age we live in today. The world began to operate on electricity, mankind had conquered flight, and soon everybody would own an automobile. The entrepreneur spirit of America was in full swing and it brought immigrants from all over the world to pursue a better life. One of these immigrants’ name would become one of the most notable American car companies in American history.

A Swiss Mechanic

Baby Chevrolet
          Baby Chevrolet

In 1878 on Christmas day, Louis Chevrolet was born in La Chaux-de-Fonds Switzerland. He would move to France with his parents as a boy and learned mechanical skills. As a boy he also grew a deep interest in bicycle racing and later became a race car driver with Fiat and Buick. He made his trip over the Atlantic to explore opportunities to become an automobile mechanic. He worked in Philadelphia developing his mechanical skills becoming one of the best mechanics of the time for Fiat.  

He would soon Race for Buick as he had a deep interest in the overhead valve internal combustion engine. Chevrolet would gain rapid fame in the race car industry becoming the top driver for the Buick team and briefly holding the worlds fastest land speed record of 119 miles per hour for a brief time. This got the attention of ousted GM executive William C Durant who, who had controlled GM for a brief time but had lost his position due to debt liabilities.  

Durant and Chevrolet
William Durant and Louis Chevrolet

The Chevrolet Motor Company

flathead vs overhead valve engine

William C Durant and Louis Chevrolet became friends through the Buick Motor Company. Durant thought that the name Chevrolet had a nice ring to it, and convinced Chevrolet to form a partnership together. The company would go on to be called the Chevrolet Motor company. Using his great mechanical skills, Louis Chevrolet developed a state of the art automobile with a fresh original look, luxurious features, and most importantly to Chevrolet; lots of power. He used a v6 overhead valve engine modeled after Buick and Walter Marr’s invention to ad considerable horsepower to the market. They both had their differences though, as Chevrolet would sell his shares to Durant and continue building and racing cars. Durant however, would gain enough money to repurchase a controlling stake in GM, becoming the leader of the corporation a second time, and creating one of the most fierce and dramatic corporate proxy wars in American history.  

The Famous Chevy Bowtie

Chevy bow tie

In 1913 the  Chevrolet Motor Car Company was in full swing selling the series C classic 6. In 1914 the H series Baby Grand and Royal Mail, as well as the L series model introduced the iconic bowtie emblem to the world. There are many myths about where the billion dollar emblem came from. Many speculate that William C Durant had designed it from the wall paper in a French hotel room. Others believe Chevrolet himself came up with the design and based it off of the Swiss flag to commemorate his homeland.

Louis Chevrolet experimental car 1911
Louis Chevrolet in his first experimental car in 1911

Going separate ways

By 1915 Louis Chevrolet had lost interest in owning a large automobile company and decided to go back to his love of racing. He sold his share of the company to William C Durant and went on to manufacture racing auto parts ironically for The Henry Ford Company. Chevrolet began to become extremely profitable with the cheaper series 490 allowing William C Durant to repurchase his controlling interest and become president of GM. By 1929 Chevrolet would become the most sold car of the era topping out sales over Ford and Buick and becoming one of America’s most notable and reliable cars of the century. 

Vanderbilt Cup Races
Louis Chevrolet in #16 at the Vanderbilt Cup Races