Home Automobiles Louis Chevrolet Amazing Inspirational story: What made he famous?
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Louis Chevrolet Amazing Inspirational story: What made he famous?

by Peter Barnes

Louis Chevrolet was born on December 25, 1878, in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland. Chevrolet’s parents were Joseph Felician Chevrolet and Angelina Marie Chevrolet. He was the second of his family (four sons and two daughters). Louis was an automobile designer and racer whose name is commemorated by the Chevrolet Division of General Motors, from which he made little money and was only a modest employee in his latter years.

Photo of Louis Chevrolet circa 1910
Photo of Louis Chevrolet circa 1910 | Wikipedia

In 1900, he moved to the United States from France. He overcame the legendary American driver Barney Oldfield in his debut motor race five years later, and he went on to set records on every major track in the United States after that. He ran the measured mile in 52.8 seconds in 1905.

When the outcome of a race was in dispute, Louis Chevrolet was a fearless automotive racer who showed little concern for his personal safety. William Durant, an auto executive, was impressed by Chevrolet’s driving abilities. The Chevrolet Motor Company was founded when the two men united their abilities.

Who is Louis Chevrolet, and what is his story?

Louis Chevrolet
In 1906 Louis drove a Durracq Christie V8 to 119.7 mph | Photo – Pinterest

Louis Joseph Chevrolet was a Swiss-American car racer who also created the Frontenac Motor Corporation and designed the first Chevrolet automobile. His father, a watchmaker, taught him the fundamentals of mechanics, and as a teenager, he used to construct, repair, and race bicycles.

He was a powerful adolescent who went on to become a competitive cyclist after customizing bicycle gear ratios to take advantage of his strength. His enthusiasm for automobiles led to him being eagerly apprenticed to a number of carmakers.

Louis Chevrolet and Bob Burman
Louis Chevrolet and Bob Burman | Photo – Pinterest

He was hired as a driver for the Fiat car racing team after numerous triumphs, and after several victories, he became a superstar. When the outcome of a race was in doubt, he grew in fame as a reckless automotive racer who showed little concern for his personal safety. His driving abilities drew the notice of William Durant, an auto executive, and the two men joined forces to start the Chevrolet Motor Company.

Louis Chevrolet created a stunning six-cylinder touring car with minimal formal schooling and a tremendous knowledge of automobiles, demonstrating that his design abilities matched his racing prowess. He quit the company due to professional disputes with Durant and went on to become a successful independent racecar designer.

He enjoyed speedboat racing, trapshooting, and golf, in addition to automobiles, which were his lifelong obsession. He was a racing legend whose achievements had a profound impact on the American automobile industry.

The family relocated to Beaune, a tiny town in the Burgundy region of France, when he was about six years old. His father instilled in him basic mechanical abilities as a child, emphasizing the need for precision in the production of machine parts.

Louis Chevrolet in race | Frontenac Number 8 was engineered for the Indy 500 which Gaston won in 1920.
Louis Chevrolet in race | Frontenac Number 8 was engineered for the Indy 500 which Gaston won in 1920 | Photo – Reddit

He grew interested in bicycle racing as a youth and worked as an apprentice at a bicycle shop. In his leisure time, he began mending broken bicycles with the help of repair manuals.

Louis Chevrolet started working for the “Mors Auto Company” in 1898 and was transferred to a car dealership in Montreal, Canada, the following year. After six months as a chauffeur-mechanic, he relocated to Brooklyn, New York.

He worked briefly for a fellow Swiss immigrant’s engineering firm in the United States before joining the Brooklyn operations of the French carmaker, “DeDion Bouton Motorette Company.” He was granted the opportunity to drive a racecar for the “Fiat auto racing team” in New York City as a substitute driver.

Louis sites in a Buick race car, with his brother, Gaston, next to him
Louis sites in a Buick race car, with his brother, Gaston, next to him | Photo – Pinterest

Louis Chevrolet quickly built a name as a race car mechanic and driver in the United States, and after multiple victories, he became a superstar. He resigned from Fiat to work for William C. Durant, named the “Father of General Motors,” who hired him to create Buick concept cars, which ultimately led to several triumphs for the “Buick Racing Team.”

Despite his lack of formal education, he mastered automotive design and, in 1909, began designing his own engine for a new car. In his own machine shop on Grand River Boulevard in Detroit, Michigan, he built a six-cylinder overhead valve engine.

Starting of the Chevrolet Motor Company

Chevrolet Factory | Photo – Wikimedia Common

On November 3, 1911, Louis Chevrolet co-founded the famed “Chevrolet Motor Car Company” with Durant and two other investors, William Little and Dr. Edwin R. Campbell, on November 3, 1911.

However, when he and Durant disagreed over the car’s design, he sold Durant’s portion of the firm in 1915 and went on to form McLaughlin’s Company, which built Chevrolets in Canada.

He and his brothers established the “Frontenac Motor Corporation” in 1916 to produce racing parts for Ford Model Ts. However, he was not a wise businessman, and the company quickly folded.

Creating of the Chevrolair 333

Chevrolair 333 | Photo – Wikimedia Common

The Chevrolet brothers began by creating the Chevrolair 333, an economical airplane engine. Bad management brought the company to a halt, causing a schism between the brothers. Louis Chevrolet then formed a new aircraft firm with Baltimore Ford dealer Glenn L. Martin, but lost out to Martin in the 1929 stock market crash.

Martin went on to build a successful corporation based on this engine, which he dubbed the Martin 4-333, or Martin bomber. Chevrolet joined General Motors’ Chevrolet business as a consultant in 1934 and stayed there until 1938, when he had a brain hemorrhage and had to resign.

Louis Chevrolet’s last years were filled with sad stories. In 1934, his eldest son died. When his sister’s home in New Jersey burned down, he lost much of his memorabilia and technical designs. 

Louis Chevrolet Memorial, Indianapolis Speedway
Louis Chevrolet Memorial, Indianapolis Speedway | Photo – Pinterest

Louis Chevrolet died on June 6, 1941, while visiting Detroit, Michigan from his retirement home in Florida. He was interred in the Holy Cross Cemetery near the Indianapolis Speedway with his brother Gaston. Chevrolet was inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame in 1969 for its pioneering contributions.

Louis Chevrolet Photo Gallery

Louise Chevrolet
Louis Chevrolet with Amelia Earhart, the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic in 1932

Louise Chevrolet
He joined Buick’s racing team in 1909 and racked up victories galore. Buick was GM’s sales leader at the time, and Louis Chevrolet contributed mightily to the marque’s performance reputation.

Louise Chevrolet
Chevrolet crashed as often as he won, so to protect himself he invented the roll bar. This is one of his 1905 Fiats.

Louise Chevrolet
Louise Chevrolet’s Frontenac company built lightweight competition engines that dominated Indy in the early 1920s.

Louise Chevrolet
Racers line up for the start of the first Indy 500, May 30, 1911. Speedway president Carl Fisher led the pace lap in his white large touring car. (05/19/2011)

Louise Chevrolet
Arthur Chevrolet and riding mechanic in Buick racer Arthur drove in the first Indianapolis 500, 1911. (05/19/2011)

Louis Chevrolet
Louis Chevrolet crossing the finish line as the winner behind the wheel of a Buick in the Cobe Trophy

Sources: WikipediaMy Auto WorldDeans GarageThe Famous People | All the information and photo credit goes to respective owners. DM for any removal please.

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