Saturday, August 13, 2011

A Hundred Years of Chevrolet

The actual anniversary will come on November 11, the day when auto-phenom William C. Durant (1861-1947) founded the company a hundred years ago. Durant also founded General Motors, by the way. He came from Boston, a high school drop-out, lumberyard hand, cigar peddler, carriage salesman. Durant got fired from General Motors when his efforts to purchase Ford in 1910 fell through because the banks would not back him. No matter. Durant founded Chevrolet in 1911. Within five years Chevrolet had produced sufficient profits so that Durant could acquire a controlling share in GM again. He got back in the saddle and brought Chevrolet back with him. So, in a sense (as I’ve always thought), Chevrolet is General Motors.

Now for that name. The name came from Louis Chevrolet (1878-1941), a Swiss immigrant to the United States, a famed race car driver. Chevrolet (the man) worked for Durant at Buick. They became friends. Louis was one of Chevrolet’s co-founders with Dr. Edwin R. Campbell (who was Durant’s son in law), and William H. Little, creator of the eponymous Little automobile. Louis and Bill Durant fell out in 1914—the dispute was about a car design. Durant bought Louis’ shares, but Louis left his name. Those were the days! That picture above, by the way, shows Louis Chevrolet, race driver, not Bill Durant, auto magnate; it comes from this GM site.

Chevrolet was also—my first car! I was born a Chevy, you might say, but married a Honda. Here she is, a 1952 Chevrolet Styline. My own looked very much as the car in this photograph. I bought it used while I was in Germany, in the Army—a truly splendid vehicle, lovely to look at, tight, swift, fast, roadworthy, all that a young man could wish for. I’d already sold it by the time Brigitte and I met, but borrowed it back so that we could drive it on our wedding day. (Alas, that was a practical, not a romantic business; we needed to pick up some documents many miles away; but it has become a romantic memory).

It’s been a good hundred years, Chevrolet, of which I’ve shared seventy five. The year I was born, Chevy turned twenty-five.

No comments:

Post a Comment