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Who Was Chevrolet?

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Louis J. Chevrolet

Louis J. Chevrolet

Louis Joseph Chevrolet was born on December 25, 1878 in northwest Switzerland to parents of French decent. The family moved to Beaune, France in 1886 and gradually grew to four sons (Louis, Alfred, Arthur and Gaston) and two daughters (Fanny and Berthe). Louis had minimal formal education and started out repairing and racing bicycles and produced his own bicycle, known as the 'Frontenac'. In 1900 he moved to Montreal, Quebec, in Canada to continue as a bicycle mechanic. In 1901 he moved to New York City to work for the Mors and Darracq Company to build bicycles but soon became enthralled with their Darracq internal combustion engine and left to work for the French automakers, De Dion-Bouton 'Motorette' Company in Brooklyn. After his father died in 1902 Chevrolet brought the rest of his family to America and went to work for Fiat in Manhattan. He entered his first car race in a 90 horsepower Fiat owned by William Wallace in 1905. He also married Suzanne Treyvoux that year and they had two sons: Charles Chevrolet was born in 1906 and Alfred Chevrolet was born in 1912.

Louis Chevrolet went on to help develop a font wheel drive car for a Philadelphia company and ended up driving and designing race cars for William Durant who by that time owned the Buick Motor Car Company. By 1909 he had his own machine shop where he designed and built a custom six-cylinder overhead valve engine. Durant used the Buick car company to build General Motors Corporation but was forced out in 1910 by the board of directors and the next year he joined up with Chevrolet to start the Chevrolet Motor Car Company. They agreed on the Swiss cross as their company logo.

Despite is lack of education Chevrolet had good mechanical instincts and his first love was car design and development, while Durant was the businessman. Chevrolet's love of racing and Durant's desire to build a car company left them at odds and in 1915 Durant bought Chevrolet out. Chevrolet went on to build an Indianapolis race car known as the 'Cornelian' with Howard Blood and by 1917 Durant had enough equity in the Chevrolet car company to regain controlling interest in General Motors. Chevrolet finished the 1915 Indianapolis 500 in 20th place.

In 1916 Louis Chevrolet teamed up with his two brothers, Gaston and Arthur, to build race cars under the Frontenac Motor Corporation name, known as the 'Fronty-Ford' racers. The Indianapolis 500 was their focus and Louis drove in four races, finishing 7th in 1919. Arthur drove in two races, and Gaston finally won the race in one of their cars in 1920. Later that year Gaston crashed his car at the Beverly Hills Speedway and eventually died from his injuries. Louis was distraught and vowed to never race again.

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Louis and Arthur opened the Chevrolet Brothers Aircraft Company in 1929 with one of their engines but lost everything when the stock market crashed shortly after. He worked as a consultant for the Chevrolet division of General Motors from 1934 until he had a stroke in 1938. He died on June 6th, 1941, at the age of 63, and his wife, Suzanne, died in 1966.. Their son Charles died in 1934 and Alfred died in 1970.

In 1990 Louis Chevrolet was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame and the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame, and in 1995 he was inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America. There is a memorial at the entrance to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum that is dedicated to his accomplishments.