Catherine Hiles
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Who Was Louis Chevrolet?

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louis chevrolet in buick 1900
Photo: Wikimedia Public Domain

His name is one of the best-known in America, but most people don’t know who Louis Chevrolet was or how his name came to be tied to one of America’s most trusted and popular automakers.

Chevrolet’s early life

Louis Chevrolet was born in Switzerland in 1878 and grew up in France. He came of age as the first automobiles were introduced, and was immediately interested in racing. Before the automobile, he raced bicycles, so he had always had an interest in making things on wheels go fast. However, racing didn’t pay the bills, so he took a job in Montreal as a chauffeur in order to remain close to his passion. In 1902, he moved to New York City where he worked for Fiat, and in 1905 he raced a Fiat and won, beating out much better-known names in the racing field.

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The beginning of Chevy

Chevrolet’s racing skill eventually caught the eye of William Durant, founder of General Motors. Durant employed Chevrolet and his brother to be his chauffeurs, which led to Chevrolet designing a car for Durant after he lost control of General Motors. The car, a 1910 Chevrolet Classic 6, was the very first Chevrolet and carried the name of its designer. Unfortunately, the partnership between Durant and Chevrolet was short-lived, with Chevrolet wanting to focus on racing cars and Durant wanting to design and build budget-friendly cars to compete with the Ford Model T.

louis chevrolet 1910 vanderbilt cup
Photo: Wikimedia Public Domain

Louis Chevrolet officially left Chevrolet Motor Co. in 1913, though his name remained tied to the company. Chevrolet sold his stock and cut all ties with his namesake automaker.

The late years

Chevrolet continued designing cars and co-founded Frontenac Motor Corp. The company designed and built race cars that competed in many races and won the Indianapolis 500 on two occasions. However, Frontenac Motor Corp. soon dissolved and Chevrolet was forced to file for bankruptcy. He was never able to successfully make money either in racing cars or designing them and eventually died at the age of 63. He is buried in Holy Cross and Saint Joseph Cemetery in Indianapolis, close to the brickyard where he saw his greatest success.

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