Before achieving success in building automobiles, Louis Chevrolet gained fame as a racing driver. In his first race in 1905, he defeated Barney Oldfield. On June 19, 1909, Chevrolet drove a Buick to victory in the first 400 mile Cobe Cup race in Crown Point, Indiana. He then won the inaugural 10-mile race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on August 19, 1909.
In 1911, with the encouragement of William C. Durant of General Motors, Chevrolet developed the first automobile to bear his name—the Chevrolet Classic Six retailing for $2,150. By 1913 there was a growing rift between the two individuals over the type of car that should wear the Chevrolet name. He left the company, but General Motors retained the rights to the “Chevrolet” name.
In early 1915, he went on to design the lightweight Cornelian race car with four-wheel independent suspension and a monocoque chassis for the Indianapolis 500 in 1915. Both innovations proved to be successful about 50 years later, appearing on the rear-engine cars used from the 1960’s to the present. The little car weighted only 920 pounds. The Cornelian engine had a 103 c.i.d. compared with the other 298 c.i.d. entries. Chevrolet qualified the car at 81.01 m.p.h. Unfortunately, valve trouble sent him to the sidelines prior to the halfway mark.
During the next year, Louis built a number of Frontenac racing cars with a generous use of aluminum that he and his brothers, Arthur and Gaston, drove to many victories.
For the 1920 Indianapolis 500, William Small of Indianapolis contracted with Chevrolet to build four Monroe and three Frontenac race cars. Gaston Chevrolet won the race driving one of the Monroes and became the first driver in Indy history to go the full 500 miles without changing tires. Another Chevrolet-design Frontenac, with Tommy Milton as the driver, won the 1921 Indianapolis 500. With this victory, Chevrolet became the first car builder to win two Indianapolis 500 mile races. Additionally, he accomplished that feat with new four-cylinder and eight-cylinder engines of his own design.
Later, Louis and Arthur Chevrolet and Cornelius W. Van Ranst developed a new overhead valve cylinder head that would develop higher horsepower from a Ford Model T engine and make it competitive in races on dirt tracks. They also incorporated the Chevrolet Brothers Manufacturing Company in Indianapolis to produce “Fronty-Ford” cylinder heads in 1922. They produced over 10,000 units during the next five years that dominated dirt track racing across America.
Louis Chevrolet’s motto was “Never Give Up.” He never did.
For more information about Louis Chevrolet follow this link.