Louis Chevrolet and his Frontenac Racing Team

In preparation for the 1916 championship racing season, Albert Champion and Joe Boyer provided Louis Chevrolet with financial help to form the Frontenac Motors Corporation of Michigan. Louis and his younger brothers Art and Gaston launched an “immediate crash program” to build three all-new Frontenac race cars with 300-cubic-inch displacement engines for the 1916 Indianapolis race. They made generous use of aluminum construction for the best possible power-to-weight ratio. They barely accomplished their task in time to attempt qualification at the Speedway. However, their speed of development provided no opportunity to eliminate the mechanical “bugs” that were a part of such a project.

Louis qualified at 87.70 miles an hour. The car Art chose to drive himself had to be abandoned when its cylinder block cracked. Because no spare engine was available, he commandeered the car assigned to Boyer and qualified at a speed of 87.72 miles an hour.

Louis Chevrolet in a Frontenac
Louis Chevrolet in a Frontenac 1916

During the race, Art was the first of the team eliminated on lap 35 due to a magneto failure and finished in 17th place. Louis dropped out of the race on lap 82 with a broken connecting rod and finished in 11th place.

However, as the season progressed, they gradually solved all of their mechanical problems. Louis accounted for the first of many Frontenac victories by winning the Inaugural 100-lap race at the new Uniontown, PA, board track at more than 90 miles an hour.

In 1917, Louis scored victories at the 250-mile event in Cincinnati, OH, and additional victories in 100-mile races at Chicago, IL, and Sheepshead Bay, NY. Then the AAA Contest Board discontinued sanctioning racing for the duration of World War I.

Ralph Mulford in Frontenac 1919
Ralph Mulford in Frontenac 1919

Full-scale racing operations resumed at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1919, and Louis was jubilant when all four of his Frontenacs were among the seven cars that qualified in Indianapolis at more than 100 miles an hour. Then “Lady Luck” turned her back on him again. Race Day was almost a complete disaster for the team. Boyer’s and Ralph Mulford’s cars were eliminated early by a broken axle and broken drive shaft, respectively. Gaston limped across the finish line in 10th place, slowed by ignition trouble. Louis lost a right rear wheel while out-dueling Ralph DePalma for the lead during the first 150 miles and finished in seventh place, while DePalma finished in sixth place. The Frontenac Racing Team saga was over for this era.

Howdy Wilcox won the race in an Indianapolis Speedway Team Company-owned Peugeot.

For more information on Indiana auto pioneers follow this link.

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