Louis Chevrolet-Racer designer builder

Louis Chevrolet is best known for the automobile which bears his name, but that is only part of the story.
It is a little known fact that Louis Chevrolet lived for some time in Indiana. Chevrolet who designed and built the first of the more than 125 million cars which bear his name was an integral part of auto racing and the Indiana automotive manufacturing scene. Throughout his entire career he lived his life according to his motto “Never Give Up,” which is inscribed on his memorial at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Chevrolet was born on Christmas day, 1878, in La Chaux-de-Fonds Switzerland. As a youth Louis began to enter local bicycle races which he usually won. As a teenager he manufactured a bicycle he called the Frontenac (a name he would later use on autos) and he invented a wine barrel pump. One day, he was seduced by a de Dion powered tricycle and soon joined the firm as a mechanic.

Early in 1900, a few months after celebrating his twenty-first birthday Louis emigrated to America and worked for several French auto companies. In 1905 he began racing for Fiat, where he earned his first victory against the infamous Barney Oldfield. Chevrolet joined the Buick racing team in 1909 at the invitation of William C. Durant, the founder of General Motors. Chevrolet’s skills were quickly rewarded with a victory in the 410-mile Cobe Cup race in Crown Point, Indiana.

In 1911, the Chevrolet Motor Car Company entered the market. Durant envisioned his new company as an inexpensive competitor to the Ford Model T. He chose to name the company after its designer, Louis Chevrolet, because he liked the sound of the name and because Chevrolet was a prominent name in motor sports.

1913 Chevrolet

1913 Chevrolet “Baby Grand”
Copyright © 1954 General Motors Corporation
Chevrolet returned to racing in 1916 and Founded the Frontenac Motors Corporation. With his two brothers Gaston and Andre they launched a project to build three new cars for the Indianapolis 500. The Frontenacs enjoyed numerous victories during the 1916 & 1917 seasons before the suspension of racing activities for World War I.

In 1919, William Small acquired control of Frontenac’s successor Monroe Motor Company and moved operations to Indianapolis. Louis was retained as director of Monroe’s racing operations. By April 1920 Louis had completed four Monroe and three Frontenac race cars for the Indianapolis 500. Gaston Chevrolet won the race in one of the Monroes. He was the first American driver to win at Indianapolis since 1912. He also was the first entry to go the full distance without changing tires. Tommy Milton won the Indianapolis 500 in 1921 in a Frontenac. Louis Chevrolet became the first car builder to win two Indianapolis 500 mile races.

Later in 1921 Louis and Cornelius W. Van Ranst developed an overhead-valve cylinder head for the popular Ford Model T engine. The Fronty Ford cylinder heads produced by the Chevrolet Brothers Manufacturing Company went on to revolutionize racing on half-mile and one-mile tracks throughout the country. By 1923, the company’s catalog included three different cylinder heads and complete turn-key “Fronty-Ford” race cars, with one of the three types of engines produced by the firm. A Fronty Ford placed fifth in the 1923 Indianapolis 500 and the Chevrolet Brothers were deluged with more orders than they could fill during the next couple of years. The Chevrolet Brothers helped pioneer the high-performance industry.
Frontenac catalog

Frontenac illustration
Copyright © 1929 Chevrolet Brothers Mfg. Co.
In later years, Chevrolet would dabble in boat racing and begin work on a lightweight aircraft engine. Louis Chevrolet was one of the outstanding drivers during the pioneer days of auto racing, designer of comfortable and dependable passenger cars, and designer and builder of fast and durable race cars. He is truly an automotive pioneer.

I recommend the following book with some information on Louis Chevrolet: The Golden Age of the American Racing Car , by Griffith Borgeson, ISBN 0768000238. For more information, I recommend this book on Louis Chevrolet: The Louis Chevrolet Memorial, published by the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. This book is out of print, but may be available at Internet antiquarian booksellers.

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