Tag Archives: Arthur Chevrolet

Celebrating Louis Chevrolet

If you are in Indianapolis for an auto event like the Brickyard Vintage Racing Invitational, Bloomington Gold Corvettes USA Show, Performance Racing Industry Trade Show, or another automotive enthusiast event, I would like to share two must see sights celebrating Louis Chevrolet.

Louis Chevrolet Memorial
Louis Chevrolet Memorial

Your first stop should be the Louis Chevrolet Memorial just west of the main entrance to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum. This memorial, erected in spring 1975, celebrates Chevrolet’s exploits as an early racer, the designer of the first of the more than 125 million cars that bear his name built in 1911, and the first car builder to win two Indianapolis 500 mile races.

The four bronze panels depict Chevrolet and W. C. Durant, founder of General Motors, with the first Chevrolet passenger car in 1911; Chevrolet’s first winning car at Indianapolis, driven to victory in 1920 by brother Gaston; Chevrolet’s second Indianapolis winner, driven by Tommy Milton in 1921; and Chevrolet’s 1923 Barber-Warnock Fronty Ford at the Speedway with Henry Ford at the wheel. Most any time I visit the Hall of Fame Museum I stop by the memorial to think about these early days at the Speedway.

Chevrolet brothers memorial
Chevrolet brothers memorial

Next, head south to the Chevrolet brothers’ memorial at Holy Cross & St. Joseph Cemeteries at 2446 S. Meridian St. At the intersection with Pleasant Run Parkway N. Dr., turn west and go about two blocks. Then turn north at the cemetery entrance and proceed to the flag pole to find their gravesites at the fork in the road. Gaston was buried here in November 25, 1920, six months after winning the Indianapolis 500. Louis was buried here June 6, 1941, after complications from a leg amputation. Louis’ sons Charlot and Charles L. are buried just north of the bench. Arthur’s son also named Arthur, was also buried here in 1931 in the grave miss-marked as Arthur 1884-1946 (senior). Arthur senior is buried in Slidell, Louisiana. Sometimes when you visit the gravesites, they may be marked with a checkered flag or toy Chevrolet Camaro.

Close associates and fellow workers described Louis Chevrolet as fearless and daring, but never reckless; persevering, but quick-tempered and impetuous at times; a perfectionist who took pride in his work, with very little patience for the mistakes of others; and a dedicated innovator who deplored any and all social amenities which interfered with his customary 16-hour work day.

The next time you are visiting Indianapolis on an auto-enthusiast adventure I encourage you to visit the Louis Chevrolet Memorial and the Chevrolet brothers’ memorial to celebrate our car culture.

For more information about Louis Chevrolet, follow this link.

Louis Chevrolet’s Indianapolis racing exploits

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.

Cornelian 1915 Louis Chevrolet
Louis Chevrolet at the wheel with Joe Boyer in the 1915 Cornelian race car. Chevrolet brothers Arthur and Gaston are standing at the extreme right.

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.

Gaston Chevrolet in 1920 Monroe
Gaston Chevrolet in the winning 1920 Monroe

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.

Frontenac, 1921 – 1925

In 1921, after achieving the distinction of becoming the first car builder to win two Indianapolis 500 mile races, Louis Chevrolet (who had been building race cars under the Frontenac name since 1915) allied with Stutz Motor Car Company executives to form the Frontenac Motor Company, a Delaware corporation. The company was capitalized for one million dollars and secured the former Empire Motor Car Company plant (323 West 15th Street) for production.

Frontenac brochure
Frontenac brochure

The Frontenac was designed by Chevrolet and Cornelius W. Van Ranst (noted engineer, who later contributed to the design of the Cord L-29, and worked at Paige-Detroit and Packard). It featured a chain-driven single overhead camshaft four-cylinder engine, four wheel brakes, with front and rear bumpers constructed as an integral part of the frame, all on a 120-inch wheelbase chassis. The 196.8 c.i.d. engine with thermosyphon cooling, developed 60 h.p. It featured a Delco ignition, starting and lighting system.

The car was formally announced at the New York Auto Show and the Chicago Auto Show in 1922. The Frontenac prototype made its official debut at the 1922 Indianapolis 500. The economic conditions during the post World War I recession in the early 1920’s, resulted in the inaugural Frontenac never reaching production, and the corporation filed a bankruptcy petition in May 1923.

A short time later, a second Frontenac of Louis Chevrolet’s design featured a 140-inch wheelbase chassis with an 80 h.p., single-sleeve valve, straight-eight-cylinder engine. Again, Chevrolet was unable to obtain sufficient financing to commence production. During the 1924 – 1925 period, Frontenac also produced four units of an export car named Anahauc.

In the 1920’s, the Chevrolet brothers, Arthur & Louis owned the Chevrolet Brothers Manufacturing Company at 410 West Tenth Street, that made cylinder heads for Fords and racing cars called Fronty-Fords. The Fronty-Ford creations consistently won at smaller race tracks across the country. In seven years, the company filled over 10,000 orders for cylinder heads and race cars.

For more information about Louis Chevrolet follow this link.