Tag Archives: Gaston Chevrolet

Monroe Motor Company

One of the lessor-known autos in the Indiana Automobiles: Precision over Production exhibit is a 1920 Monroe Model S built by the William Small Company. This is the first Indianapolis-built Monroe I’ve ever seen.

1920 Monroe Model S
1920 Monroe Model S

In 1918, the Monroe Motor Company assets were purchased by the William Small Company, the former distributer of Monroe autos in Indianapolis.

Small then recruited Louis Chevrolet as a consulting engineer to work out design problems for the new Monroe at the Indianapolis Small facilities. This new Monroe sported a 35 horsepower, 4 cylinder Monroe engine. The 1920 Monroe Model S was available in either a five-passenger touring car or a two-passenger roadster.

In preparation of the Small entries for the 1920 Indianapolis 500-mile race, Chevrolet recruited Cornelius Van Ranst to help build seven race cars, four of them to campaigned under the Monroe name, and three as Frontenacs. Louis’ brother, Gaston Chevrolet, drove a Monroe to victory in the 500, which was the first win by an American car at the Brickyard since 1912.

Gaston Chevrolet in 1920 Monroe
Gaston Chevrolet in 1920 Monroe

Unfortunately, three months later, the William Small Company went into receivership. In January 1922, the Monroe assets were acquired by American Fletcher National Bank in Indianapolis. By June 1923, Premier Motor Corporation of Indianapolis obtained control of the Monroe Motor Company and produced cars for a short time.
I believe the brief story of the William Small Company adds rich details to Indiana automotive history and thank the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum for sharing this car.

Be sure to visit the Indiana Automobiles: Precision over Production exhibit ending March 26, 2017, to see the gems of Indiana automotive production.

Congratulations to Indiana Racing Memorial Association for recognizing the Chevrolet brothers

I must say congratulations to the Indiana Racing Memorial Association for renovating the Chevrolet brothers grave site in Indianapolis.

Chevrolet brothers memorial

I have known about the Chevrolet grave sites in southern Indianapolis for many years, but was concerned about the poor up-keep and failure to recognized their accomplishments in our automotive industry.

The Indiana Racing Memorial Association, with sponsorship from Chevrolet Motorsports, and the Central Indiana Chevrolet Dealers Association have corrected this oversight. They have created a renovated grave site in the Holy Cross and St. Joseph Cemetery at 2446 S. Meridian Street. They have constructed an exquisite granite monument for
the Chevrolet brothers: Louis, Arthur, and Gaston.

chevrolet-brothers-marker

In addition to the monument, they dedicated a historical marker celebrating their automotive accomplishments. All three raced multiple times in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, with Louis winning the first 10-mile race at the Speedway in August 1909 and Gaston taking the 1920 Indianapolis 500.

In 1911, Louis was named president of the Chevrolet Division of General Motors and developed the Chevrolet Classic Six five-passenger touring car. Upon leaving General Motors in 1915, he began developing race cars that competed at the Speedway and across the country. In 1922, Louis and Arthur created the Chevrolet Brothers Company, in Indianapolis, to develop Frontenac cylinder heads to extract greater horsepower from the Ford Model T engine. They produced over 10,000 units that dominated dirt track racing across America.

The easiest way to get to the site is to turn west on Pleasant Run Parkway off South Meridian Street and go about a quarter-mile. Then turn north into the cemetery and proceed to the flagpole. The monument and marker are right there north of the flagpole.

I believe IRMA’s efforts with the monument and historical marker beautifully recognizes the Chevrolet brothers automotive accomplishments. Thanks to IRMA for commemorating our automotive heritage.

For other Louis Chevrolet articles click here. For more information on Indiana auto pioneers follow this link.

Louis Chevrolet Memorial

Louis Chevrolet is best known as the Swiss-born American race car driver and co-founder of the Chevrolet Motor Car Company in 1911 and who later moved on to other ventures. That is only part of the story.

Are you aware that there is a Louis Chevrolet memorial at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway? I believe that this memorial at the Speedway is a great honor to an icon who is overlooked in our automotive legacy.

LCM memorial

Fred Wellman conceived his idea for a Louis Chevrolet memorial in 1964 after visiting Chevrolet’s grave in the Holy Cross and St. Joseph Cemetery in Indianapolis. He recognized that Chevrolet deserved a more impressive memorial and set out to create it. In spring 1975, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway completed the construction of the Louis Chevrolet Memorial just west of the entrance to the Speedway Museum.

Adolph Wolter, an acclaimed artist throughout the United States, created the magnificent bust of Louis Chevrolet and the four bronze panels depicting Louis Chevrolet’s major accomplishments.

LCM memorial

The panels show Louis and William C. Durant, founder of General Motors, with the first Chevrolet Classic Six touring car in 1911.

LCM panel2

Chevrolet’s first winning car at Indianapolis 500 in 1920, driven by his brother Gaston, with four Speedway pioneers in the background, Carl G. Fisher, James A. Allison, Lem H. Trotter and T. E. (Pop) Meyers.

LCM panel3

Chevrolet’s second Indianapolis winner in 1921, driven by Tommy Milton, with Capt. Edward V. Rickenbacker, Col. Arthur W. Herrington, Louis Schwitzer, and Cornelius W. Van Ranst.

LCM panel4

Chevrolet’s 1923 Barber-Warnock Fronty-Ford, which placed fifth driven by L. L. Corum, with Henry Ford at the wheel, flanked by Barney Oldfield, Louis, and Harvey Firestone.

Around the back of the monument are four panels bearing the names of the Automotive Pioneers of Progress.

During the late 1910s and the early 1920s, Louis and his racers had numerous wins across the country. He was second in AAA national point standings for the years 1909 and 1915. With the Chevrolet Brothers Manufacturing Company, he and his brother Arthur produced over 10,000 Frontenac high compression cylinder heads for Ford Model T engines for competition across America. The success of this business was largely due to the fame that he and his brothers had earned racing-especially in the Indianapolis 500.

In all of his years racing and developing race cars he put his best effort forward and enjoyed much success.

His legacy is nearly forgotten, but perhaps we should all live by his motto “Never Give Up,” which is highlighted on the pedestal that holds bust of Louis Chevrolet.

I invite you to visit the Louis Chevrolet Memorial at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on your next visit to Indianapolis.

For more information on Indiana auto pioneers follow this link.

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.

Did you know?

Did you know the cars that won the 1920 and 1921 Indianapolis 500’s were built at 33-37 West 11th Street in Indianapolis? This is not well known to the general public, and there is more to the story with Louis J. Chevrolet’s involvement.

William Small Building
William Small Building

The story starts with the construction of the William Small Company showroom in 1915 at 602 N. Capitol. Typical of its era, the building had a concrete frame, brick curtain walls, and tile block interior walls. At different times, the agency sold Chevrolet, Monroe, and Premier automobiles. Small had the foresight to purchase hundreds of cars from the factory prior to America’s involvement prior to World War I.

After he acquired the manufacturing rights to the Monroe Motor Car, the vehicles were built at the 11th Street from 1919-1923. At that time, he believed that sales could be stimulated by participation in racing. In summer 1919, he convinced Louis Chevrolet (the person for whom the Chevrolet is named) to come to Indianapolis to direct Monroe racing operations also at this site.

Under this agreement, Chevrolet built four Monroe race cars for Small’s use, and three identical Frontenac racers for himself to enter in the 1920 Indianapolis 500-mile race. By April 1920, their cars were entered in the Indianapolis 500. When time trials got underway, all of the Frontenacs demonstrated their speed by being among the 11 to qualify at better than 90 miles per hour.

Gaston Chevrolet and riding mechanic Johnny Bresnehan in
Gaston Chevrolet and riding mechanic Johnny Bresnehan in
1920 Indianapolis 500 winning Monroe

However, defective steering arms on three of the entries failed during the race. By mid-race Joe Boyer and Gaston Chevrolet were running first and second. Gaston won the race, becoming the first American to win at the brickyard since 1912. Joe Thomas finished eighth in another Monroe.

A little while later, Louis began working on two new eight-cylinder Frontenac cars for National Champion Tommy Milton and Ralph Mulford for the 1921 race. By maintaining a steady 92 miles per hour pace and brilliant driving in the turns, Milton overtook the cars ahead of him to win the 1921 Indianapolis 500 with an average speed of 89.62 miles per hour. Percy Ford drove a four-cylinder Frontenac to third place, and Mulford drove the other eight-cylinder Frontenac to ninth place. With this victory, Chevrolet became the first car builder to win two Indianapolis 500 mile races.

Tommy Milton with Barney Oldfield and Louis Chevrolet with
Tommy Milton with Barney Oldfield and Louis Chevrolet with
1921 Indianapolis 500 winning Frontenac

Now you know the story of the happenings in the William Small building in late 1919 and the early 1920’s. In late 1921, Louis Chevrolet along with his brother Arthur and Cornelius W. VanRanst formed The Chevrolet Brothers Manufacturing Company in Indianapolis to build high-performance Frontenac cylinder heads for Ford and Chevrolet racing engines. That’s a story for another day.

For more information on Indiana auto pioneers follow this link.