Chevrolet Motor Company
1911 - 1913
In late 1910 William Durant lost control of General Motors, and was eager to rebuild his empire. The Buick racing team also lost factory support, so in early 1911 Durant recruited Louis Chevrolet to start a new automobile company in Detroit. Durant respected Louie’s talents as an engineer, but also valued his name. Chevrolet had earned a national reputation as a race car driver, and Durant wanted to capitalize on this fame. Durant believed the Chevrolet name evoked power & strength, and also had the ambiance of European sophistication. Louis spent much of 1911 developing a working prototype, and Durant was hard at work attracting new investors. Durant’s goal was to build an economical car that could compete head to head with the Ford Model T. Louis finished the prototype in fall of 1911, and it was a beautiful 6-cylinder luxury car. While Louie's "Classic Six" was a finely crafted automobile, it was also expensive, and did not exactly fit Durant’s business plans for the future.
In 1912 the Chevrolet Motor Company went through a rapid period of expansion and capitalization. However the Classic Six automobile which Louis designed did not enter production until the last month of the year. The car formally hit the automobile show circuit in January 1913, and Louis traveled around the country promoting the new vehicle. The car was not a big seller, and researchers believe that fewer than 500 units were actually produced. By the summer of 1913 Durant decided to move the company to Flint Michigan with the intent of mass producing inexpensive cars. At this point in time Louie’s role in the organization was diminished, and the future of the company seemed somewhat risky. Mr. Chevrolet and Mr. Durant ultimately parted ways in the fall of 1913.
Very few records exist on the early years of the Chevrolet Motor Company. It appears that documents were not adequately retained when the company moved its base of operations from Detroit to Flint. Perhaps records were hastily discarded during the transition process. Below are a handful of rare documents that have survived, and that chronicle the birth of one of the most important companies in U.S. history.
Spring 1911 - Detroit, Michigan
Louis lives at the New Brunswick Hotel,
also home of Wolverine Automobile Club
(Wayne State University)
Spring/Summer 1911 - Detroit, Mich
Louis Chevrolet rents space at
Schulte Garage to work on new car
(Kettering University Archives)
Circa 1911 - Detroit, Michigan
Corcoran Lamp Co. Factory leased to
the Chevrolet Motor Company
(Detroit Public Library)
Summer 1912 - Flint, Michigan
Chevrolet Motor Co. acquires new plant,
formerly the Imperial Wheel Company