Few products have come to symbolize the American lifestyle like the Chevrolet automobile. In the 1950s, singer Dina Shore urged us to "See the USA, in your Chevrolet", while Don McLean's despondent teenager drove his "Chevy to the levy" in McLean's 1971 classic hit, "American Pie". While Americans' love affair with Chevrolet vehicles cannot be denied, it should be noted that Chevrolet cars and trucks are manufactured throughout the world, and have been since 1923. In that year, Chevrolet's parent company, General Motors, opened its first European assembly plant in Copenhagen, Denmark. Americans should know that Chevrolets are just as popular on the streets of Manila and Sao Paulo, as they are on the freeways of San Antonio, Texas.
Any discussion of Chevrolet history must begin with the vehicle's founder and namesake, Louis Chevrolet. Chevrolet, of French descent, was born the son of a watchmaker in Switzerland in 1878. Young Chevrolet cared little for school, preferring to tinker with all things mechanical. As a young man, Chevrolet repaired and raced bicycles, developing a local reputation as a competitive racer. As Chevrolet honed his mechanical skills, his interest in bicycle racing waned in favor of automobile racing, a sport then in its infancy. After working as a mechanic in Paris, and then in Montreal, Chevrolet arrived in New York City in 1900. Chevrolet was eventually hired as a race car driver by Fiat, and he began to achieve an impressive number of victories on the racing circuit. Chevrolet's reputation as a race car driver continued to grow, and for a short time he held the world's land speed record of 119 miles per hour.
BIRTH OF AN ICON
A series of victories with the Fiat racing team catapulted Louis Chevrolet to celebrity status in America, capturing the attention of William C. "Billy" Durant, a successful horse drawn carriage manufacturer and founder of General Motors. Durant hired Chevrolet as lead race car driver to promote a new line of motor cars called Buicks, and Chevrolet, although often injured in crashes, continued to win races.
Automobile manufacturing was considered a risky investment in the early years of the twentieth century, and in 1910, Durant, over extended and unable to obtain credit, was ousted from his management position at General Motors. Free to pursue other endeavors, he teamed with Louis Chevrolet, William Little, and his son-in-law, Edwin Campbell to form the Chevrolet Motor Company, in November of 1911. The company was so named in order to capitalize upon the well known name of Louis Chevrolet. The Chevrolet automobile they designed and built was an expensive 6-cylinder luxury vehicle, intended to reflect the speed and European elegance associated with the name Chevrolet. The Chevrolet Series C Classic Six automobile was capable of speeds of up to 65 mph - a dizzying speed in those days. Louis Chevrolet was pleased with the sleek, fast, but expensive vehicle built on European design. Billy Durant, however, had different plans for the Chevrolet.