Chevrolet Motor Co., with lifetime North American sales of 180,000,000 vehicles, is the cornerstone of General Motors, which was at one time the largest corporation on Planet Earth. The story behind their enormous success begins with a gifted salesman named William C. Durant.
As the 19th century drew to a close, Durant’s Coldwater Road Cart Co. was America’s leading maker of horse-drawn carriages. In 1904, a ride in a 22-horsepower automobile convinced Durant and a group of investors to purchase the Buick Motor Co., which quickly became the industry’s bestselling brand. Eager to build an empire, Durant added Olds, Oakland, Cadillac, and 19 other automotive firms to his Buick holdings to create General Motors in 1908. Unfortunately, the aggressive spending campaign drained his finances, and he lost control of GM within two years.
Durant met a Fiat and Buick race driver named Louis Chevrolet, who hoped to mass-produce a regal, high-quality motorcar of his own design. The two men founded Chevrolet Motor Co. on Nov. 3, 1911, and introduced the 1912 Classic Six, a five-passenger touring convertible. That first Chevy weighed a portly 3,500 pounds and was powered by a heavy, 40-horsepower six-cylinder that displaced 299 cubic inches and bucked current trends by sporting two camshafts. The Classic Six found 10,000 buyers over three years, even though it cost $2,150 at a time when Henry Ford’s Model T sold for $700. Durant hoped to overtake Ford in sales someday, so he was already developing a high-volume, low-price model to compete with the famously thrifty Model T.
Chevrolet offered three distinct models for 1914 – a $750 Series H with an all-new four-cylinder engine, a $1,475 Light Six powered by a new six-cylinder, and the final-year $2,500 Classic Six. Sales figures jumped to 5,005 units, and Louis Chevrolet sold Durant his shares in the company to return to racing. Durant’s inexpensive Series H sold an impressive 13,000 copies the following year; he celebrated by opening offices and plants in every region of the country.
Introducing the Four-Ninety (named for its price in dollars) as a 1916 model scored Durant his first direct hit on the Model T by racking up more than 110,000 sales for the calendar year. This was still only one-fifth of Ford’s annual output, but it proved to the world that Durant was a rival looming large in Henry Ford’s rearview mirror.
Chevrolet’s sales momentum allowed Durant to buy back a controlling interest in General Motors in 1916, but the man’s insatiable desire to build dynasties once again drained his personal resources. In 1920, when GM reported $575 million in assets, Durant held more than $30 million in debt. Eager to shed itself of the freewheeling big spender, the board of directors made an arrangement with its bankers to meet the founder’s financial obligations in exchange for his departure.
Fiscal conservative Pierre duPont took over as head of GM and was at the helm in 1927 when Chevrolet, now known as a producer of sturdy, reliable transportation, finally sold more cars than Henry Ford. Since then, Chevrolet has endeared itself to generations of automotive enthusiasts and consumers through countless innovations and unique models.
Among its many milestones, the company has introduced an automatic transmission to the low-price category (1950), created America’s most successful sports car (the 1953 Corvette), engineered the legendary “small block” V-8 (1955), designed the world’s most sought-after single-year collectible car (1957), marketed a rear-engine economy car (the 1960-’69 Corvair), offered consumers a super-efficient plug-in hybrid (the 2011 Volt), and beat the best European and Japanese supercars with a 638-horsepower Corvette that can reach 205 miles per hour (ZR1).
Food Lion AutoFair
Hours for the Aug. 25-28 Food Lion AutoFair are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Thursday through Saturday, and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sunday. Ticket prices are $10 per day for adults or $25 for a four-day pass; children under 12 are admitted free when accompanied by an adult. Parking for the event is $5. For more information on the four-day event, contact the speedway events department at (704) 455-3205 or visit www.charlottemotorspeedway.com.