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  • Jason Chandler

William Durant and Louis Chevrolet

When William Durant became financially overextended and banking interests assumed control, forcing him out of GM Holding, in 1910, he immediately set out to create "another GM", starting with the Little car, named after its founder, William H. Little. His initial intention was to compete with the Ford Model T, which was beginning the start of its impending popularity. Unsatisfied with this approach, he dropped it. In Canada, on 30 September, 1910, after obtaining a loan of $52,935.25 (cosigned by R S McLaughlin), went into partnership with Louis Chevrolet in 1911, starting the Chevrolet company.


The Chevrolet company was established in Detroit. One story tells the choosing of the company's logo as a modified Swiss cross, to honor Chevrolet's homeland. Another story tells of the Chevrolet logo as a design taken from the wallpaper of a Paris hotel room where Louis once stayed. Chevrolet worked for the Roblin mechanics shop from 1895 to 1899. He then went to Paris, where he worked for a short time before emigrating to Montreal, Quebec, Canada in 1900 to work as a mechanic. The following year, he moved to New York City, where he worked briefly for a fellow Swiss immigrant's engineering company, then moved to the Brooklyn operations of the French car manufacturer de Dion-Bouton.


In 1905 he married Suzanne Treyvoux; the couple had two sons. In the same year, he was hired by FIAT as a racing car driver. In 1907, Chevrolet was hired by The Autocar Company in Philadelphia, probably for a secret project to develop a revolutionary front-wheel-drive racing car. His racing career continued as he drove for Buick, becoming a friend and associate of Buick owner William C. Durant, founder of General Motors. He raced at the Giants Despair Hillclimb in 1909.

Louis Chevrolet in a 1914 Frontenac Motor Corporation racer designed to compete at the Indy 500

In 1914, a disagreement with Louis Chevrolet resulted in Durant buying out his partner. Durant went to McLaughlin in 1915 to put Chevrolet in Canada and with the shares being bought up at 5-to-1 and 7-to-1, McLaughlin and Durant with other shareholders had enough stock to reclaim Durant's old job. McLaughlin had no problem with his friend back at the helm. McLaughlin went on building Chevrolet and built his Buicks in Canada without conflict to his Buick contract. General Motors Corporation was started in Canada just prior to R S McLaughlin exchanging his Chevrolet Stocks for GM at this time with Durant putting Pierre du Pont in charge, with McLaughlin serving as director and vice president of the newly incorporated General Motors Corporation in 1918.


The venture proved highly successful for Durant, and he was able to buy enough shares in GM to regain control, becoming its president in 1916. During his presidency (1916–1920), Durant brought the Chevrolet product line into the corporation (1919), as well as Fisher Body and Frigidaire. In 1920, he finally lost control of GM to the DuPont and McLaughlin shareholders, paying out $21,000,000 back to his friends.


While in charge of Chevrolet, Durant acquired other companies, including Republic Motors, mainly to produce Chevrolet (the Pennsylvania State University archives hold the information on GM 1918-1975).


William Durant was inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame in 1968.

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