William C. Durant and Louis Chevrolet founded Chevrolet in Detroit in 1911. Louis Chevrolet was a Swiss-born American racecar driver. W.C. Durant was an American automobile pioneer who had purchased Cadillac and built General Motors (read GMC history). However, Durant overextended himself financially and in 1910, the banking interests that assumed control of GM ousted him. The partnership between Durant and Chevrolet formed quickly but just as quickly, a disagreement between the two men emerged. In 1914, W.C. Durant bought out Louis Chevrolet and got sole ownership of the company.
Chevrolet Bowtie Logo
Chevrolet first used the Bowtie, which is now one of the world’s most recognizable trademarks, on their vehicles in 1913. There are several stories attached to the origin of the logo, the most prominent being that it was inspired by a painting in a French hotel that Durant enjoyed. More recently, automotive historians have suggested that the emblem used for the Coalettes product inspired him. Others contend that Durant based the style on the Swiss cross in honor of Louis Chevrolet’s heritage.
Durant left GM with the intention of challenging Ford’s Model T (read Ford history) but did not materialize early on. Instead, Chevrolet began manufacturing racecars and the first car that they produced for the open market was the Baby Grand, which sold for $875. Chevrolet initially sold less than 14,000 but as production and innovation increased so did the sales, upwards of 70,000.
General Motors took notice and in 1917 acquired Chevrolet. Chevrolet was immediately GM’s bestselling marquee and in 1920, only Ford and Dodge sold better. In 1925, Chevrolet manufactured their first real innovation, the Chevrolet Series K Superior coach. Chevrolet sold these cars for $525, a stark contrast to the $290 price at which Ford sold the Model T. However, Chevrolet employed an effective marketing strategy centered on the Series K being a “Superior” vehicle and getting what you pay for. This combined with Ford switching from the Model T to the Model A, allowed Chevrolet to outsell Ford for the first time.
In the 1930s, Chevrolet remained more focus on innovation than Ford was and they did very well by it. Chevrolet even surpassed Ford for a period of three years beginning in 1931. Many of Chevrolet’s innovations were stylistic elements but also their convertibles, station wagons, larger engines, and hydraulic brakes, among other things. Then in 1940, Juan Manuel Fangio won a high profile race in Argentina using one of Chevrolet’s new coupés. This was followed by Ford’s decision in 1941 to cease civilian production in order to concentrate on the war effort. This perfect storm of opportunity catapulted Chevrolet to the top.
Chevrolet Corvette History
In 1953, Chevrolet launched the Corvette with its V6 engine and fiberglass body. This is perhaps the defining moment in the Chevrolet history. Another key benchmark moment came in 1960 when the company introduced the Corvair, which included a turbo-supercharged engine. Chevrolet continues their tradition of innovation even today. Over the years, they have manufactured many important models, such as the Camaro, Caprice, and Impala, and remained an industry leader under General Motors.