Louis-Joseph Chevrolet (December 25, 1878 â?? June 6, 1941) was a Swiss-born American race car driver of French descent, founder of the Chevrolet Motor Car Company in 1911 and later, the Frontenac Motor Corporation in 1916 which made racing parts for Ford's Model T.
Born in 1878 in La Chaux-de-Fonds, a center of watchmaking in northwestern Switzerland, Louis Chevrolet was the second child of Joseph-FÃ©licien and Marie-Anne AngÃ©line, nÃ©e Mahon.
Looking for work, the family eventually moved to Beaune in France, where Louis spent his teenage years and started in bike racing. He began working for a French car company but soon emigrated to the USA, where he also married. He and his wife Suzanne had two sons.
He worked for the Roblin mechanics shop from 1895 to 1899, at which time he went to Paris, where he worked for a short time before emigrating to Montreal, Quebec in 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 was hired by FIAT as a racing car driver, and a year later became employed by a Philadelphia company developing a then-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. With little in the way of a formal education, Chevrolet learned car design while working for Buick and started designing his own engine for a new car in 1909. He built an overhead valve six-cylinder engine in his own machine shop on Grand River Boulevard, Detroit. On November 3, 1911 Chevrolet cofounded the Chevrolet Motor Car Company with Durant (by now ousted from General Motors) and investment partners William Little (maker of the Little automobile) and Dr. Edwin R. Campbell (son-in-law of Durant). The company was established in Detroit, choosing as the company's logo a stylized Swiss cross, to honor his parents' homeland. Chevrolet had differences with Durant over the design and in 1915 sold Durant his share in the company.
By 1916 the profits from the Chevrolet company allowed Durant to repurchase a controlling stake in General Motors, and by 1917 the Chevrolet company that Louis had cofounded was folded into General Motors. By the mid-1910s, Louis Chevrolet had shifted into the racing car industry, partnering with Howard E. Blood of Allegan, Michigan to create the Cornelian, a state-of-the-art racing car, which he used to place 20th in the 1915 Indianapolis 500 automobile race.
In 1916, he and younger brothers Gaston and Arthur Chevrolet started Frontenac Motor Corporation, designing and producing a line of racing cars. They became well known for, among other things, their Fronty-Ford racers.
Chevrolet lost all his previous earnings in the stock market crash of 1929 and was reduced to running a bowling alley in Flint.
He died nearly penniless on June 6, 1941 in Detroit and is buried in the Holy Cross and Saint Joseph Cemetery in Indianapolis, Indiana. Louis also drove in the Indianapolis 500 four times, with a best finish of 7th in 1919. Brother Arthur competed twice, and brother Gaston won there in 1920 in one of their Frontenacs, going on to win the 1920 AAA National Championship.