Louis Joseph Chevrolet was born in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Canton of Neuchâtel, Switzerland on Christmas Day 1878. In 1886, his family moved to Beaune, in the Cote-d’Or département (country subdivision) region of France. It was there that young Louis became interested in autos, or anything that was motorized. Soon after he moved to Beaune, he got a job in Paris, working for the Roblin Mechanics Shop; where he worked fixing bicycles. In 1900, he emigrated to Montreal, Quebec, Canada. In 1901, he moved from Montreal to New York City as a mechanic. When he was in Montreal, he was working for the De Doin-Bouton “Mottorete” company (car biz). In 1902, the company was bought by private shareholders, and Louis lost his job. About a week after he lost his job, he got a telegram informing him that his father had just died. He immediately sent back a telegram urging his mother Angelica, and family to come to the U.S. On May 2, 1902, the Chevrolet family arrived in Brooklyn.
Eventually, Louis got a job at Fiat in Manhattan, working for the racing team. In 1903, he watched his first auto race.
On a sunny and beautiful July 3rd, 1905, Louis Chevrolet married Suzanne Treyvoux. His honeymoon was in Niagara Falls, in between races.
Louis had two sons: Charles Chevrolet, born in 1906; and Alfred Chevrolet, born in 1912.
Not long before Charles was born, Louis got a job on the Fiat Racing Team. Louis’ first documented race was on May 20, 1905. He drove William Wallace’s 90 horsepower Fiat. He performed considerable mechanical work on it. Louis beat the previous one-lap mile record, which was 53 seconds. Louis did it in 52.4. He then went on to Chicago for an ACA race, where his Fiat developed radiator problems. At his next race (with a repaired Fiat), he beat Barney Olfield. Over the next 6 months, he would beat Olfield in 10 out of 11 races. During an early morning practice for the second Vanderbilt Cup, Louis went into a patch of fog and hit a telegraph pole! Oh, and did I mention that he was driving a 110 horsepower Fiat?
On March 5th, 1909, Louis and Arthur (his brother) Chevrolet were hired by the Buick Racing Team. In one of the races that Louis was competing in, he was leading, and his front suspension failed, giving the lead to Harry Grant. Louis was able to bring the broken Buick to a halt safely.
In 1917, William C. Durant (founder of GM) thought that ‘Chevrolet’ had a pleasant sound to it. He then pressured Louis to design a six-cylinder car. Louis agreed and designed and built the first Chevrolet prototype. Durant was wise in marketing the car as ” a fast, enjoyable family car designed by a race-car driver!” The car sold quickly. Unfortunately, Louis’ relationship with Durant was loathing at best.
Durant started pressuring Louis to design a lower priced car. Louis retorted by saying that he did not want his name to be associated with a lower-priced car. Louis sold his stock in GM to Durant and left, thus leaving an opportunity to become extremely wealthy. Oops! Louis went back to racing.
In 1928, Louis’s brother, Gaston was killed in a tragic racing accident on lap 146 in Beverly Hills, CA. Louis, overcome by the loss of his youngest brother swore to never race again. He sold all his race cars, and started to build race-car engines.
In the stock-market crash of 1929, Louis lost all of his life savings. He died penniless in 1941, working on a Chevrolet assembly line, making Army trucks.
Thus ended the life of one of the greatest men in the auto and racing industry.
Louis was inducted into the National Race Car hall of Fame in 1995. He was also inducted into the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame in 1989. He is best remembered for so many victories in the early days of auto racing.