Chevrolet celebrates its 100th birthday on Nov. 3.
That’s the date William C. Durant, founder of General Motors, and Louis Chevrolet, who piloted Buicks for Durant’s racing team, partnered to form the auto maker known as Chevrolet.
The centennial celebration brings back fond memories for David Cole, 74, chairman emeritus of the Center for Automotive Research in Dearborn, MI, and currently chairman of Autoharvest, an automotive intellectual-property website.
Cole’s late father, Edward Cole, served as chief engineer for Chevrolet from 1952 to 1956, when he was promoted to general manager. He became GM president in 1967.
“I was only 12 or 13,” Dave Cole recalls. “They would drop cars off at the house for Dad to drive, but when he wasn’t home, he didn’t know what I did with them.
At first I’d drive them to the end of the driveway, then I worked up the nerve to drive to the end of the block, and then around the block.
“Once they picked up a ‘55 Chevy at the house and took it to the Milford Proving Grounds for testing. Dad got a note from the proving grounds manager saying, ‘Whoever drove this car needs to be hired as a test driver, since we’ve never seen a car go through a set of tires in less than 5,000 miles (8,000 km) before.’ I walked for a while after that,” Dave Cole laughs.
During his stint as chief engineer at Chevy, Ed Cole created both the small-block V-8 that gave Chevy its performance DNA and the ’55 Chevy that carried the powerplant.
While the elder Cole had a wealth of engineering savvy, that wasn’t the only attribute he was called on to create the car and engine.
“About a dozen guys working on the ’55 Chevy would come over to the house and spend Saturdays in the yard or in the basement working on the car,” Dave Cole recalls.
“But some of the guys really didn’t like one another. One of Dad’s roles on the project was not only to develop the car, but to keep some of the guys apart from one another so they could get the project done.”
Dave Cole notes the iconic ’53 Corvette can thank the performance-oriented small-block V-8 that arrived in ’55 and his dad’s constant urging that Corvette become a Chevy only without a companion Oldsmobile offering, which many at GM wanted.
“Dad pushed hard for the ’53 Corvette to become a Chevy only and not an Olds,” he says. “An Olds variant was plotted and there was a real tussle within GM to build one.
But Olds was doing good and Chevy wasn’t flashy and needed a spark to gain attention.
“Dad pushed for a Corvette only because he knew the small-block V-8 that was coming in 1955 would change Chevy from a mundane grandma’s car to a sporty performance image.”