FAST CARS, ‘FRENCH TYPE’ LITTLE FOURS, AND BIG
CHEVROLET BOOK REVIEW
Standard Catalog of Chevrolet 1912-1998, Edited by Ron Kowalke,
Second Edition, 480 pages, 1000 black and white photographs, illustrations
and promotional pictures, 8 pages of full color, Softbound, 8½”
x 11”, $21.95 plus $3.25 shipping from: Krause Publications, 700 E. State
St., Iola, WI 54990-0001, 800-258-0929
This is the revised, second edition, of the Standard Catalog
of Chevrolet 1912-1990, that was first printed 8 years ago. I reviewed
this first edition, edited by our own popular VCCA member Pat Chappel,
in the January 1991 CHEVROLET REVIEW. The idea behind the Krause’s
marque books is to record a massive amount of data and information in a
proven standard format that can easily be used by hobbyist and collectors
to look up answers to the most common questions. Complete coverage is given
to the Corvette, Corvair, and Camaro models with production numbers, VIN
codes, factory prices, original specification, historical footnotes, and
each listed year and model current ‘ballpark value’. Eight years of the
latest models are now included with some of the best Chevrolet stories
from past issues of OLD CAR WEEKLY.
However, as I pointed out eight years ago, basically
only US car production is compiled in this Chevrolet catalog, leaving out
and ignoring Chevrolet’s important truck, commercial, and SUV production
and sales, a market that accounts presently for about one half of current
sales and a growing percent of the Vintage Chevrolet hobby. Also, by leaving
out Canadian, European, Australian, and other overseas assembly plants
production, along with USA export models, a big slice of Chevrolet’s rich
heritage is skipped over. I think it is important that the role Chevrolet
had in the global transportation market, that made the ‘Bowtie’ nameplate
famous worldwide, deserves complete coverage in any Chevrolet history book.
CHEVROLET TYPE C SIX WAS A 1913 MODEL!
But folks, I got to tell you, never have I been
so disappointed as I was, when I read the first several pages of the early
Chevrolet history in this Second Edition Catalog! It has been a full eight
years since I devoted the January and February 1991 REVIEWS to correcting
and providing documentation to some of the errors and mistakes that were
published in the original edition. Like the original edition, this
second edition claims “the information we’ve combined herein from …[the
3rd edition of Standard Catalog of American Cars 1805-1942, published 1996]
is accurate and well-researched.” Krause then and now challenges “individual
Chevy enthusiast, members of a Chevy club, or historian” that have information
to share to contact the editor. I sent copies of the Review to the then
editor 8 years ago and am at a lost as to why the current editor (and to
be fair--Chevrolet’s Public Relations still does today) take the unfounded
position that Chevrolet built 2999 Classic Sixes as 1912 models its first
year of production?
Perhaps I am just getting old, I turned 54 years old today
as I write this, but must admit I getting somewhat discouraged when I read
the same old mistakes that keep getting reprinted over and over. It is
hard for me to believe that in this age of instant communications and information
[the G&D is mailed to the major old car publications, major automotive
research libraries, and the Chevrolet Motor Division], that I am about
the only automotive historian that has done any fundamental research into
Chevrolet’s mysterious beginnings these past twenty year?
I am looking forward to Chevrolet’s 100 year Anniversary
celebration [and the VCCA’s Golden Anniversary], hopefully to be planned
for Flint Michigan during July 2011. However, I beginning to have my doubts
that the keynote speaker will correctly state that the Chevrolet company
assembled 2999 Little Fours [not the Type C Sixes] in Flint during the
1912 and 1913 production seasons. I will again send a copy of the
next few REVIEWS to the editor in the sincere wish that the next 3rd edition
(Standard Catalog of Chevrolet 1912-2012?) will finally report what really
“KNEW WHAT ‘FRENCH TYPE’ MEANT”?
The Catalog starts out with the same historical sketch
for the 1912-42 models as used in the first edition. The only changed that
was made was Beverly Rae Kimes name was dropped as the writer, but these
are the same words and story that she wrote almost twenty years ago in
Automotive Quarterly. Beverly tried to create a scenario, that since Louis
Chevrolet knew what ‘French type’ meant, he misled W. C. Durant by
designing the Type C Six as a large ponderous car and not the light ‘French
type’ Little car that Durant had in mind.
I have discussed this ‘French Type’ Little Four versus
the big six automobile issue several times before (see August 1987 and,
March 1996 REVIEW). But perhaps there is another scenario that might explains
what could of happen? First, let’s review some of the information that
has been written before by some very creditable sources.
WAS LIGHT FRENCH CAR LOUIS’ IDEA?
The only official General Motors History that has been
published to date, that was commission by GM for its 25th Anniversary in
1933, is THE TURNING WHEEL by noted historian Arthur Pound. Pound, who
should have been very much in touch with the local situation in Flint,
wrote that it was Louis Chevrolet’s idea the public “would receive favorably
a light car which, like the French favorites of the day, combined beauty
with modest price. This idea appealed to Mr. Durant who accordingly backed
the Chevrolet experiments in Detroit.”
The date of this historical arrangement between Durant
and Louis would of taken place at the end of February 1911 (see May 1991
REVIEW) after the Buick Racing Team was mostly disbanded by the Splitdorf
Electric Company. However, I think Pound over simplified the process of
how the events took place during the next nine months from March through
November, and gave credit for the idea for the Little Car to the wrong
LITTLE CAR WAS A FRENCH CONCEPT
The trade publication MOTOR AGE, with its issue dated
Saturday March 11, 1911, printed a full page article headlined, “LITTLE
CAR INTERESTS FRANCE” in which was reported, “There is a growing interest
in France in the light two-seater capable of being sold complete for $500
to $600.” It is reasonable to expect that Mr. Durant, William H. Little,
and Louis Chevrolet, all read and studied this MOTOR AGE story.
I have an idea that this article on the French Type
Little Car helped shape the course of events the future Chevrolet company
was headed towards. I would even suggest that this MOTOR AGE headline gave
Durant the inspiration to name his still to be design and built car --
“EXPLOITATION OF FAST CARS”
Louis Chevrolet rented the second floor above the
P. M. Schulte & Sons Garage at 701-707 Grand River Avenue on Monday,
March 13, 1911 to start, as has been claimed by Etienne Planche and Henry
Winterhoff, the design work on building the first Chevrolet motor and car.
The FLINT DAILY JOURNAL on Tuesday May 30, 1911, scooped
the country with the headline announcement that W. C. Durant was to start
a new auto plant in Detroit to turn out High-Grade and High Price Cars,
with Racer Louis Chevrolet to be a partner. In further describing this
new car and engine, the FDJ reports Louis was “one of the speed wonders
of the day and a co-worker with Mr. Durant in the manufacture and exploitation
of fast cars…Chevrolet experimented secretly with a new type of
engine that is to be the chief selling advantage in the new car.” This
complete article was printed in the July 1991 REVIEW.
The key phase that has long been ignored in this first
report of what kind of car would be built is “exploitation of fast
cars.” The key word here is fast as will be explain later next month.
LITTLE TO HEAD NEW AUTO COMPANY
The very next day, Wednesday May 31, 1911, the FLINT DAILY
JOURNAL printed the headline announcement that proclaimed “LITTLE AS MANAGER.”
The article that followed (see August 1991 REVIEW for complete text), while
it did mention the new car “will be called the Chevrolet,” would have been
a total shock to the friends of Louis Chevrolet. The day before Louis was
in charge of a small shop that was designing his dream machine and was
to be a partner in the manufacturing of his new fast car. Then “Big
Bill” Little was made the active head of a new company that would be organized
by Mr. Little in about 10 days.
I surmise Louis was personally interviewed for the article
the day before and over step himself when he let the cat out of the bag.
Bill Little then gave his interview as damage control, making clear that
he was now in charge and Louis was in effect demoted. Surely this must
have been the turning point in Louis career with Durant – he probably found
out about Little being made his new boss from reading the morning newspaper?
NEW CHEVROLET CAR “YET ON PAPER”!
On top of all this, the same day down in Detroit, the
DETROIT FREE PRESS, in its daily AUTO GOSSIP column for Wednesday May 31,
1911 also reported essential the same Little [I’m in charged] interview
that the FDJ printed. However, the Free Press automotive editor scooped
the other newspapers and trade publications by getting some gossip (that
must of come directly from Bill Little) that would I’m sure made Louis
curse Little in his native French tongue:
“Chevrolet has been driving his Marquette-Buick racer
on the roads for several weeks, but the new car which is to bear his name
is yet on paper.”
I hope the reader understands the tone and significance
of this above statement. I had to study it for a while before I got the
message. I tried to put myself in Louis shoes and allow my mind to replay
the events that we are reasonably sure took place since March 13th, 1911.
My concussion is that this carefully worded statement was meant to discredit
the new engine design that we know was actually built and tested and the
new car’s chassis design which probably was not quite running or finish
yet. That is, there was a new high-powered engine and a fast car design
that first came out of the Louis Chevrolet shop located at the Schulte
Garage. This engine and fast car was shelved when the new management assumed
control during the first week of June 1911. When Bill Little stated
the new car to bear the Chevrolet name was “yet on paper,” he was referring
to a future car or cars that were to be designed after Mr. Durant and Little’s
new company was organized.
WHEN LOUIS CHEVROLET WAS THE BOSS
Just what was Louis Chevrolet and his small shop doing
these past nine weeks? It appears, from these few newspaper accounts, that
Chevrolet ran his small business at the Schulte Garage as a racing and
development shop - a classical race team operation. Louis continued the
same mode of operation he had been involved with before with the Buick
Race Team during the past few years. Durant picked up the expenses for
this Chevrolet race team venture and the building of the, Chevrolet-Planche
dream design, fast car, probably paying Louis Chevrolet as an independent
contractor. This would have been right up Louis Chevrolet’s ‘gasoline in
his blood’ alley.
BIG BILL LITTLE WAS THEN PUT IN CHARGE
Louis had complete control, as the events seems to me,
over his small 5 or 6 men Chevrolet shop until Durant put Bill Little in
charge June 1st, 1911, to take over from Louis and actually organized the
Chevrolet Motor Company. Big Bill Little had just returned from California,
where he was taking a vacation before Durant summons him back to Detroit.
Now the whole picture changed! Bill Little, as Durant’s right hand man
and trusted Lieutenant, probably invested his own money and worked with
Durant under some limited partnership arrangement with future stock option,
with no salary taken. After Little was appointed Manager, all funds were
channeled through him, whom in turn paid the small shop staff and Louis
personally during the interim period of the next 6 to 8 weeks.
I think the first thing Little did was cancel Chevrolet’s
trip to France, which he had, tickets to sail on June 8th. You can bet
this angered Louis. In addition, he stopped any further racing activities,
and subrogated the Chevrolet shop staff (including Louis) to follow the
new agenda and his directions, if they wanted a job with the future Chevrolet
Motor Company. Of course, all development work on the high powered four
engine and the high-grade fast raceabout would have been axed and soon
THE 1911 CHEVROLET “SPECIAL”
The way I picture the Detroit operation, based on Louis
activities as I covered them previously in the April to August 1991 REVIEWS,
is he just continued what he was doing the month before for Splitdorf at
the Buick NY Bronx Branch, except now he relocated the rebuilding of his
Vanderbilt Cup wrecked Buick Model 100 racer to the Schulte Garage in Detroit.
Louis was doing what he loved best. He was updating this racecar into his
own 1911 Chevrolet “Special” that was entered in the French Grand Prix
in July. He tried to get a late entry in the Indy 500 at the end of May,
but was voted against after winning the highest qualification time. Louis
spent most of May at the Indy track, sorting out his Chevrolet “Special”
at speed, preparing for the expected race of his lifetime before his French
countrymen. Durant was backing all of this speed preparation since he knew
the benefit the Buick Racing Team had brought to his Buick Company.
FIRST HIGH POWERED ‘4’ MOTOR SHELVED?
And while Louis was supervising the racing team activities,
as an independent contractor to Durant, he was also giving directions to
his hired engineer Etienne Planche and draftsmen in designing his new engine
and car. Planche claimed this new engine was running in 40 days by the
end of April 1911. This accomplishment would have been pretty darn quick
for a new firm to design and build an entirely new engine from scratch
– they probably modified an existing block? Winterhoff recalled that
the first engine built was a big, high powered, four-cylinder job, which
was shelved for the later design big six. Perhaps what Louis and Planche
first had in mind was a high powered, sporty raceabout that was a cross
between the Chevrolet “Special” racer that had a huge 594 CID engine and
the sporty Mercer T- Head Raceabout? This grade and type of car would certainly
have been favored by the racing enthusiast Louis.
110 MPH WITH NEWLY INVENTED ENGINE?
The FLINT DAILY JOURNAL reported on June 5, 1911, that
Louis Chevrolet was out road “testing his newly invented engine. He was
going about 110 miles per hour” (see August 1991 REVIEW). I figured Louis
was just out testing his “Chevrolet Special” racecar in prepping for leaving
for France in a few day. Now I have second thoughts. Planche always claimed
their first car was “running in the middle of the year.” (see March 1986
REVIEW). I think the reader can now see several possibilities on
what took place on that early Saturday morning on June 3rd. I am now convinced,
after studying the above listed reports, that this “newly invented engine”
was that first, high powered, large 4 cylinder engine that was shelved.
WAS LOUIS DRIVING HIS NEW RACEABOUT?
What car Louis was actually driving is questionable. The
FDJ report doesn’t mention a new car like it did a new engine. It is possible
the decision was made a few days earlier not go to France. This would give
time for the mechanics to pull the Grand Prix engine from the Chevrolet
Special racer and replace it with the new 4-cylinder engine for testing?
More than likely, taking the Planche position that the first car was running
by the middle of the year, this first experimental 4-cylinder engine was
now installed in this first mystery fast car. It must have been
very closed in design, as a high powered raceabout or speedster (or just
a bare hood and chassis), to the Chevrolet Special racer, that it didn’t
bring attention unto itself.
Another clue that this was perhaps the unfinished prototype
raceabout was the fact that Louis was fined $30 by the constable that stopped
him, after he told him his name, for impersonating the famous Chevrolet
race driver. If this had been the painted white Chevrolet Special, which
was a sanitary looking race car, it would have had the name “Chevrolet”
painted on the side of the seats, and I don’t think Louis and his racer
would have gone unrecognized by the local constable.
There is no possible way it could have been the prototype
Six chassis, because it was only 50 hp and was geared low for its heavy
touring body. It would take 80 hp, a light chassis, and be geared high
to top 100 mph. Besides, according to Little, it was not even design yet.
I propose that Louis, in a last ditch effort, was trying
to demonstrate that Saturday morning his fast raceabout to Mr. Little.
This was his last chance to show his car could be a marketable product.
He had to prove to his new boss that the money that Durant had invested
the last ten weeks in his race team and in the building of this fast
raceabout was not wasted. Little with his years of Buick experience in
the production end of the business must have disagreed. This fast
raceabout just was not on Bill Little’s agenda.
LITTLE PULLS THE PLUG ON RACING?
So what went wrong? I suggest it was the other two Buick-Marquette
racers poor mechanical showing at the Indy 500, and the fact that these
heavy racers were now outclass by the latest European models, that Little
advised Durant to pull the plug. Buick had originally entered its cars
in this foreign race to make a good name for its growing export trade,
which would not really help the Chevrolet name in the domestic market.
Besides the 1912 Season was already here, and Durant had no model yet to
get into production. Bill Little, the former Buick plant manager and production
expert for the highly successful Buick Model 10, was put in charge to get
things moving so a popular price car could be place on the 1912 market.
WHAT TYPE OF BUSINESS WAS CONDUCTED?
The question remains as to what type of business or businesses
were conducted by Chevrolet, Little, and Durant prior to the signing of
the Chevrolet Motor Company incorporation papers on November 2, 1911?
Ordinarily men carry on their business in one of three
ways: as an individual, as a partnership, or as a corporation. To date,
no record of any prior partnership or corporation has been found on file
in the archives of the Secretary of State of Michigan for a Chevrolet based
business for the months of March through October 1911. This would suggest
that the type of business conducted by Louis Chevrolet, before Bill Little
arrived the first of June 1911, was a business as an individual. Remember,
the FDJ reported on May 30th that Louis Chevrolet was to be a future partner
with Durant, which implies he was still doing business as an individual.
It is further suggest that Mr. Little, acting as an independent
contractor, conducted the business of the Chevrolet company also as an
individual, from that point on to the legal filling of the incorporation
papers for the Chevrolet Motor Co. on November 3rd, 1911.
Louis Chevrolet was awarded $10,000 in stock in the Chevrolet
Motor Co., for his last name, his design and testing contributions, and
the value to the company Durant placed on Louis’ earlier business venture.
However Bill Little was granted and/or subscribed to at
least twenty-five times the stock that Louis got. This probably can be
explained by money he invested and personally paid in, and the greater
value Durant placed on Little’s management and organizational performance.
But I think Durant also awarded Mr. Little stock and options for his business
reputation, his design ideas for a ‘French Type’ Little Four, and his full
attention to the building up of the Chevrolet business.
It is possible that there was a break in time between
the winding up of business of the Chevrolet shop on Grand River Ave., and
the occupancy of the leased, first-class, new factory building by Mr. Little
on West Grand Blvd. on or about August 1, 1911. Because of the announced
change in management, the change in business attitude, the moving of the
old concern from one address to another, and the shifting of car designs
from a limited volume fast raceabout to more popular selling car models,
it is likely most of the Grand River garage former staff was giving a short
summer time off without pay by manager Little.
It is not known if Mr.Little gave jobs to all the former
shop workers when he opened his new Chevrolet Motor company for business
on or about the first of August 1911, but it is known that Louis Chevrolet,
Planche, Winterhoff, and Pete McGregor were all put on the new payroll.
WHAT KIND OF CARS WILL BE MADE?
The Flint Daily Journal on Saturday, July 15, 1911, proclaimed
in a headline that the “Car to Be Manufactured Will Be High-Powered
and Will Invade a Special Field.” THE MOTOR WORLD that same week, in
its Thursday, July 20th issue, copied this FDJ article, but added on its
own that the company “will manufacture a high powered speed car designed
by Louis Chevrolet.” This is not exactly what was said in the
earlier Flint newspaper. The FDJ wrote: “It is reported that the car
the company will put on the market will be extremely high-powered and will
sell for somewhere around $2,000.”
However, three paragraphs later, the FDJ quotes Mr. Little
as saying: “We are not ready to give the particulars as to the car we
will place on the market, but while it will compete in a general way with
the General Motors company, it will really invade a special field.”
What I think is happening here, is there was confusion
between Louis Chevrolet’s first design fast raceabout, which the
FDJ picked up as “extremely high-powered” and MOTOR WORLD as a “high
powered speed car,” and the Chevrolet cars “yet on paper.” We know this
raceabout was not approved by Mr. Little, and its is unlikely any new car
design work would have started until August.
I believe all Durant had in hand was a good sounding name
for his new venture, which was yet to start. From Mr. Little’s marked enthusiasm,
and remarks that this new car “will really invade a special field,” I think
it is very clear at this point Mr. Little had already formed the concept
to launch a ‘French Type’ Little Four to invade the low price field. Durant
and Little were well aware of the fact General Motors went after an upscale
market after the bankers took over management the year before. By replacing
the Buick Model 10, General Motors abandoned the low price, popular market
to the Model T.
And just like the Buick model line up that Durant had
developed while he was in charge, he knew the advantageous of complete
market coverage. That is, the dealers not only wanted a low price car to
sell, but also a medium price car, and a high price car. I think
it is safe to say that what Durant-Little management had in mind back in
July 1911, before these Chevrolet cars were “yet on paper,” was a “French
Type Little Four 20 hp Runabout (Type A) priced at about $600, a medium
price 30 hp Light Six Touring (Type B) for around $1,400, and a high price
40 hp large Six Touring (Type C) to sell for about $2,000.
CHEVROLET MOTOR COMPANY START DATE?
It is interesting to note that Durant’s other able lieutenant,
Arthur C. Mason, signed the Articles of Associations for his newly organized
Mason Motor Company up in Flint on that Monday, July 31, 1911, though it
was not filed and legally recorded with the Secretary of State until four
days later on Thursday, August 3, 1911.
Moving day down in Detroit into the West Grand Blvd. plant
should have taken place the first day of August when the two-year lease
went into effect. This would have been Tuesday, August 1, 1911. Since the
last day of the ending July month was Monday, this moving day could have
taken place a day earlier to coincide with the moving out day from the
Grand River Avenue garage.
While I still think the date of the signing of this Detroit
plant lease on July 15, 1911 should be used to establish the birth date
of the Chevrolet Motor Company (see April 1997 REVIEW), other possible
candidates are the above July 31st and August 1st dates. I bet the
first thing Durant did on August 1st was to hire the sign painters to paint
the CHEVROLET MOTOR COMPANY name on the front of the building, facing east
on West Grand Blvd.
The 1913 Chevrolet Six was ready for delivery on January
2, 1913. The earliest found Chevrolet Six newspaper advertisement dated
January 17, 1913 states the Six was “Presented to the public after eighteen
months of earnest and conscientious effort” (see April 1996 REVIEW). Eighteen
months of effort confirms the start date of the Chevrolet car designs and
the Chevrolet Motor Company was on or about August 1, 1911.
CHEVROLET’S AUGUST 1911 PLANT STARTUP
The trade publication, THE HORSELESS AGE for August 2,
1911 (see August 1986 REVIEW), reported the new Chevrolet company was now
organized and located at the ex-Corcoran Lamp company plant. It also reported
the new Chevrolet car was to sell at $2,000. Upon closer examination, it
appears this “Oldest Automobile Journal in the World” had used the FLINT
DAILY JOURNAL from July 15th as it source, and the implication that only
a $2,000 Chevrolet was planned, might had been lifted from that newspaper
story. That story applied to the extremely high-powered [80 hp?] fast
raceabout that was axed. It seems it was common practice at the time for
the trade publications to use the local newspapers as primary reference
materials for its national magazine stories.
During this historical first week of August 1911, when
both companies were just getting organized in unison in Detroit and Flint,
it is important to remember Bill Little’s official statements he made two
month prior while things were still in a holding pattern. He said when
he took charge, “The new car…is yet on paper,” and followed this
up six weeks later with “We are not ready to give the particulars as
to the new car… it will really invade a special field.”
The FLINT DAILY JOURNAL front-page headline for August
5th announced the organization of the Mason Motor Company (see July 1996
REVIEW). It reported the 2500 Mason motors that were to be built there
for the 1912 season Chevrolet cars were “of a high-class type.”
This FDJ report, the first reference made to a high-class
type product, was for the experimental six cylinder engine then being planned
for a new high-class family car. While there was a lot of speculation going
on in Detroit and Flint, it seems Planche was busy engineering the fast
four raceabout [80 hp?] engine into a high-class, high powered [50 hp]
six cylinder for a touring job.
Even Mr. Durant kept things under his hat. When he casually
asked C.S. Mott on August 22, 1911 to send him a check for a quarter of
a million dollars for Chevrolet stock, he only hinted to Mott that he would
“be quite pleased with the plan, policy of the company and product.”
THE WAGON WORKS MAKES A PROPOSITION
Mr. Durant was probably very busy during the month of
August asking his other old Flint friend and business acquaintances for
money to invest in the new Chevrolet company. The management of the Flint
Wagon Works, who had gotten Durant interested in the Buick seven years
earlier, saw a golden opportunity in Durant’s ability to make his friends
rich, offered the FWW to Durant in exchange for stock in a reorganized
company. This new company was to take over the FWW plant and property,
and Mr. Durant had to promise he would give his personal attention to the
building up this new business. The formal proposition was made to Durant
September 13, 1911, but it is reasonable to believe that Durant first had
discussions with some of the officers of the FWW several months before,
concerning a takeover of the Wagon Works plant and turning the Whiting
Runabout into a Chevrolet car.
I think a strong case can be made that it was Mr. Little,
who by June 1911 became the champion of the “French Type” Little Four.
He saw in the Whiting Twenty chassis the basis for the Little Four. All
it would take was to clothe the old Whiting 90-inch w.b. chassis with a
stylish torpedo cowl body, finish it in French gray paint with nickel trim
parts, and equip it with electric lights, air starter, and LHD.
It just has to be more then just a strong coincident,
that in August 1911 the Mason Motor Co. was establish to occupy and build
Chevrolet engines, in the very same plant that was already building the
almost identical 1912 Whiting engine. The Mason operation was an expanded
machine shop facility that allowed a doubling of engine and transmission
production. Surely the plan, from the early summer of 1911 on by Mr. Durant
and Mr. Little, was to build the new Chevrolet Little Four model in increasing
volume production at this established Flint factory, that had already totally
manufactured several thousand Whiting Runabouts during the last two years.
These FWW negotiations leaked out in THE HORSELESS AGE,
September 18, 1911. It was then reported the Chevrolet company “will build
a high powered, high price car, and also a popular priced model…to be built
in the wagon works’ plant” (see September 1986 REVIEW).
MANUFACTURE A “FOUR” OF FRENCH DESIGN
THE AUTOMOBILE reported on that same September 18th day
(printed in its September 21st issue - see September 1986 REVIEW), that
it was on this date that first revealed that the Chevrolet Motor Company
was preparing to manufacture two models, a “four” and a “six”, both of
French design and right up to the minute in the matter of equipment.” This
must be the main source for all contemporary Chevrolet histories that claim
the Chevrolet Six should have been a “French type” design. However, these
historians missed the point here!
The key historical fact stated here is the fact that Chevrolet
company was preparing to manufacture both a “four” and a “six”. It seems
fairly clear to me that during the last six weeks, Durant, Little, Planche,
and Louis Chevrolet were busy designing both a “French Type” Little Four
Runabout (on the 1912 Whiting 22 chassis) and a large, high price Six Touring!
These were two different models that appealed to two different market segments.
1912 WHITING BEGOT THE 1912 LITTLE FOUR
The 1912 Whiting Model 22 Runabout, was similar in grade,
but with a dated, last years style foredoor body, with a squared off cowl,
was not as stylish as the planned Chevrolet Little Four, Torpedo body,
There was a directive to integrate the chassis components
of the Whiting into the revamp Chevrolet Little Four, to make use of existing
component purchased under contracts, and making the most use of the FWW
in-house tooling. It is known that negotiations took place with the Weston-Mott
company in Flint, who supplied the Whiting front and rear axles. As early
as September 16th, minor modifications to the brake linkage locations were
plan for the Whiting rear axle to bring them up to the Chevrolet Four specifications.
The Chevrolet spec, for hp, torque, and RPM established by this date, was
the same as the current 1912 Whiting engine. This spec was used to size
the brakes and rear axle gears ratios. However, the Whiting inventory of
higher ratio 3:1 and 3.4:1 gears were used up during the heavier Little
Four, early production run. The standard axles were later changed to 3.92:1
gears [really needs optional 4.64:1 gears] for improved performance.
JUST COPIED THE ’07 BUICK-WHITING PLAN
Durant's plans became more clear to outsiders in his letter
to C.S. Mott on October 2, 1911 (see September 1986 REVIEW) which gives
a perspective of his new Little Motor Car Company. Mr. Durant copied a
scheme from his past, when he organized the Whiting Motor Car Company in
1906 to make use of the ex-Buick plant down in Jackson to assemble under
a Buick license, a light four cylinder car (the future Model 10). Now five
years later, Durant was going to use another Whiting Motor Car Company
(a department of the FWW), to assemble the Little Four and Six, under a
Chevrolet manufacturing contract and license, that would be marketed and
distributed (along with the Chevrolet Six) by his soon (April 1912) to
be created Republic Motor Company. No wonder Durant used the slogan, “The
Product of Experience.”
CHEVROLET ALSO DESIGNED A LIGHT SIX
Sometime around the late fall of 1911, Winterholf documented
in his notebook that he did some machining work of a few engine parts for
a Light Six engine that was also planned for production. This was confirmed
by October 31, 1911 when the FLINT DAILY JOURNAL announced the incorporation
of the Little Motor Car Company (see January 1987 REVIEW). The FDJ reported
the Little company would build a 6-cylinder five-passenger touring car
to sell for $1,400 to be called the Little No. 6. In this newspaper report,
we also find out more about the Little Four Runabouts and the meaning of
up-to-date and fully equipped. The Little No. 4 was to be priced at $600
with electric lights and self-starter.
CHEVROLET BUILDS FIRST LITTLE FOUR
Then we find the FDJ story in the November 10th paper,
that the FIRST ‘LITTLE FOUR’ that “was built at the Chevrolet factory
in Detroit” was shipped to the Little plant in town to serve as a working
pattern for the production department (see June 1896 REVIEW for full text).
This French type runabout was declared “the finished product of months
of careful experimenting by recognized experts” and again was stated to
retail at $600 with electric lights and self-starter.
What was this No. 1 prototype? I believe this No. 1 Little
Four was the first car that was completely running and finished by the
Chevrolet Motor company. I have not to date found a photo of this car,
but the clues describes it has a left-hand drive, single door, torpedo
cowl body, with electric lights and a self-starter. This starter was probably
a English company built air motor that was similar to that of the Type
C. The reason I think it was LHD was this is implied by the claim of being
right up to the minute. There is also the patent drawing that was filed
November 15, 1911 that shows a brake lever that was designed by Chevrolet
& Planche for a LHD, single door, torpedo style runabout that used
a leftside false door (see June 1986 REVIEW). It is similar in function
to the brake lever also patented and used in production on the about 1500
Chevrolet Little Six, Light Six, and Type C Six Tourings.
So what happened to this car? From the 1912 models that
started production in mid April, it can be seen the production engineers
in Flint made several major changes to reduce cost. The electric lights,
battery, and generator were changed to gas and oil lamps with Prest-O-Lite
tank. The air start system was drop. So much for fully equip. Even then
the retail price was increased 15% from the target $600 to $690 FOB Flint.
The chassis remained the same as the RHD Whiting, using the same rack and
pinion steering gear with its FWW casting marks.
CARS BUILT IN DETROIT?
Durant wrote in his own autobiographical notes:
I had found a name for my company – the Chevrolet. My
next job was to find a car worthy of the name – a car for power, speed,
stability, appearance and price that would outclass any other car in the
county – some job. To produce such a car, I worked for months with two
trained mechanics of proven ability – men of spirit and courage – men who
never quit. Four sample cars in all were submitted for inspection and test.
The first built in Detroit – from the standpoint of appearance
not satisfactory. The second built in Detroit – from the standpoint of
cost, impossible. The third built in Flint – a disappointed due to the
fact it did not stand the grueling test to which it was subjected – it
was practically driven to its death in less than 25,000 miles. The fourth
built in Flint – seemed to meet every requirement and did.
I figure there were 4 prototype models built in Detroit
(bold print), followed by 11 production models built in Flint, Detroit,
and New York City as listed below:
1) Fast Four [80 hp?] Raceabout proto. @ $2000 Detroit
2) “French Type” Little Four Runabout proto @ $600 Det.
3) High-Class “50” Six Touring proto. @ $2100 Detroit
4) Little Six Touring prototype @ $1400 Detroit
5) 1912-3 Little Four Runabout prod. @ $690 Flint & NYC
6) 1913 Type C “40” Six Touring production @ $2100 Det.
7) 1913 Little Six Touring production @ $1385 Flint
8) 1913 Model D5 long-stroke 4 Touring prod. @ $1100 Flint
9) 1913 Special Little Six Touring production @ $1400 Flint
10) 1914 Special Type L Four Touring prod. $1250 NYC
11) 1914 Special Type L Four Runabout prod. $1400 NYC
12) 1914 Type C Classic Six Touring production @ $2500 Flint
13) 1914 Model H2 Royal Mail Rds. prod. $875 Flint & NYC
14) 1914 Model H4 Baby Grand Trg. prod. $1000 Flint & NYC
15) 1914 Model L Light Six Touring production $1475 Flint
I have given a lot of thought to the first two Detroit
built cars Mr. Durant refers to as “appearance not satisfactory” and “cost
impossible.” Durant wrote these note in the Forties and obviously forgotten
some details and ignored a few models. It is easy to pick the Type C Six
as the well-known cost problem, since it was increased in price from $2100
to $2500. I think Durant forgot the Little Four prototype was originally
built in Detroit and this was “the third built in Flint” disappointment
model. This leaves the Louis Chevrolet’s fast four raceabout as
the one lacking in appearance – it didn’t have doors or a top!
CHEVROLET BOOK REVIEW Con’d
In case the readers forgot, the last three CHEVROLET REVIEWS’s
subject matter started out in the February issue as a book review on the
revised, second edition, of the Standard Catalog of Chevrolet 1912-1998.
Since I expressed my great disappointment in how this updated reference
book covered the early history of the Chevrolet marque, I felt compelled
to document in my typical “Review” writing style (based on over thirty
years of serious research) on what I believe really happened!
I am surprised that this story, that I call Fast Cars,
‘French Type’ Little Fours, and Big Sixes, would stretch out to include
this month’s issue, but I think there are still a few important corrections
to Krause’s Standard Catalog of Chevrolet 1912-1998 that should be pointed
out. Also a few loose ends need to be clarified to bring this story up
to date, and with this, I will conclude this latest Chevrolet book review
and this “Big Sixes” story.
THE “OFFICIAL STORY” IS JUST NOT TRUE!
First, I want to publicly state that I have nothing
but the highest regards for the staff of Krause Publications and Automobile
Quarterly and the tremendous support and contributions they both have made
to the old car hobby for these many years -- I am a loyal subscriber and
reader of both of these publications from the very beginning.
It has been suggested that the only positive
book review I have ever written was for George Dammann’s 75 Years of Chevrolet
back in the April 1987 REVIEW – and that was because I, and other VCCA
members, helped update it from its earlier first edition. I did appreciated
that George was very open minded and was able to tell the difference between
the ‘official story’ that Chevrolet Public Relations has been claiming
for over 50 years, and the documentation I provided him from newspaper,
trade publication, and factory records – all of it was printed in the prior
issues of the CHEVROLET REVIEW.
With this background in mind, I think I am justified
in writing an unfavorable review for this Standard Catalog for its lack
of research. I want to go on record that I am not in this research and
writing endeavor for personal gain. I consider putting together each monthly
issue of the REVIEW as a hobby that I fully enjoy – when it’s no longer
fun is when I will find something else to do.
MORE ON “SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES”
Let me regress one last time. There has been some
discussion lately within the VCCA about wanting to create VCCA judging
classes for the post Twenties Chevrolets, that have been extensive updated
or modified to enhance ride and performance to suit the owners preferred
look and appearance, in order to bring them up to par in car shows with
genuine (authentic) restored Vintage Chevrolets. Some members claim this
is only equitable since there has been coverage and promotion of four-cylinder
speed equipment, speedsters, and race cars in both the CHEVROLET REVIEW
and SPEED and SPORT pages I put together. I have taken the stand
(see S&S October 1998) that the “Special Circumstances” principle should
apply to four-cylinder race cars, speedsters, and sportabouts because of
the historical significance of these cars and personalities, including
Louis Chevrolet, the Frontenac racers, the Chevrolet Brothers Fronty speed
equipment, John Gerber, and Bob Giovanine. This is the Fast Cars Chevrolet
Legend. I strongly believe there is a big difference between a four-cylinder
‘period’ speedster or racer and a post 1936 street modified that has been
visually updated by its owner to enhance its ride, performance, and style.
I would hate to see the day when it would be unacceptable
to print stories about our Chevy 4’s rich legacy in the G & D, because
the VCCA, as a concession to this pro modified movement, is obligated into
rejecting most stories, pictures, and classifieds pertaining to any four-cylinder
cars and parts that a committee could determine as non authentic. I could
adopt any prospective G & D guidelines on appropriate subject matter
[I could reform the vintage CHEVROLET REVIEW to the higher standard CHEVROLET
SUPERIOR masthead and revert back to FACTORY & FIELD in place of the
speedster enthusiast’s SPEED and SPORT], but it would sure take away some
of the fun. At this time, I encourage all members, especially you four
cylinder enthusiasts, to write or email their area Directors their opinions
on preserving this ‘period’ speedster and racer status.
In light of all this speed, ride and handling modifications
[Yes, I call a 1922 Four-Ninety Roadster mounted on top of a ’88 Corvette
chassis a hot rod and doesn’t fit my definition of a Vintage Chevrolet],
I find it’s ironic that the first, Number One Chevrolet, designed, built,
and tested by Louis Chevrolet in Spring of 1911 was a Fast Raceabout with
a hot four cylinder engine! It sure would be interesting, with a great
more research, to try and recreate this Chevrolet Job No. 1 raceabout.
FAST CARS--LARGE SIXES ON WEB SITE
I incorrectly listed the address of the Pre 1925
Vintage Chevrolet Web Site index page in the November 1998 REVIEW. I left
out the ‘net’ domain name. Did anyone noticed this FAST CARS—LARGE SIXES
story was posted on the Web Site in January before printing in the February-April,
I am considering adding a combination Communications and Classified
Ads Page to the Web Site for Pre 1925 Vintage Chevrolets. I think
a discussion group, with cars and parts for sale or want ads, all mixed
together, would make interesting reading and entertainment for us Pre 1925
devotees. Basically this would be in the same format and style as the current
guest book. In fact, until I get this new page set up, I would encourage
all Pre 1925 Vintage Chevrolet question, comments, advice, chatter, and
classified ads for cars and parts be posted to the guest book found on
the Site Index page.
WHITING, LITTLE, MONROE, SCRIPPS-BOOTH
The Standard Catalog groups the 1912-13 Little Four,
along with the Little Six and 1915-21 Monroe, together, with the photo
captions printed in fine print on the same forward page. This implies the
Little models were somehow connected with Chevrolet, but the Standard Catalog
does not considered them to be actually Chevrolet production models?
While it is true, the 1915-16 Monroes were marketed
by the Chevrolet Sales Department, and assembled in the same Chevrolet
plant in Flint that built the Chevrolet Sixes, with Chevrolet as a large
stockholder in the Monroe Motor Company, these approximate 3500 Monroes
were never included in the all time Chevrolet production record. The photos
of the larger 1918-21 Monroes printed, simply have no relationship to the
Chevrolet Company, and need not appear.
It is mention the Chevrolet resembled the Republic
Four. This also implies there was a link to the Republic car. The facts
are WC Durant organized a completely separate Republic Motor Company as
a sales and manufacturing company to market the Little and Chevrolet brand
names during 1912-13, but this all changed in June 1913, when Durant decided
to use the Chevrolet name for his corporate structure in place of the Republic
In place of the coverage given to the Republic car
and the last Monroes, it would be more historical correct to list and show
pictures of the 1915-18 Scripps-Booth models, since Durant and the Chevrolet
company by late 1916 had controlling interest in it. This came about by
Durant and the Chevrolet Company holding a large stake in Bill Little’s
Sterling Motor Company that supplied engines for the Model C Scripps-Booth.
The Whiting car was mentioned, but only that it
was built previously at the Flint Wagon Work where the Little was built.
What is ironic, there is a photograph of the rare 1912 Whiting Model 22
Runabout printed on this page that is incorrectly captioned as a 1912 Little
Runabout. While its true, approximately the first few weeks of April production
of the first 50 Little Four Runabouts looks almost exactly like the former
Whiting model (see March 1996 REVIEW), the Little had a Prest-o-Lite gas
cylinder tank located under the rear deck, while the Whiting used the carbide
gas generator that was mounted on the right running board in the vertical
position as in this photo.
The editor quote ABC Hardy who claimed the Little
Four plan “was simple to the point of innocence,” but purposely left out
the rest of the statement when Hardy bragged, “We took the small [Whiting]
motor, had it revamped and improved by Mason and put it into a small roadster
[Little]...” Someone is missing the big clue here? The first production
1912 Little runabouts were almost the same as the last production 1912
Whiting runabouts, except the “improved” Little Four had new Little gray
and black paint job with full nickel trim.
However, the biggest goof made is not giving the
Little Four and Six models the credit for being the 2999 and 490 units
manufactured with a Chevrolet license that have always been part of Chevrolet’s
1912-13 production records! It is this fact (see Chevrolet Car Production
memo dated April 14, 1917 as reprinted in the July 1988 REVIEW) that transferred
both the 1912-13 Little Four Runabout and the Little Six Touring from the
VCCA Forerunner Class into the Class A (1912-16 Chevrolets- except 490’s)
some ten years ago.