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Every sixteenth car on the planet is now a Chevrolet. Itís an unbelievably far cry from the sleepy French town where Ė if you believe the legend Ė in 1896 or 1897, the extraordinary man who gave Chevrolet its name was first Ďdiscoveredí in a French bicycle workshop by a member of one of Americaís richest families.

The son of a clockmaker from La Chaux-de-Fonds in Switzerland, Louisís career began at the age of 11 in a bicycle repair shop where he poured his fatherís principles of precision engineering into the development of fast bikes. Racing the results brought prize money to help feed his six brothers and sisters. Chevroletís powerful pedalling skills ensured full platters.

When, in 1896 or 1897, touring American property magnate Vanderbilt wandered into the shop needing repairs to his motorised tricycle, Louis fixed it. An impressed Vanderbilt urged him to make his fortune in America. After training with Darracq in Paris and spending time in Canada as a driver and mechanic, Chevrolet finally realised the dream in 1901 by getting a job at De Dion-Boutonís New York workshops. Another four yearsí hard graft designing engines finally paid off with a stunning victory and a new world record in his first serious motor race in 1905. In the same year he married his sweetheart and began a 15-year winning streak on USA racetracks that would turn him into a full-on hero.

Chevroletís racing career took off properly in 1907 at the wheel of a Buick Bug. Buick had been acquired by the motoring entrepreneur William Crapo (yes, really) Durant and turned into a hugely successful marque. By 1908 Buick was part of Durantís General Company of New Jersey - later to become General Motors. It didnít take long for Louis Chevrolet, the Schumacher of his day, to come to Durantís attention. On November 3 1911 the two men joined forces to create the Chevrolet Motor Car Company - and a legend was born.

Durantís vision of the future was shown to be correct as his newly acquired Chevrolet company went from strength to strength. The Chevrolet brand quickly became synonymous with quality, value, reliability and affordability Ė a fact underlined by Chevroletís toppling of Fordís Model T from its No 1 sales position, and its domination of the US car sales charts for 40 years straight, from 1936 to 1976.

 

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