GM was to pay Ford $2 million cash, plus $4 million at 5 percent interest over three years. On October 26, 1909, GM's board "gave Durant authority to purchase Ford if financing could be arranged," Gustin writes in "Billy Durant, Creator of General Motors."
Banks were nervous about the nascent, fly-by-night auto industry, and refused Durant a $2 million loan for the downpayment. During a financial panic in 1910, GM's board kicked Durant out and let bankers take over his company.
Durant began work on his comeback and set up retired Buick race driver Louis Chevrolet with his own Detroit shop in early 1911. Durant returned to Flint, Michigan, where he had seeded GM in the early 1900s, and bought the assets of the failing Flint Wagon Works. He then got former Buick engine builder Arthur C. Mason to set up a new operation, while Durant organized the Little Motor Car Company.
Durant incorporated the Chevrolet Motor Company on November 3, 1911. Louis Chevrolet was not an officer, but he experimented with large luxury cars while Chevrolet Motor Company's Little brand sold lower-priced cars against Ford. The first "production" Chevrolet was the big, $2500 Classic Six of 1912, but the first Chevys, as we know them, were the 1914 Royal Mail roadster ($750) and Baby Grand touring car ($875-$1475). Louis Chevrolet left his namesake company to return to racing.
The 1916 Chevrolet Four-Ninety ($490) was Durant's direct shot at the Ford Model T. By now, Chevy was thriving with factories in places like Flint and New York City. Its success gave Durant the footing to buy up GM stock, with help from the DuPont family and a New York bank president, Louis J. Kaufman. Durant staged a coup d'etat, and on September 16, 1915, GM's seventh anniversary, took control of GM again.
On December 23, 1915, Chevrolet stockholders increased capitalization from $20 million to $80 million, Gustin writes, and used the $60 million to buy up GM stock. Chevrolet bought GM. It wasn't the other way around.
Panics, recessions, and depressions swung wilder and were frequent then. By late 1920, amid another severe downturn, GM ousted Durant for the last time. Here's what happened next:
1922: William S. Knudsen leaves Ford as head of manufacturing to become Chevrolet's production chief and later, vice president of operations. In '24, he vows to match Ford "one for one" in sales.
1923: Chevy's Copper Cooled models feature air-cooled engines. It proves a rare engineering blunder by Charles Kettering. Only 759 are produced, 500 make it to dealers and 100 are sold.
1927: President Alfred Sloan hires California custom coachbuilder Harley Earl to head up GM's new Art & Colour department. Even at the low end of Sloan's price ladder, Chevy becomes known for style and annual model updates.
1929: Chevrolet introduces the Stovebolt Six "for the price of a four" displacing 194 cubic inches and making 46 horsepower.
1936: Model year for the first Suburban Caryall, an eight-passenger truck-based utility passenger wagon.
1947: Chevrolet works on a compact, called Cadet, then shelves plans because Americans have no reason or desire to buy small cars.
1950: Model year Powerglide is first offered, beating Ford and Plymouth to the market as the first low-priced brand with a fully automatic transmission.
1953: The Corvette appears in January at GM's Motorama at New York's Waldorf-Astoria hotel. Production begins in Flint half a year later.
1955: Model year introduction of Chevrolet's first V-8 in 37 years. Ed Cole had brought Small Block to production in just 28 months in "Motorama-styled" models. The Tri-Five Bel Airs later become some of the most collectible cars extant.
1959: Model year for the all-new Impala, Bel Air, and Biscayne with radical, horizontal rear fins. A proposal for an air-cooled, rear-engine V-8 Impala did not get past the exploration stages.
1960: Model year for Chevrolet's first in a series of failed world-class small cars, the Corvair, with its air-cooled, rear-mounted flat six.
1961: Semon E. "Bunkie" Knudsen, son of William S., leaves Pontiac to become Chevy chief. His Impala Super Sports compete with Pontiac's sportier full-size models.
1965: U.S. auto and light truck sales top 15 million for the first time in history, and two- and four-door Impalas account for 803,400. All told, Chevy sells more than 1 million Impalas, Bel Airs, and Biscaynes. In mid-'65, Chevy introduces the $200 Caprice option for the Impala four-door hardtop, reacting to Ford's new LTD and encroaching on Olds 88 territory.
1967: Model year for the new Ford Mustang/Plymouth Barracuda competitor, codenamed Panther and called Camaro.
1971: Model year for Chevy's second failed attempt at a world-class small car, the Vega. May issue of Motor Trend compares a $9081 Cadillac Sedan de Ville with a $5550 Chevy Caprice, concludes the Caddy is the better car, but not $3500 better. It's also the model year of Chevy chief John Z. DeLorean's personal Caprice limo, using a Cadillac Fleetwood 75 frame and Chevy sheetmetal. Before John Z. can turn a wheel, GM president Ed Cole orders the car scrapped.
1976: Model year for Chevy's third failed attempt at a world-class small car, the Chevette.
1980: Model year for Chevy's fourth failed attempt at a world-class small car, the Citation.
1989: Chevy's first sub-brand (like Cadillac's LaSalle), Geo, rebadges Nova, Sprint, and Spectrum.
1997: All-new C5 Corvette debuts, Malibu nameplate returns. Chevy trucks outsell Chevy cars.
2002: Second-year Corvette Z06 has 405-horsepower Small Block. Last year for the F-body Camaro.
2008: Model year for all-new Malibu with renaissance styling.
2009: GM files for bankruptcy. Model year for 638-horsepower Corvette ZR1.
2010: Model year for new Camaro.
2011: Model year for latest and strongest attempt at a world-class small car, the Cruze, and the revolutionary extended-range electric Volt.