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Chevrolet Legacy

10 Men Who Mattered

Story Barry Kluczyk / Images GM Media Archives - August 02, 2012 10:00 AM

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The 1914 Chevrolet was the result of Billy Durant’s adaption of the Chevrolet name to the Little motorcar platform, helping to push production to 5,000 units for the year.

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Ed Cole’s greatest contribution to Chevy’s heritage was the small-block V-8, which debuted in 1955.

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Ed Cole was the driving force behind the rear-engine, air-cooled Corvair of the 1960s.

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Bill Mitchell poses with a couple of his creations, the 1957 Stingray (background) and 1961 Mako Shark concepts. Both influenced the groundbreaking 1963 Corvette.

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Bill Mitchell and the 1957 Corvette Stingray race car concept.

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Zora Arkus-Duntov behind the wheel of the 1957 XP-64 Corvette SS race car concept.

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Zora Arkus-Duntov poses with a 1966 Corvette.

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Dave McLellan (background) stands with the high-tech Corvette Indy concept, circa 1986. In the foreground, at right, is McLellan’s predecessor Zora Arkus-Duntov.

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A revival of Chevy performance and pride in the 1990s, seen in vehicles such as this 40th Anniversary Corvette, is due largely to Jim Perkins’ unwavering enthusiasm.

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While he did much more for the brand, Jon Moss will always be known as the father of the 1994-’96 Impala SS.

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John Heinricy’s talent and passion for racing rubbed off on Chevrolet products ranging from the Corvette and Camaro to the Cobalt SS and HHR – and all are the better for it.

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As the sun set on the Camaro in 2002, Scott Settlemire kept a spotlight on it, serving as an ambassador when the car no longer existed and his job didn’t require it.

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Chevrolet wouldn’t be the brand it is today without the participation of employees who did more than punch a timecard every day.

In fact, these 10 men each made their time at Chevy a part of their lives, contributing not only time and professional acumen, but energy, foresight and an unbridled belief in what they were doing.

Whether it was engineering, management or simply a bearer of the Bowtie flag, these individuals helped make it one of the world’s top automotive brands and a cultural icon with few peers.

 

Louis Chevrolet

Born in 1878 in Switzerland, Louis Chevrolet made a name for himself in the United States as a pioneer in automobiles. He had a knack for mechanical design and an ingrained need for speed. He established a land-speed record in 1905, attaining 111 mph in a special open race car. His exploits made him well known among a public that equated racing drivers to daredevils and heroes.

Through his experience with early Buick race cars, Chevrolet knew General Motors founder Billy Durant. When Durant had been driven out of the company he founded, Chevrolet was the man he approached to help build a new car company.

After only a couple of years, Chevrolet and Durant clashed over their visions for the fledgling car company. Durant bought out his partner’s interest. Chevrolet lost his money during the Great Depression. He started over as a mechanic, ironically, at a Chevrolet plant in Detroit. He died in 1941 and was buried in Indianapolis.

 

William “Billy” Durant

William Crapo “Billy” Durant started a carriage business in the late 1800s that quickly became one of the world’s largest. Initially skeptical of horseless carriages, he was a businessman first and foremost. By 1904, he was the head of Buick. By 1908, he incorporated General Motors, adding Oakland, Oldsmobile and Cadillac to the portfolio soon thereafter. His acerbic and headstrong personality clashed with many GM board members. In 1910, he was forced from the company he founded.

Durant approached Louis Chevrolet about forming a new car company. He believed Chevrolet had the engineering clout and the name recognition the company needed. While Chevrolet wanted to continue with high-end automobiles, Durant believed Henry Ford was on the right track with his Model T. The philosophical differences drove Chevrolet from the company and Durant was ultimately proved right again. He raised enough money to buy General Motors and fold Chevrolet into it.

Durant was again forced from the helm at GM. He eventually landed back in Flint. He managed a bowling alley until his death in 1947.

 

Ed Cole

An engineer who rose to the rank of divisional manager and eventually president of General Motors, Ed Cole helped Zora Arkus-Duntov make the Corvette a true sports car and oversaw development of the Corvair and influenced dozens of other Chevy and GM vehicles. Cole’s ever-lasting legacy is the OHV V-8 engine known as the Chevy small-block.

Cole had worked on the Cadillac V-8 that debuted in 1949, then was appointed Chevrolet’s chief engineer in 1952. The company needed a new engine to replace the antiquated Stovebolt. Building on his experience with the Cadillac V-8, Cole designed the Chevy V-8 to be lighter and more powerful, less expensive and faster to manufacture.

He became Chevy’s general manager in 1956 and rose up GM’s corporate ladder, becoming the president in 1967. He retired from GM in 1974 and became the head of the Checker Motor Company. He died in a plane crash in 1977.

 

Bill Mitchell

Mitchell joined GM’s styling studio in 1935, but his flair for sweeping, organic design didn’t manifest itself until Harley Earl retired in 1958. When it came to Chevrolet, Mitchell’s influence was epic. It included the 1963 Corvette and 1970 Camaro. He contributed to the exquisite Corvette SS and Stingray race car concepts in the late ’50s and, with the assistance of Larry Shinoda, designed the 1961 Mako Shark concept that inspired the landmark 1963 Corvette Sting Ray. In 1965, the Mako Shark II concept from his studio previewed the C3 Corvette.

Mitchell retired in 1977, after spending his entire 42-year career designing or overseeing the design of cars at GM – including those iconic Chevrolets. He died in 1988 in Royal Oak, Michigan, only a few miles from the GM Design Center.

 

Zora Arkus-Duntov

We can’t possibly convey the scope of his achievements or their importance on Chevrolet’s performance heritage within a couple of hundred words here, but to put it simply, the Corvette wouldn’t be the Corvette without him.

Already established in the racing world, he wrote a letter to Chevrolet in 1953 about the potential of the Corvette. The letter attracted the attention of Ed Cole, who hired Arkus-Duntov. Later that year, he wrote another letter, titled “Thoughts Pertaining to Youth, Hot Rodders and Chevrolet.” It advocated the use of a V-8 in the Corvette and the importance of marketing performance to young customers. It seems like an obvious observation today, but he created waves six decades ago.

Of course, rather than evolve into a lethargic boulevard cruiser, like the Thunderbird, the Corvette turned into a true sports car under Arkus-Duntov’s direction. He retired in 1975. He continued to consult with Chevrolet and remained active in the Corvette world, attending enthusiast events with his wife Elfi. He died in 1996 at age 86.

 

Dave McLellan

He was the second Corvette chief engineer, picking up the baton after Zora Arkus-Duntov retired. Nearly 20 years after his 1992 retirement, Dave McLellan remains a fixture of the enthusiast community, attending Corvette events across the country with his wife, Glenda.

McLellan began working on the Corvette platform in the late 1960s, under Zora Arkus-Duntov’s direction, and became chief engineer for it in 1975, upon Zora’s retirement. The technologies that debuted on the Corvette during his reign trickled down to other Chevrolets, bringing advanced technology to affordable cars often before more expensive competitors. Those technologies include Tuned-Port Injection (port fuel injection), anti-lock brakes and Anti-Slip Regulation (Corvette-speak for traction control). He also oversaw the creation of the C4 ZR-1, which put the Corvette on the world stage as a high-tech sports car.

McLellan was an engineer’s engineer – and so recognized by the Society of Automotive Engineers – and retains a strong passion for the Corvette. No one could fill Zora’s shoes, but McLellan was the right replacement at the right time.

 

Jim Perkins

A true Texas maverick, Jim Perkins was a straight-talking, get-it-done-type of manager who rekindled pride in the Bowtie. His attitude was symbolized by a lapel he always wore that depicted the Bowtie emblem and the word “Proud.”

His stint as Chevrolet’s general manager came after he’d already left General Motors to help launch Lexus. It was almost unheard of that a GM executive would quit, go to work for a foreign competitor and return, but Perkins didn’t much care for convention. During his seven years at the helm of Chevrolet, he guided the brand through some tough times, including painful downsizing and reorganization. He put the burden of the company’s troubles on his shoulders, earning the respect of dealers and admiration of those inside GM.

Perkins was also an enthusiast, who championed Chevrolet’s return to performance in the 1990s, with cars like the fourth-generation Camaro and Impala SS, as well as a resurgent motorsports program. He drove the Indy 500 pace car three times and reportedly still owns the only ’93 Camaro pace car replica built with a six-speed manual transmission.

 

Jon Moss

He’s known to most as the father of the 1994-’96 Impala SS, but Jon Moss contributed more than a bad, black sedan to Chevrolet. He injected a much-needed dose of adrenalin to a division that was suffering an identity crisis.

During the 1990s, as Chevrolet general manager Jim Perkins strived to improve the morale within the division and its dealer body, Jon Moss was overseeing the creation of high-performance concepts. While he technically oversaw concepts for other GM divisions, the annual collection of outrageous project vehicles known as the “Toy Box” were almost always Chevys.

Some of the concepts were strictly demonstrations of horsepower, but many evolved into production models. Moss retired in 2004, but has remained close to the performance industry and Chevrolet-powered vehicles.

John Heinricy

In late 2008, John Heinricy retired from General Motors after a 38-year career there as an engineer and test car driver – including a stint as the assistant chief engineer for the Corvette and serving as the director of GM’s Performance Division. He was – and remains – an accomplished racer, capturing 11 SCCA national titles.

Heinricy’s driving talent and engineering background proved to be an invaluable combination when it came to sorting out the handling traits of everything from the track-ready Corvette Z06 to the Cobalt SS. The compact Cobalt was his pet project and he helped transform it into a very competent sport compact. Heinricy’s fingerprints are found all over plenty of other Chevrolets. Their more confident handling traits have helped the company’s lineup compare favorably against the world’s best-driving cars.

Like others on our list, John Heinricy’s contribution to Chevrolet extended way beyond his job title. His passion for driving made the products significantly better, even if it required fighting the bean counters for more expensive components.

 

Scott Settlemire

After 34 years at GM, Settlemire is the only person on our list who’s still active with the company. Settlemire’s unofficial duties as the Camaro guy at Chevrolet started more than a decade ago – and he admits being a Camaro enthusiast from the moment he saw one back in late 1966. When he learned the Camaro’s end was coming, Settlemire knew it would have a big impact on the enthusiastic ownership community, which was among the most loyal in the industry.

As the end of the fourth-gen F-car approached and passed, Settlemire immersed himself in the community, making sure Camaro clubs, car show promoters and other organizations still had a point of contact at Chevrolet. In his official role as manager of the company’s auto show and exhibit interests, he made sure a few dollars were always set aside for the enthusiast community, which meant show vehicles and other displays always found their way to grassroots events.

Settlemire pushed for the rebirth of the Camaro, starting only moments after the fourth-gen cars bowed out. Though his official job description has virtually nothing to do with the Camaro, Settlemire has made it his business. He’s the keeper of the flame and the reason it’s burning brighter than ever these days has much to do with him.

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