Category: general motors

The Fearless Spirit of William Durant

The Fearless Spirit of William Durant


“I haven’t a dollar but I’m happy and I’m carrying on because I can’t stop. There’s much more to life than money.” – William Durant

The Rise of Durant

Durant (left) and his carriage company partner, J. Dallas Dort, in front of the Imperial Wheel Co. factory in Flint, Mich.

William Durant dropped out of school at age 17. Ignoring his family’s expectations for him to become a lawyer, Durant’s first job was piling lumber, and his second job was selling cigars. He alone sold more than three other sales people combined.

By age 24, Durant was already a successful businessman in the old lumber town of Flint, Michigan.

Durant, who went on to become a partner in a thriving insurance agency, decided to get into the vehicle business in 1886. He bought a small horse cart company with borrowed money. All he got was two completed carts and a design patent. Durant immediately took one cart to a fair and won a blue ribbon. He came home with orders for more than 600 carts even though he had yet to build one.

Within 15 years, the Durant-Dort Carriage Company had grown from a $2,000 investment into a $2 million business. It had become the largest vehicle manufacturer in the U.S., with Factory One its first plant in Flint. William Durant was heralded as the “King of Carriage Makers.”

Betting Big on the Automobile

Buying Buick

Original 1904 Buick prototype in Flint at the beginning of its test run to Detroit and back.

Durant was a millionaire at age 40, and he was eager for new adventures. With the Durant-Dort Carriage Company running smoothly, Durant was becoming bored. He liked to create organizations.

By 1900, different brands of horseless carriages were being marketed in the U.S. To maintain the title of “Vehicle City,” the city of Flint needed the automobile business. James Whiting of Flint Wagon Works bought Buick to help the city and save the company from financial ruin. Yet, he needed a sharp young businessman to take command, and Durant was the one.

Durant wasn’t interested at first. He said that automobiles were noisy, dangerous contraptions that frightened people and horses. Still, he was willing to give it a shot. He took the Buick out alone, driving it on all kinds of roads for a month or two. He was so impressed that he took over the management of Buick in 1904.

In 1908, Buick production surpassed Ford and Cadillac combined. Durant had made the transition from the largest carriage maker to the largest automobile manufacturer in a little more than three years. Durant became an inspiration to the workers of Flint.

The Birth of GM

A Company with Multiple Brands That Almost Included Ford

General Motors Building, Detroit, MI, 1924.

One night in 1907, Durant received a phone call about a large automobile merger put together by financier J.P. Morgan. Weeks later, Durant held a meeting in his room at the original Pontchartrain Hotel, together with three other automotive leaders. They were Henry Ford, Ransom Olds of REO, and Ben Briscoe of Maxwell-Briscoe. When Ford announced that he wanted money, not stock, the talks fell apart. Everyone left the sinking ship except Durant, because he knew there must be consolidation.

Durant had a plan B. He knew Oldsmobile was having a difficult time. He took a night train to Lansing, Michigan, roused the Olds officials from bed, and proposed creating a holding company called General Motors that would include Buick and Oldsmobile. They agreed, and General Motors was incorporated on September 16, 1908.

In fact, Durant almost purchased Ford in 1909. After getting GM in shape, Durant had Henry Ford agree to sell the company for $8 million. The loan committee of the bank, however, passed on this deal. If Durant had had the cash, Ford would have become a division of GM.

Size Matters

Major Acquisitions for GM

1909 Cadillac enters the fold.

By the start of 1909, Durant was ready to move in a big way. His aim was nothing less than to gain control of some of the biggest and best automobile companies in America. But he also wanted to get in on the ground floor with companies that were just starting. He wondered what their patents, products and inventions might bring.

Wrote Durant, “I figured if I could acquire a few more companies like Buick, I would have control of the greatest industry in this country. A great opportunity, no time to lose, I must get busy.”

Less than 16 months after GM’s incorporation, Durant had purchased 22 companies of all kinds. Although many were proven worthless due to a few severe liabilities, some were solid gold – Buick, Cadillac, Oakland (Pontiac), Oldsmobile, McLaughlin (GM Canada) and GMC.

While U.S. banking interests looked on cars as little more than a national fad, Durant was already seeing the automotive business as the greatest industry in the land. When Durant predicted that someday 500,000 automobiles would be built and sold in a single year, the bankers thought he was mad. Durant did not care what they thought. He knew he was right.

Down But Not Out

Ousted from GM and Back

Durant and his cohorts celebrate the first Chevrolet outside the factory, 1912.

In 1910, big problems arose. The market for large cars dried up. People were flocking to Henry Ford’s reliable and inexpensive Model T, his only model. GM, meanwhile, offered 21 different models of larger cars produced by 10 independent divisions, few of which were profitable. Durant’s image went from genius to foolish speculator. To borrow money to keep GM afloat, Durant had no choice but to accept bankers taking control of his “baby” for the five-year term of the loan, starting from September 26, 1910. But Durant was far from through. He was already starting to talk with Buick’s former racing star – Louis Chevrolet.

Chevrolet was a fearless racer and pioneering engineer who beat racing legend Barney Oldfield in his first race. His racing prowess caught the eye of Durant, and he signed up to drive for the Buick racing team in 1909. In two racing seasons, the Buick team won half of America’s road races.

Always wanting to design and build his own car, Chevrolet recalled: “Durant told me, ‘We’re going to need a car.’ So I built it.” Together they founded Chevrolet Motor Company in 1911, named after Louis Chevrolet. It launched two models in 1914 with the first valve-in-head engine, which drew many potential Ford Model T buyers. Chevrolets sold very well.

Durant had kept his shares of GM stock and continued to purchase more. Finally, at a GM board meeting in 1916, Durant announced that Chevrolet now had controlling interest of GM. Durant was again elected president of GM.

Last Empire and New Ventures

Durant Motors and More

1940 Alfred Sloan and Billy Durant celebrating the production GM’s 25 millionth car

From Durant’s return to control through the end of 1919, GM had grown into a vast enterprise. One of GM’s directors wrote, “The General Motors Corporation of today is 8 times as large as the company which the bankers were managing. This is indeed a fine tribute to your foresight.”

In 1920, the post-World War I boom ended, stocks lost 25% of their value, and 100,000 businesses went bankrupt. Durant began secretly buying stock on margin. He felt personally responsible for the thousands of stockholders who had entrusted him with the fate of their funds. Six months later, his $90 million was all gone. He was bailed out again but with a provision that he resign completely from GM. For the second time, he had lost control of the company he had founded. Durant was 59 years old and unemployed.

He wasted no time. Within six weeks of leaving GM without any money, he was back in the automotive business with a new company – Durant Motors. But the Great Depression in 1929 got in his way, and Durant Motors was liquidated in 1933. Yet, Durant, as a visionary, never lost his energy. He earned himself the nickname “Bull of the Bulls” on Wall Street and opened a bowling alley in one of the country’s first drive-in restaurants at the age of 78.

Source General Motors

How to rebuild a vintage General Motors alternator – Rocky Rotella @Hemmings


When a hobbyist opens the hood of his or her vintage vehicle, the alternator generally isn’t what’s admired most. In fact, short of a charging system issue that forces action, the belt-driven voltage generator is so reliable that it can operate inconspicuously for years without maintenance. Nothing underhood is truly maintenance-free, however, and our Pontiac’s alternator proved just that. It wasn’t a charging issue that drew our attention. Instead, a persistent chatter at idle speed indicated something was amiss. A cursory check revealed that an internal bearing was beginning to fail, and without swift action it could leave us stranded.

For our ’76 Firebird’s 80-amp 10SI-series alternator, bearing replacement requires removal and disassembly. After disconnecting the battery and removing the alternator’s drive belt, electrical connections, and mounting hardware, it simply lifted out and away. On the workbench, we used a 15⁄16-inch wrench and 5 ⁄16-inch hex-wrench to remove the cooling fan retaining nut and lock washer, the fan, and its shaft spacer.

Our ’76 Firebird was originally equipped with a 10SI (or System Integrated)-series alternator developed and produced by GM’s Delco-Remy division in a variety of sizes and output ratings. While remanufactured 10SI alternators are typically stocked at local parts stores, we find originality important and decided to completely disassemble our Firebird’s original 80-amp unit and replace its shaft bushings. That then afforded us the opportunity to replace the internal electronics, essentially resulting in a complete alternator rebuild. Follow along to see how we did it.

A 3⁄8-inch socket was used to remove the four through-bolts that secure the alternator case halves together. The alternator assembly was then separated by lifting the halves apart.

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GM’s Fleeting Fastback Phase: The 1941-52 Streamliners — Reblog Mac’s Motor City Garage


When the GM streamliners first made their appearance in 1941, they looked like the most advanced cars on the road. But the futuristic shape didn’t age well, lasting barely a decade.

GM’s Fleeting Fastback Phase: The 1941-52 Streamliners — Mac’s Motor City Garage

Book Review: COPO Camaro, Chevelle & Nova – Tom Stahler


The history of the muscle cars covertly produced from the Central Office Production Order

COPO was Chevrolet’s special-order system used by dealers to build high-performance models in the 1960s despite a corporate racing ban. The COPO program was  originally designated for fleet vehicles such as taxicabs, but at the peak of the muscle car wars, it was used to build the ultimate high-performance Chevy muscle cars.

Author, Matt Avery, a Chevy muscle car expert, combed the archives and found the owners and people involved in the COPO program, providing the culture with a compelling story and outright resource for COPO cars. The COPO muscle car and racing programs produced an extraordinary period of automotive history, and Avery captures all these facets in a very entertaining book.

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So what was the first GM concept car to get an XP designation? – Daniel Strohl @Hemmings


So what was the first GM concept car to get an XP designation?

From at least the mid-1940s to the early 1970s, General Motors used a system of XP labels to designate its concept cars and other design studies – a system that, at first glance, seems rather rational, but on deeper inspection was poorly or haphazardly implemented, to the point that we’re not even sure which was the first project to warrant a GM XP label.

Most automakers – at least in their early years, that is – follow pretty regular naming conventions. Henry Ford (on his third attempt to start a car company) started with the Model A in 1903 and made it all the way through to the Model T with just a few gaps here and there. Ferdinand Porsche’s Typ system was fairly well organized. So one would expect something similar from a company as complex from the outset as General Motors.

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Related – Mustang III – 1963 Ford Mustang Concept Car

General Motors’ EV1 was far ahead of its time Bill Vance @TimesColonist


General Motors knew the electric automotive age was coming when it showed its Impact electric concept car in 1990. It was another step in the history of trying to promote a successful electric car, a quest going back to the infancy of the automobile.

While electrics and steam did enjoy brief popularity early in the 20th century, gasoline soon took over. The electric’s short driving range limited it largely to urban driving, and range is still an electric’s limitation.

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