Tag: 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

9 tragically flawed GM vehicles whose heroic fixes came too late – Sajeev Mehta @Hagerty


Decades upon decades passed when General Motors could do no wrong, and the products rolling off its assembly line were proof positive of its business model’s supremacy. But nobody’s perfect, and mistakes had to be addressed to meet stockholder’s expectations. GM’s design and engineering teams made some great cars with serious potential that were packed with tragic flaws—and received heroic fixes that came right before their curtain calls. It’s all rather tragic, so here are nine examples to prove the point.

1993 Cadillac Allanté (Northstar)

You gotta give General Motors credit, because when it aims for the stars, it grabs a firehose full of ideas and shoots skyward. Take a shortened E-body coupe and turn it into a bespoke V-body, then deliver finished shells from Italy’s Pininfarina to Hamtramck via a convoy of Boeing 747s known as the “Air Bridge.” One of the biggest keys to the Allanté’s failure was the drivetrain layout (front-wheel drive does not a Mercedes SL competitor make) and the mediocre performance of Cadillac’s High Technology V-8 engines.

The lack of power was finally addressed in 1993, the Allanté’s final year, by the rocket-like thrust of Cadillac’s all-new Northstar V-8. The added grunt was competitive, but 1993 also included a heavily revised rear suspension, active dampers, and revised power-steering. As we previously mentioned, the 1993 Allanté was “finally, the internationally competitive luxury roadster its creators had envisioned … albeit six years too late.”

1988 Pontiac Fiero

One of the big problems with the Pontiac Fiero, aside from the engine fires of the early models, was the promise of sporty performance, which wasn’t realized until the last year of production. As we previously mentioned, cost-cutting sealed the Fiero’s fate well before 1988. There was simply too much parts-bin engineering: The compact X-body (Citation) front suspension was flipped 180 degrees and dropped in the back, while the front suspension was lifted from the T-body subcompact (Chevette). It’s a shame that in the Fiero’s final year the necessary suspension upgrades (new front control arms, knuckles, and an all-new tri-link rear suspension, plus a wider front track and, on WS6 models, staggered wheels) and improved brakes (four wheel vented discs) couldn’t alter the course of history. These bits were precisely what Pontiac engineers intended for the Fiero from the get-go. At least we got one year of mid-engine Pontiac Excitement.

2020 Cadillac CT6-V (Blackwing)

Hate to say it, but the Cadillac CT6 is not unlike the Cimarron before it. That’s because the last examples of Cadillac’s J-body experiment indeed improved when a 2.8-liter V-6 and five-speed manual transmission were standard equipment. Similarly, the CT6 never set the world on fire, because a flagship luxury sedan needs more swagger under the hood than a turbocharged four-cylinder could ever provide. (Yes, the CT6’s standard engine was 0.8 liters smaller than what’s on tap for a 1987 Cimarron.)

The CT6 didn’t receive a proper V-8 until the 2020 CT6-V hit the scene with the similarly star-crossed Blackwing motor. Because there is still a market for upper-crust luxury sedans (think Mercedes S-Class), the CT6 deserved an optional V-8 from the start. What happened when the CT6 got it all? Both the engine and the car unceremoniously met their maker

Read on

Mythbusting: The truth about the GM EV1 – Gary Witzenburg @Hagerty


About halfway down the long hill leading to the General Motors Proving Ground test tracks in Milford, Michigan, it hit me that the electric concept car I was driving rolled on a cobbled-up show-car suspension and was armed with barely functional brakes. Uh-oh! It would be a supremely stupid, costly, career-ending blunder to crash this incredibly significant hand-built prototype EV by plowing off the fast 90-degree corner that awaited down the hill. Though the concept was called the Impact, I had no intention of putting that name to the test.

But wait! I recalled that the Impact featured variable regenerative braking with a rheostat control between the seats. I eased on the friction brakes, cranked the rheostat up to full regen, and barely made the corner. Whew! Shaken and chastened, I continued carefully to where I—as GM EV program Vehicle Test and Development manager—was heading to give members of the Board of Directors demo rides on the “Black Lake” skidpad.

Dramatic beginnings

At the 1990 Los Angeles Auto Show, people stopped in their tracks to gawk at this sleek, silver-bullet-shaped concept that would later morph into the EV1. Engineered and developed with high-tech California contractor Aerovironment, the Impact did more than just look cool. It could sprint from zero to 60 mph in a (then-quick) eight seconds and had achieved—in one test from 100 percent to absolute zero state of charge under ideal conditions at GM’s Arizona Desert Proving Grounds—a stunning 125 miles of range. At the time, that was better performance than any other practical electric car could claim.

Many saw it as the industry’s automotive future. Idealists cheered while skeptics scoffed. Politicians plotted to force-feed it to the American public. So positive was its press and public reception that on April 22, 1990 (Earth Day) GM CEO Roger Smith announced GM’s intent to produce such a car, targeting 25,000 units a year. Ken Baker, then head of Advanced Vehicle Engineering for GM’s Chevrolet-Pontiac-Canada Group, was recruited to lead the effort.

“We recognized the obvious shortcoming of EVs,” Baker later said. “Our plan was to be battery agnostic—take the best available and focus on engineering the world’s most efficient vehicle, which would give dramatically better performance once a better battery came along. We had just come off of the success of the [race-winning solar-powered] SunRaycer and were encouraged by the sold-state electronics that had been demonstrated in that car, and [in] Impact

One key goal was to see how quickly and efficiently GM could do a completely different new car through a new Systems Engineering approach. The production target was just 36 months.

Then, by September 28, 1990, California’s Air Resources Board (CARB) mandated the seven top-selling automakers to make two percent of their California sales “zero emissions” by 1998, five percent by 2001, and 10 percent by 2003.

Myth: GM’s EV program was a reaction to the CARB mandate.

Truth: Other way around. GM was already working to produce a practical electric car, so CARB decided to force all major automakers to follow suit.

Read on

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

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.

Read the rest of the article here

A GM onboard experimental alcohol and drug impairment detection device of the 1970s – Thomas A. DeMauro @Hemmings


Considering the emphasis placed on eliminating impaired driving today, be it due to alcohol, drugs, or other distractions such as texting, it’s interesting to note that back in the 1970s (well before texting) General Motors was seeking solutions. An example is this critical tracking test (CTT) “experimental deterrent” that was developed and evaluated by GM’s Engineering Staff for 1974.

Read the rest of the article here 

Madam X 1939 Cadillac Sixty Special – A Work of Art With a Great Back Story from Chip Foose


Madam X 1939 Cadillac Sixty Special

The Styling Section, and Art and Colour Studio at General Motors were created, and headed by Harley Earl (1893-1969). From the late 1920s, and on into the 1950s Harley Earl headed the design evolution at GM. It was under Earl’s guidance that the utilitarian design of early automobiles evolved into rolling Art of the 30s, 40s, and 50s cars we love today.

The first car done in the Art and Colour Studio under Earl’s direction was for Lawrence Fisher (Body by Fisher). Earl asked for a 1927 LaSalle chassis on which he would build his design. The car would be of advanced design in that the chassis was lowered 4”. The design was aggressive, but not loud, the posts were much thinner than usual, and the windshield was two piece and formed a slight V. There was concern that the thin posts would not be strong enough, so the entire car was made of steel rather than the wood frame construction that was typical of the time. The interior wood decor was a work of art. When the project was nearing completion Earl was asked “What will we call it”? Earl thought for a moment…. Pauline Frederick, a popular stage and film star of the day, was starring in a show called Madam X, Earl had seen the show the night before, and dined with the young Starlet after the show. He said we’ll call it the Madam X

Read the rest of the story over at Chip Foose’s site

This is a truly beautiful car from this amazing builder and designer

(All material sourced from chipfoose.com)

GM says it’s mass-producing cars without steering wheels


Article from Aurora Biz

The company says it has filed a petition with the federal government seeking permission to put the vehicles on the road sometime next year with no human backup drivers.

DETROIT | General Motors says it is making the first mass-production autonomous car without a steering wheel or pedals.

The company says it has filed a petition with the federal government seeking permission to put the vehicles on the road sometime next year with no human backup drivers.

Read the rest of the article here

Sources Associated Press & Aurora Sentinel

The Art and Colour of GM from Hemmings Classic Car – Mark J McCourt


The Art and Colour of GM

I think that the future of General Motors will be measured by the attractiveness that we put in the bodies from the standpoint of luxury of appointment, the degree to which they please the eye, both in contour and in color scheme, also the degree to which we are able to make them different from competition.”


— Alfred P. Sloan Jr., in a letter to Fisher Body Corporation president William A. Fisher, September 1927

This article from Mark J McCourt at Hemmings Classic Cars tells the story of GM’s approach to the design and attractiveness of vehicles and was the complete antithesis of Henry Ford’s approach.