The Chevrolet Logo

Cover of A Chevrolet Story. Click to view the full publication in the Hagley Digital Archives.

A logo is worth a thousand words. In particular, a car company’s logo defines its brand and illustrates its history. Some logos say it all with just a simple image, while others utilize stylized graphics. Sometimes though, the manner with which a logo is chosen can be just as mysterious as to what the image actually represents. Debates rage on about how certain logos were created, while others are cemented in fact.

The Chevrolet “bow-tie” or perhaps “cross” is one controversial example. Originally it was thought that William C. Durant, founder of General Motors, came up with the logo while looking at the wallpaper in a hotel room in Paris. Later, his daughter suggested that he created it while sitting at dinner one night, drawing between courses. Contrary to her daughter, Mrs. Durant wrote that while reading a local newspaper in Hot Springs, Virginia, Durant spied an ad and proclaimed that it was perfect for his new car company (Chevrolet). Modern sources suggest that the ad was for Coalettes, a product produced by the Southern Compressed Coal Company.

But hold on just a moment! There’s one more version about the creation of the Chevrolet logo. Chevrolet Motor Company was actually co-founded by William C. Durant. His co-founder was Louis Chevrolet, a Swiss-born contemporary racing star for Buick already famous in America by 1910. With such a prominent name associated with automobiles in American minds, Durant thought Louis’s name to be a perfect marque for a car. Together they designed the Classic Six and allegedly the company logo: a stylized cross, inspired by the cross on the Swiss national flag.

So what is the true history behind the Chevrolet logo? As for the possibility of the Chevrolet logo being a stylized Swiss cross, that may seem the most unlikely. Durant controlled every aspect of the development of Chevrolet including design, production, and even the name. He even went against the wishes of Louis by adding a low-priced model to compete with Ford, when Louis, the company’s namesake, wanted to sell high-end, French-inspired automobiles. Louis left the company after an argument between the two co-founders ended with Louis summing up, “I sold you my car and I sold you my name, but I’m not going sell myself to you.” It is doubtful that Durant went with a logo that was something other than his own creation.

A Chevrolet Story, page 9. Click to view the full publication in the Hagley Digital Archives.

That leaves the first suggested versions. No one really knows for sure, but the 75th Anniversary publication of The Chevrolet Story, published by Chevrolet Motor Company presented both the Durant’s daughter’s version and Mrs. Durant’s account. However, the company’s publication corroborated Mrs. Durant’s version. Durant was the type of character that perhaps wanted the sensational Paris version to be true to give the name more pizzazz. However, it seems that perhaps Mrs. Durant had the last say on the story of the Chevrolet “bowtie.”

Beverly Rae Kimes and Robert C. Ackerson. Chevrolet: A History from 1911. Princeton: Princeton Publications, 1984 (19-20).
Lawrence R. Gustin. Billy Durant: Creator of General Motors. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1973 (157).

Robin Valencia is the Graduate Assistant for the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection at Hagley Museum and Library.

Chrysler’s Newark, Delaware Assembly Plant

Cover of the Chrysler Newark Assembly Plant brochure. Click to view the entire item in the Hagley Digital Archives.

When people think of America’s great automotive centers of industry, Detroit, Michigan is probably the first US city to come to mind. What many people don’t remember is the nearly half century during which Chrysler Corporation was manufacturing cars right here in Newark, Delaware. The Chrysler Motors Newark Assembly Plant began as a tank plant in 1951 and was converted for auto assembly in 1956. Its first car was completed April 30, 1957.

The collection contains a publication about the Newark Assembly Plant that was released around 1989 for tour groups visiting the plant. It includes a welcome letter from the plant manager, B.M. Woodward. In the letter, he discusses the advancements made at the plant and new policies being implemented for the 1989 model year. These included the Modern Operating Agreement (M.O.A.), which was a new technique that placed emphasis on working in teams as a way to increase worker efficiency.

During its existence, the factory produced many different Chrysler vehicles, but in 1989 when this publication was released, the factory was producing the Dodge Spirit and the Plymouth Acclaim.

By the numbers (as of time the publication was released):

  • Cars produced from 1957-1988: 5,382,997
  • Hourly Production rate: 60.125 cars/hour
  • Daily Production rate: 962 cars based on two shifts
  • Miles of Conveyor: 9 miles

The cover of the document providing plant description for visitors. Click to view the entire document in the Hagley Digital Archives.

Also included with this brochure is a stapled packet of papers describing the different areas shown on the tour. It includes numbered descriptions of each stage of the production process.

The plant was closed in 2008 and since then some work has been undertaken to preserve its legacy. In 2009, the land itself was purchased by the University of Delaware. The university’s communications and political science students produced a documentary called Left Behind in 2009 detailing the plant’s history and the hopes for its future as part of the university.

As of October 2011, plans have been approved to turn the old Chrysler site into a Bloom Energy facility.

Emily Cottle is the Project Archivist/Cataloger for the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection at Hagley Museum and Library.

American Muscle Cars and Dodge’s Scat Pack

With Challengers, Mustangs, and Corvettes racing down America’s roads, the muscle car era was well under way during the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. Dodge was a formative competitor in the muscle car market with models such as the Dodge Charger, Dodge Challenger, and Dodge Demon. However, Dodge had to compete with other American makes such as Chevrolet and Ford for the hearts of America’s muscle car fans. In order to compete, Dodge and its parent company, Chrysler Corporation, introduced a new optional accessory and body kit package to their line of muscle car models known as the Scat Pack.

Scat Pack logo.

To market the new Scat Pack kit, Dodge created the Scat Pack logo, a bee-type insect with racing tires and a V8 engine strapped to its back. The optional body kits also coordinated with the Scat Pack logo. Dodge muscle car owners could choose to paint their cars bright colors with vertical black racing stripes that ran from the hood of the car to the trunk.

Dodge took the Scat Pack marketing scheme one step further and introduced the Scat Pack Club. This was a club for Dodge muscle car enthusiasts where they could attend meetings with other Dodge muscle car owners and receive performance parts catalogs and coordinating Scat Pack Club merchandise. Dodge even used the club as a tool to cultivate new fans by allowing children to also join as full members with the same benefits as adults, preparing them to be future Dodge owners.

Trade catalog showing modifications available from the Scat Pack kits.

The trade catalog shown here is one example that describes the Dodge models available for modification by the Scat Pack kit. The Charger, Challenger, and Demon, could all be outfitted with modified engines, accessories, and black racing stripes, the signature look of a Scat Pack car. Additionally, near the back of the catalog, there are advertisements for the Scat Pack Club. It describes the benefits of the club and includes a mail-in membership card where a Dodge enthusiast could join for as little as $5.95 for a year’s membership.

The Dodge Scat Pack Club focused on a niche market of the American car consumer. Dodge muscle cars were tough, fast, and distinctly American. However by the mid-1970’s, muscle cars were waning in popularity, and both the Challenger and Charger models were taken out of production only to be brought back decades later by Dodge. As only one example of the muscle car phenomenon, the Scat Pack and the Scat Pack Club materials of the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, offer a unique view into the American muscle car culture and just how popular it was and still is to this day.

Robin Valencia is the Graduate Assistant for the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection at Hagley Museum and Library.

Archival Processing Methodology: Part 1

As was mentioned in our first post, the unique aspect of our project is the application of archival methods to a collection of published and printed materials. Since individual cataloging is not feasible for a collection of this size (around 700 cubic feet), we are using folder level archival description instead.

Normally in a library, materials are assigned a specific call number and each cataloged individually. In folder level arrangement, we simply try to group like items together so that a researcher has a specific folder or group of folders to look through, even though they won’t have a list ahead of time of the actual items contained in each folder.

Each folder title tells a researcher the topic of materials in that folder, as well as a date span (if known). Undated materials in the collection are either labeled as n.d., or dates were supplied by the processing team if based on a particular model’s production years, a reasonable estimate could be made. Estimated dates are all noted as “ca. 19XX.”

The method we are using is called More Product, Less Process. What this boils down to is focusing less on extremely detailed processing and more on getting as much out and accessible to the public as possible. For those who are interested in reading more about this method, the article by Mark A. Greene and Dennis Meissner which originally appeared in American Archivist is available full text from the Society of American Archivists.

The first step in the arrangement process was to write a processing plan. Based on an initial survey of material, they were broken down into series and subseries. Materials are being grouped by make and model wherever possible, with the largest series consisting of sub-series for each of the makes.

The problem with arranging materials by make and model is that a large number of companies produce one catalog for multiple cars in their lineup. If there is a catalog for the Ford Focus and Ford Fiesta, would you file it under Focus or Fiesta? Putting it under either seemed misleading for researchers, since there was no way of knowing which models might have been grouped in catalogs together.

Out of this conundrum, we devised the following breakdown for trade catalogs: Specific Models, Various Models, and Fleet Vehicles. Catalogs dealing with one model only are filed in Specific Models. Those covering an entire model line or more than one car are arranged in a straight chronological run in Various Models. Cars used as fleet vehicle such as ambulances, taxis, police cars, limos, funeral cars, etc. are filed as Fleet Vehicles.

An important note relates to the differences between models and body styles. Particularly in the first half of the twentieth century, cars came in a variety of body styles. If a catalog featured one model with ten different body styles, it is still being treated as a specific model catalog.

What this all boils down to for the researchers is that if somebody comes in researching the Ford Focus, they need to check in the relevant Focus folders, but also check the Various Model range catalogs for the particular years they are researching.

This issue is just one of the hurdles we have encountered while attempting to apply archival principles to a collection of printed materials. This post has discussed only the trade catalog sub-series arrangement, but below is a preview of the entire series hierarchy. Over the coming months, we will continue to discuss the challenges faced in determining this arrangement, as well as giving a more in-depth discussion of the other subseries.

Here is how the hierarchy looks:

Series 1. Automobile Makes
1.1 Car Make
1.1.1 Trade catalogs Specific Models Various Models Fleet Vehicles
1.1.2. General Publications
1.1.3. Media Information
1.1.4. Serials

Please feel free to use the comments section to ask questions or to continue the discussion of our arrangement scheme. Also be sure to come back next week to learn about Dodge’s Scat Pack.

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Emily Cottle is the Project Archivist/Cataloger for the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection at Hagley Museum and Library.

Treasures: Ferrari 815

Included in the collection are many items that Z. Taylor Vinson listed in his unpublished autobiography as Treasures. These treasures are items that Vinson was very proud to own, such as extremely rare or even one-of-a-kind catalogs. Among these treasures is a 1940 Ferrari “815” folder. Featured below is an excerpt from page 62 of his autobiography, A Collector’s Life, detailing how he came to own this rare piece of automobile literature.

Cover of the Auto Avio Costruzioni publication. Click to view the item in the digital library.

In November ’96, I read with interest the October 30 issue of “Autocar,” which showed a copy of “the first Ferrari brochure”, on something called the “815.” – I immediately added it to my want list. As I had only known of Ferrari as a postwar manufacturer of cars, I photocopied the page and a couple of days later showed it to Dick Merritt, the font of all wisdom regarding the prancing horse. He explained that, as a condition of his severance with Alfa Romeo in ’39, Enzo Ferrari had agreed not to put his name on any kind of machine for the next four years, and that his new car, the 815, was identified as a product of “Auto Avio Costruzione”. Almost as an afterthought, he went on to say, “there’s a copy available if you’re interested.”

The asking price was twice the highest amount I had previously paid for an item (the 1931 UK Cadillac catalogue and portfolio of custom designs), and 10% less than I’d paid for my ’73 Triumph in ’83. Nevertheless, that’s what a savings account is for. I called the offeror Fred Repass, and when he explained that there were less than 10 known to exist, I didn’t even haggle, as it seemed like a bargain at the price. In the meantime, I ordered a book on the “815″ from another source which, I was told, contained a reproduction of the piece.

The deal was quickly settled, and when the folder arrived, I noted with pleasure that the name of Enzo Ferrari appeared on the rear cover. It was accompanied by a color photocopy of an article which explained that Ferrari had ordered 100 of the folders but, due to the war, had never picked them up. Only two cars were made. Existence of the piece was not confirmed until 1988 when Sotheby’s auctioned one for $8,550. According to the article, only five copies are known (the offeror had said eight to ten). Whatever, it’s bound to be one of the rarest pieces of literature.

Come back for our next post to learn about how the collection is being arranged for researchers to use.

October is American Archives Month and Hagley Library is celebrating by holding a Z. Taylor Vinson Collection Information Day! Come to the library building on Saturday October 8th from 10:00 am-4:00 pm to get a sneak peak at the collection.

Robin Valencia is the Graduate Assistant for the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection at Hagley Museum and Library.