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.
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.