The man whose name is one of the most famous in the world thanks to it’s associations with a brand of automobiles was more racer and engineer than he ever was a “car company” leader. Louis-Joseph Chevrolet raced for Fiat, built hot-rod parts for Ford Model Ts vial the Frontenac Motor Corporation, created the first car company to utilize the American Motors Corporation nameplate and raced at Indy four times. His racing exploits were what he cherished most, including such highlights as breaking Barney Oldfield’s one-mile closed course speed record in May 1905 and taking him out in a head-to-head race later that month, or his world speed record utilizing a Darracq in 1906. Chevrolet raced through 1920 with his brothers Arthur and Gaston, but ultimately it was Gaston’s fatal crash at Beverly Hills Speedway in 1920 that ended Louis and Arthur’s racing careers. From that point forward the two brothers ran Frontenac, Chevrolet Brothers Aircraft Co. (which, through the power of mergers, became what is now Lockheed-Martin) and Louis would toddle on in poverty until June 1941, when he passed on at the age of 62 from complications after a leg amputation.
In this British Pathé footage from 1919, you will see Chevrolet driving the #7 Frontenac at Coney Island Raceway right up until the moment the racer catches fire. Knowing that Chevrolet once beat a financial backer nearly to death over an argument, we can say with no uncertainty that we wouldn’t want to have been in his mechanic’s shoes on that day! British Pathé claims that this is the first recorded racing accident, but from where we sit this only qualifies as an incident. Call it what you will, but one way or another this is one of the first clips of it’s kind in existence!
The film’s images were reversed…in actuality the cars are traveling in a counter-clockwise rotation, like a NASCAR race.