Story by John Gunnell
Photos by Al Rogers
There aren’t very many Chevrolet Classic Six models left, and of the paltry few survivors, the oldest running example is accessible to the public nearly every day. That Classic Six can be seen year-round in the Flint, Mich., Sloan Museum.
The fact that this car was built in Flint also plays into this story. According to Jacob Gilbert of the Sloan Museum, Louis Chevrolet started building the Classic Six in Detroit. When he went on a vacation to his native Switzerland in August 1913, “Billy” Durant moved all Chevrolet manufacturing to a plant in Flint where the Durant-owned Little Motor Car Co. operated. The Little was named after William H. Little, who had worked as the general manager of Buick when Durant put together his original General Motors empire in 1908.
While Buick was one of the better acquisitions Durant made, he also made some terrible buys that didn’t pay off. Back in 1910, Durant was broke and desperately in need of money, which some banks agreed to give him if he relinquished control of General Motors. He was forced to accept their conditions, so he took the money, left GM and hooked up with Louis Chevrolet to start a new car company named after Chevrolet, who was a well-known Buick Racing Team driver and car designer. Chevrolet had come to America to make his fortune in the New World, and he was poised to make it with Durant.
Durant and Chevrolet did not see eye to eye on what the car should be. Chevrolet, the son of a Swiss watchmaker who had designed and built a wine pump when he was a teenager, wanted to see his name on a large, superior machine. Durant wanted a light, cheap car that he could sell against the Model T Ford. The Little was being developed at the same time and was ready first. When Durant saw the car Chevrolet was building, he decided to market the Little, but had no real luck selling it. So he brought out Chevrolet’s creation as the Classic Six Series C. It was first seen in November 1911.
The Classic Six was a large, well-built car with a 299-cid six (the biggest engine offered in any Chevrolet until 1958) and a 120-inch wheelbase, but it carried a pricey $2,250 tag and didn’t sell well. The cheaper Little four sold better, but it wasn’t built as well. Durant decided to make a car that combined features of both of the vehicles and to consolidate all production in Flint. The Classic Six was produced as the only Chevrolet model in 1912-’13 and alongside the Chevrolet Series H four and Chevrolet Series L Light Six in 1914.
Etienne Planche had actually designed the Classic Six under Louie Chevrolet’s direction. Chevrolet was photographed driving a prototype Classic Six in 1911, but several improvements were done by 1912. The water-cooled 40-hp T-head six had the cylinders cast in three banks of two and twin camshafts. A Simms magneto and compressed-air starter were used in 1913. The 1914 models had a Simms high-tension magneto and Gray & Davis starter. A cone clutch and three-speed transmission mounted at the rear axle were used. Standard equipment included four doors, a folding top, a tool box, cowl lamps and electric headlamps.
The Sloan Museum’s Classic Six is Car No. 323. According to a Feb. 15, 1965, article in the GM New Center News, it is a touring car manufactured in June 1912 and has engine No. 325. The corporate newspaper announced “The oldest known Chevrolet in existence has been returned to Flint, its ‘birthplace,’ to assume a place in automotive history.” Technically, this is incorrect. The Reynolds-Alberta Museum in Wetaskiwin, Alberta, Canada, has an incomplete, Detroit-built Chevrolet Classic Six with serial No. 93. So, the Sloan Museum’s car is the oldest complete Chevrolet and the oldest example built in Flint.
In 1965, this car was presented to the Alfred P. Sloan Panorama of Transportation in what was then called the Flint College and Cultural Center by the Industrial Mutual Association (IMA). Allen J. Dillon, the general superintendent of production at the Chevrolet-Flint V-8 Engine plant then presented the car to Dr. Roger Van Bolt, who was director of the Sloan transportation museum. Dillon was the newly elected president of the IMA at that time.
A man named G. Gregory Fauth had tracked the car down after hearing rumors of its existence. Fauth was a Flint insurance agent and an antique car collector. He researched the car’s history extensively and discovered that it was built in a four-story factory in Flint. It was one of 2,999 Classic Sixes made in 1912. Castings and stampings on the car say “Chevrolet-Flint.” Based on his research, Fauth urged IMA managing director William Crick to buy the car. Since the museum had GM’s support, the plan had to be approved by GM officials.
The car was purchased from a Chevrolet dealer several months prior to its official presentation to the Sloan Museum in February. It had originally been sold in southern Texas and was in regular use until 1936, when Carl J. Aldenhoven bought it. He was the owner of Southwest Chevrolet Co. in Ft. Worth, Texas. Aldenhoven’s dealership used the car for parades, promotional activities and new-model introduction ceremonies until 1964, when it was put up for auction.
The Sloan Museum knew the car and two representatives went to Texas to bid on it. The Chevy drew two bids that were higher than the Sloan Museum was prepared to offer, but the Aldenhoven family accepted the museum’s offer.
After being shipped from Texas to a Chevrolet production facility in Flint, the car received a “restoration to its manufactured condition” according to the article in GM New Center News. The restorers had trouble finding electrical and lighting parts, since Chevrolet Classic Sixes used a very early system. The article said that fabric top and side curtains were also elusive and noted that the car had black paint because of problems finding the original blue, gray and black hues.
Today, the Sloan Museum’s Classic Six is back in its blue-and-black paint scheme, ready to represent the early days of Chevrolet.
1221 E Kearsley St.
Flint, MI 48503
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