Despite my having actually worked for Chevrolet in Detroit, the 100th anniversary of the brand’s famed bow tie logo (in July) somehow passed me by. Happily, it’s never too late to amend that sort of thing—and share some gratuitous classic Chevrolet and even neon sign photos—is it? Not for a vintage car-loving gal from Detroit, it isn’t!
There are several stories about the origination of the famous logo, and even the brand itself isn’t ashamed to throw them all out for our consideration.
William Durant, credited with designing the logo for GM’s most successful brand, said he’d seen a bow tie pattern in the wallpaper of a French hotel in 1908, immediately recognized its value as a car nameplate, and actually tore away a piece of the wallpaper to keep for future reference. It would certainly make divining the origin of the logo simpler were that scrap to turn up amongst his papers! Regardless, Durant’s is the story Chevy itself went with for its celebratory 1961 publication The Chevrolet Story.
However, Durant’s daughter wrote in her 1929 book My Father that Durant made a practice of sketching potential logos and nameplates during dinner (it seems that few businessman fathers can ever get away from work, even during the early 1900s). “I think it was between the soup and the fried chicken one night that he sketched out the design that is used on the Chevrolet car to this day.” The power of hunger? Or inspired by the satisfaction of a good meal?
Yet another member of the family—Durant’s widow, Catherine—had her own take on the beginning of Chevrolet’s bowtie (after the dinner-table story, I’m not sure we can blame her): Mr. Durant had been inspired by an advertisement for “Coalettes” he saw while on holiday in 1912. Spanning the top of the Coalettes advertisement was a slanting bow tie very similar indeed to what is now so associated with Chevrolet the world over.
If you ask me, The Doctor was certainly onto something. Bow ties are cool indeed, in every sense—and perhaps William Durant actually got his idea for the icon from a Time Lord and not French wallpaper, a coal ad, or the inspiration of fried chicken. That’s my thought and I’m sticking to it.
Chevrolet’s bow tie appears on more than just the car’s front and back end: from bow tie-shaped signs obviously meant to capitalize on the brand’s power to accessories sold to deck out classic Chevys, look carefully and you’ll find bow ties all over your favourite Chevrolet (or your neighbor’s, or the one at the classic car show, or on the old dealership).
For an often rough-and-tumble nameplate, one especially famed for its trucks and the still-formidable Corvette (the car only America could build, I’d stack the ‘Vette up against anything, especially for the price), the bow tie is a somewhat formal logo—but not one without a lot of spark behind it. I wish they’d bring the big, sweeping “V” back—then again, it doesn’t seem to suit today’s cars. Alas!
For more about the famous Chevrolet bow tie: