Does your bow tie revolve?
Inspiration arrives in many forms. In today’s story, mystery, elements of sophistry and in this instance, anaglypta and food all play their respective parts as we peer into the entomology of a globally renowned car badge, yet one with an indeterminate history. Some believe that the badge is in fact a cross, stylised over generations, but the only genuine certainty is that Chevrolet’s badge is indeed a bow tie, although how this came to be is subject to one of four possible permutations.
The first of these suggests that company co-founder William Crapo Durant introduced the bow tie motif onto his cars in 1913, two years after the company’s inception. One simple but uncorroborated story involves the Swiss chap whose name went on to emblazon millions of vehicles over the intervening years – Louis Chevrolet. Possibly as an homage to the drapeu de la Suisse, it seems a blatantly obvious connection until one realises that Louis had left the company by 1915.
An altogether more elaborate reasoning stems from a story centred around a newspaper advertisement that Durant is said to have viewed in 1912, as related by Catherine Durant to interviewer Lawrence R. Gustin some years after her husband’s passing. On vacation in Hot Springs, Virginia, Durant noticed a bow tie emblem featured on another altogether different product – Coalettes, a refined solid fuel. Considering it to be suitable for his cars, he exclaimed to Catherine, ‘this is the Chevrolet badge!’ The anecdote is compelling: both names begin with the letter C, both are nine letters long, both give Americans some difficulty in pronunciation and perhaps significantly, this exchange is said to have taken place only nine days into Chevrolet production.
Lending further credence to her comments was a discovery made in the early 21st century. Ken Kaufman, historian and editor of the Chevrolet Review happened across an advert dated 12 November 1912 in the Atlanta Constitution. The Southern Compressed Coal Company carried the advertisement for Coalettes with the very same slanted bow tie. Proof positive? Read on!
While this tale seems close to the truth, the third element to the bow tie story remains (literally) mired in broth. Durant’s daughter, Margery, published a memoir titled, My Father in 1929, some sixteen years after the first use of the now famous badge. In her book she explains how her father’s searching mind consumed his waking hours with a constant flow of ideas. At home over dinner, during a lull between the soup and chicken course, the bow tie was doodled onto a napkin.
How Chevy fans would flock to the museum should that napkin have survived – itself becoming inspiration for the use of envelopes, cigarette packets or other waste paper to foster new ideas. Proud fathers could extol to their children how this napkin had altered automotive history. Sage nods of approval from deep-thinking enthusiasts. But just a moment: do you remember what your evening meal was yesterday, never mind sixteen years ago?
The final bow tie theory is also paper based and remains a personal favourite. A wealthy and flamboyant character, Durant was taking a tour of a European nature in 1908. In an unknown Parisian hotel, he became quite taken with the wallpaper which, you guessed it, wore a repetitive bow tie pattern – ‘marching into eternity’ as he is said to have declared. So impressed was Durant that he ripped a section from the wall and returned to the factory, triumphant that his new cars would have this as their badge. 1908 was the year he founded General Motors with both Buick and Oldsmobile having pre-established emblems.
Your author’s imagination sees a puzzled hotel manager with equally perplexed painter and decorator discussing, ‘qu’a fait le fou riche Américain?’ Or perhaps back home, the serving staff casually discarding the doodled napkin bearing that historical motif to the trash can? Or maybe even an impossibly disgruntled Louis Chevrolet, annoyed at Durant’s ideas over car production methods (he left in 1915, selling his shares to WCD), cursing quietly at his cars now wearing something resembling his home flag. Merde!
Apart from the second story sounding the most plausible, we’ll probably never learn the truth – apart from the fact that no team of artists, thinktanks or graphic designers had anything to do with the original. Which is more than can be said about concurrent iterations. As a badge, the Chevy bow tie is up there with the most valuable – well over 200 million and counting.
What next? As grille-less electric cars gain hold, will badges become larger, more swashbuckling in demeanour – or will those hydrogen powered motors simply squirt water at you? We’ll leave the last line to Billy Durant himself. “Science gives us knowledge but only philosophy can give us wisdom.”