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William C. Durant
 
The Early Days:

William Crapo Durant, was born on 8 December 1861 in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of William Clark Durant and Rebecca Folger Crapo.  Williams father was rumored to be prone to the hard drinking and stock speculation, which may have caused his wife to separate from him and move William to Flint Michigan, reuniting with her father, who had prospered in the lumber business and served as mayor of Flint and governor of Michigan, Henry H. Crapo .   Durant attended grammar school in Flint and then high school, where I supposedly dropped out just before graduation in a dispute with the school principle, then getting a job in his grandfather’s lumber yard.  Soon he moved on to a number of jobs, working as a medicine salesman, a cigar salesman, real estate, bookkeeping, fire insurance, and in 1881 the 20 year-old Durant was running Flints "Waterworks" department, which he quickly restored to financial stability.

Flint Road Cart Company:

This story starts in in 1884[*], at age 23, Durant has a ride in a friend's very attractive two-wheel horse-drawn road cart.  Impressed with the spring-suspension, resulting in a very smooth ride, Durant, supposedly was on the next nights train to Coldwater, Michigan where the carts were made.  He bought the manufacturing rights as the inventor was about to go out of business.  Durant, then talked his friend Josiah Dallas Dort into putting up a $1,000, Durant put up $50 of his own money and borrowed another $1,450 to cover the $2,500 cost of buying the business and setting up a shop in Flint.  On September 28 1886, Durant and Dort entered into a partnership as the FLINT ROAD CART COMPANY, basically, a selling company.  A Flint carriage-builder made the carts under contract for $8.00 and Durant and partner Dallas Dort sold them and delivered them for $12.50 each.  On September 9 1893, the FLINT ROAD CART COMPANY was incorporated with $150,000 capitalization, with its own assembly plant, using parts from local sources.  The company changed its name to the DURANT-DORT CARRIAGE COMPANY on November 6 1895.  Durant financed the company by subscribing a small minimum amount of stock himself, and talking stockholders and bankers into subscribing for the remainder.  By 1900, stockholders were sharing in a thriving business, producing 50,000 buggies, carts and carriages per year in Flint, and fourteen other locations in the U.S. and one in Canada. * This date may be in error, seems a long time before the partnership date.

Buick:

The Buick Motor Company of Detroit was purchased and production moved to Flint Michigan, by James Whiting, president of the Flint Wagon Works, in the fall of 1903.  Buick, at that time was an engine only manufacturing concern.  Founder David Dunbar Buick remained in charge of day-to-day operations.  Buick had a strong overhead-valve engine but not much else.  When Walter Marr (former Buick engine manager) returned in April 1904, he persuaded Whiting to build automobiles.  The first Flint Buick car was built in June of 1904, but by September, the company was almost bankrupt.  Whiting, knew he needed help, so he turned to Durant.  In 1904, Durant, only 42, was semi-retired from the carriage industry and playing the stock market in New York.  Like most carriage leaders, he was said to be no fan of automobiles.  There have been many stories about how Whiting and Durant’s friends convinced Durant to take interest in the ailing Buick Motor Car Company, but are to numerous to cover here. Suffice to say, it was accomplished.  Now that Durant was enthusiastic about the product, he needed to find out how serious the stockholders were about placing the business on a sound financial footing.  There was money in Flint, but it now needed to be invested in the new business in town. Buick was important to the city’s economy and it could not survive under-capitalized and heavily in debt.  Under Durant’s prodding, Buick’s stockholders agreed to increase the capital stock to $300,000 on November 1, 1904, and to raise it again to $500,000 on Nov. 19.  With the financial details agreed upon, finally the decision was made.  On November 1, 1904, Durant was elected to the Buick board.  He was now in charge.  Buick produced only 37 cars in 1904.  With fewer than 40 Buicks under the company’s belt, Durant shipped a car and a chassis to the New York Auto Show of January 1905 and within a few days had accepted orders for 1,100 Buicks.  To Durant, the Buick, like his first road cart, was a "self seller" – a product so good it could sell itself.  David Buick and Walter Marr had produced an automobile that was not only mechanically and cosmetically pleasing, but could navigate mud and steep hills like no other automobile he had ever seen.  Durant had backed a vehicle with a unique attribute, a strong valve-in-head engine.  Durant immediately focused on engine performance as Buick’s claim to fame.  General Motors celebrates its birth date as September 16, 1908, when the company was incorporated – but the real beginning of GM was November 1, 1904, when Billy Durant agreed to take control of Buick.  This was the spark.  Once Durant held control of Buick, the great success story was launched. 


General Motors is born:

In 1908, after just four years of making Buicks, he had the best-selling car in the business.  The carriage king had become the auto genius. However, Durant from his years in the carriage business, knew that if he were to prevail as the auto leader he needed many different types of vehicles to cater to different incomes and tastes.  Thus, in 1908, he approached J. P. Morgan for financing to create a huge International Motors Company.  Durant's sought a loan to purchase the small but growing Ford Motor Company.  A timid Morgan was willing to provide only limited financing, so Durant changed the name to the more humble General Motors.  General Motors was founded on September 16, 1908 and acquired both Buick and Oldsmobile that year.  In 1909, GM acquired Cadillac, Oakland, Rainer, Cartercar, Elmore, Welch, Reliance Truck, Rapid Truck, and Randolph Truck, along with  19 other automobile parts suppliers.  Reliance, Rapid, and Randolph would be merged shortly to form the GMC Truck Division.   By 1911, however, General Motors was losing money, prompting a group of Boston stockholders to oust Durant from leadership at General Motors.  Thinking that the losses were due to Durant’s risk-taking brashness, they tried to run the company more cautiously.

Chevrolet:

Durant, was not done, not done by far.  On November 3rd, 1911 Chevrolet was born, with capital and expertise he mustered from friends.  When Chevrolet came into existence, it was a complex and convoluted landscape of small enterprises.  Much work had began, even before the actual and official date mentioned above.  Mr. Durant was busy during the month of August 1911 asking old Flint friend and business acquaintances for money to invest in the new Chevrolet company.  The Flint Wagon Works, was offered to Durant in exchange for stock.  The formal proposition was made to Durant September 13, 1911, the wagon works would be used to produce the “Little Four” car, a Detroit modified proto type, most likely of a Whiting Runabout, it would eventually become a Chevrolet.  August 1911 the Mason Motor Co. was established to build Chevrolet engines, in the same Flint Michigan plant that had been building the Whiting engines.  In the meanwhile in Detroit, Durant was busy forming some type of relationship with his former racing acquaintance from Buick, Louis Chevrolet, the company’s namesake.  The exact relationship of Chevrolet and Durant, is open to speculation, from either partner to employee.  However, what we do know is from that relationship, the Chevrolet Classic Six was born.  Actual production of the Classic Six did not began until 1913, and by then Durant had also created the “Little Six“, in Flint.  The solution would be a compromise design, of the two cars, best features keeping selling price in mind.  This car would become the 1914 Chevrolet Light Six, Series L for 1914, when the Little Four would become the Chevrolet Four Series H.   Chevy was off and running.  Louis Chevrolet, unhappy with the demise of his dream car the Classic Six, soon departed the company.

The company soon became very  profitable.  Durant then used the Chevrolet profits and his own GM stock, along with a DuPont loan to leverage controlling interest in General Motors.  Durant’s second controlling stint at GM (1916 to 1920), resulted in still another dismissal, forced out by Pierre DuPont in 1920.  Rumor indicates that Durant had become more interested in the stock market plays then in managing GM.  Chevrolet had been rolled into GM in a stock swap in 1918.

Durant Motors:
 
Was Durant done?  Not so quickly.  Durant Motors Inc. was established in 1921 in an  attempted to become a full-line automobile producer of cars and fielded the Flint, Durant, and Star brands which were designed to meet Buick, Oldsmobile, Oakland and Chevrolet price points.  Durant also acquired luxury car maker Locomobile at its liquidation sale in 1922, to compete against Rolls Royce and Pierce-Arrow.  From 1928 to 1931 Durant also marketed trucks in the US and Canadian under the badge Rugby Trucks.  The Princeton, aimed at the Packard and Cadillac price point was planned, but never realized.  Durant Motors was a rising concern for several years, but lost much of its financing in the Wall Street collapse of 1929 and closed in 1933.  One of the primary problems Durant Motors faced, was caused by Billy.  Durant, along with the Rockefeller’s and other industrialists believed that if enough buy orders were placed, it would offset the sell orders and stop the slide of 29. The plan failed and Durant went broke.

Flint Motors, a wholly owned subsidiary of Durant Motors Company, an assembled car using components manufactured by outside suppliers.  Engines by Continental and body by Budd, 1923 to 1927.  Following financial troubles at Durant Motors, the Flint was discontinued.  The Flint was priced to compete with Buick.

Durant Motors from 1921 to 1926 and again from 1928 to 1932.  The Durant automobile was an "assembled" automobile as most of its components were from outside suppliers.  This vehicle was directed at the Oakland price point.  Durant Motors was found insolvent and automobile production ended early in 1932.

The Star was an automobile assembled by the Durant Motors Inc. between 1922 and 1928.  Also known as the Star Car, Star was envisioned as a competitor against the Ford Model T.  (In the United Kingdom, it was sold as the Rugby.)  Like other products of the Durant Motors Inc, the Star was an "assembled" car.  Originally, Stars were four-cylinders; in 1926 they introduced a six-cylinder.  All engines were by Continental.  In 1923, Star became the first car company to offer a factory-built station wagon.  For the early part of the 1928, the Star was known as the Durant Star, replaced in the later half of the 1928 by the Durant 4.

Locomobile of America, in 1922 Locomobile was acquired by Durant Motors, which continued using the Locomobile brand name for their top-of-the-line autos until the demise in 1929.  In 1925, they brought out their first new model, the 8-66 Junior Eight, a straight-eight-cylinder engine and a lower price of $1,785.  1926 an even smaller Junior Six, for one model year.  The model 90 also appeared in 1926 and was produced until end.
With the 8-70, Locomobile added one more eight-cylinder car.  For 1929, the 8-86 and 8-88 came out, but too late to save the company.  Locomobile died when its parent company, Durant Motors, failed.

The Last Years:

Did Durant have another comeback, NO.  Having lost his third fortune, Durant lived the rest of his life in Flint Michigan, on a GM pension arranged by Alfred Sloan.  He never lost his dignity and charm.  He suffered a stroke in 1942, which left him "a semi invalid" and died on March 19, 1947 at the age of 86.