Cole's motto was: "Kick the hell out of the status
quo." He lived it every day. As president of GM and
former Chief Engineer of Chevrolet, he was a dynamo. He
was articulate. He thought big. He talked big. He got
people to do big things. He was mischievous, a maverick,
softhearted, hard-nosed when he had to be. He had a quick
wit and a quirky grin and uncanny automotive instincts.
He thought cars and trucks should get up and go. Quickly.
He made "dash" and "daring" Chevy
didn't invent the Corvette. It was already a clay model
when he first saw it. But he recognized it instantly as
the ideal symbol of a soon-to-be reborn Chevrolet marque.
The Corvette was exciting. But what really excited Ed
Cole was the bizarre notion that such a car-two seats,
plastic-bodied, six months from drawing board to driveway-could
come from GM's conservative car division. What a way to
launch the new Chevrolet.
his 47 years at General Motors, only 10 were spent at
Chevrolet, but they were Chevy's post-war growth years
and they formed the foundation for the division's continued
dominance of the American automotive scene. His stated
task when he became Chief Engineer in May, 1952, was to
bring a light-weight low cost V8 into the Chevy engine
lineup. He did. It was called, simply, the Chevy smallblock.
For the next 50 years, it would reign supreme as America's
most significant automotive engine design.
Chief Engineer and later as General Manager, Cole made
Chevy thunder the heartbeat of America. In 15 months,
he tripled the size of the engineering staff. He permitted
Zora Duntov to install the V8 in the '55 Corvette. When
the car bombed in the marketplace, he cleared Chevy to
go racing. First, the February, 1956 Daytona Beach trials,
then the Sebring 12-hour, next Jerry Earl's SR-2, and
lastly a factory-prepared car for Dr. Dick Thompson, the
at Sebring in '57 when the beautiful SS Corvette proved
vastly unready, he would later allow GM styling boss Bill
Mitchell to wrap a swoopy body around an SS test "mule",
call it a Sting Ray, and turn it into what-in retrospect-is
the most important racing Corvette of them all. With
Dick Thompson doing most of the driving, the Mitchell
Sting Ray kept the high performance flame alive at Chevy
in '59 and '60 and set the stage for the production Sting
mischievous Cole was the architect of Chevy's back-door
stock car racing escapades of the late '50s. The 348 and
the 409, first big-block engines, were designed during
Cole's tenure at Chevy. He coached the small-car Chevy
program into existence as well as the vehicle of which
he was most proud and for which he may be best remembered
-the Corvair. Low, light, rear-engine, air-cooled, the
Corvair was in keeping with much of the Cole's philosophy
about cars. Like the Corvette, the Corvair "kicked
the hell out of the status quo."
left Chevy to become GM group vice-president in 1961.
Promoted to Executive VP in '65 and to the presidency
in '67, Cole found himself at the helm of GM. high performance
took on an altogether different meaning. It meant tuning
engines for fuel economy, not power. It meant stouter
bumpers, catalytic converters and the like. Under Cole's
leadership, GM became the world leader in safety research.
His 1972 declaration that all GM cars would be equipped
with catalytic converters in 1975 spelled-at long last-the
end of lead in gasoline. On his retirement in 1974, Ed
Cole could look back on a career of kicking the hell out
of the status quo, and the world-Corvette included-is
far better off. Ed Cole died in a light plane crash in