Show Report: 100 years of Chevrolet
Date: June 19, 2011
Place: La Chaux de Fonds, Switzerland
Louis Chevrolet, founder of American car giant Chevrolet, which this year celebrates its centenary, was actually Swiss. He was born in 1878 in La Chaux de Fonds, situated 1000m up in the Jura mountains, just a few miles from the French border.
Trawling through events listings on the internet at the end of May, I spotted a show labelled ‘100 years of Chevrolet’ at La Chaux de Fonds on Sunday, June 19. The organiser, Andre Rochat, boldly proclaimed that he expected 1000 Chevrolets to attend. I made a few phone calls and sent some emails to Corvette-owning friends in England, France, Holland and Belgium and none of them knew anything about it.
I contacted Andre, who said that he had backing from Chevrolet Europe and Chevrolet Switzerland and that it was going to be a big affair with the full co-operation of the town officials, tourist office and numerous European Chevrolet clubs. Oh well, in for a penny, in for a pound. I decided to take a punt and go. After all, if it turned out to be a damp squib, it wouldn’t exactly be a tragedy, spending a few days swanning about in France and Switzerland in my Corvette.
‘La Chaux’ has UNESCO world heritage status and is a protected town due to its historic significance. It was originally founded in the mid-1600s and became the hub for Swiss watchmaking. A major fire all but destroyed the place in 1794 and it was methodically and clinically rebuilt, unusually for Europe, on a grid system which is now used extensively in America. The watchmaking activities thrived and the town became home to the prestigious names of Cartier, Patek Philippe, Omega, Rolex and Girard-Perregaux, who have been there since 1852.
On Saturday, the day before the show, I arrived at my hotel, perched high in the pretty French mountain village of Goumois, literally a stone’s throw from the Swiss border.
On Sunday morning, which was a bit grey and grisly, I left at around 8.45 and wound my way through gorgeous, lush scenery, on empty, beautifully smooth roads, the 20 or so miles to La Chaux. Rather worryingly, as I approached a green fluorescent vest-wearing official at the edge of town, I hadn’t seen a single Chevrolet. Or much of anything else for that matter. I was waved through and followed the show signs.
As I turned on to the main avenue, Leopold-Robert, known locally as ‘The Pod’, a huge grin spread across my face. There were Chevrolets everywhere, parked side by side, tails in to the pavement. I eased the ’Vette through the throngs of people, past countless shops, cafes, bars and restaurants, to the end of the row, a good half a mile away. And as I parked, yet more Chevys piled in behind. I have never seen so many cars at one show in my life, let alone all one make. To make it even better, the sun started to shine. As I walked the line, there was every conceivable age and configuration of Chevrolet, from early Twenties tourers to enormous finned cruisers, Sixties and Seventies muscle cars, Corvettes, day vans, RVs, ambulances, recovery trucks, pick- ups, custom cars and hot rods. And even a Chevy V8-powered Boss Hoss motorcycle.
I headed for the market square for the start of a special parade of 50 or so Chevys.
Grandstands had been erected for the spectators and locals hung out of their windows, espressos and cigarettes in hand, to get a better view. A marching band, cheerleaders and an American football team headed the procession. As each car came through, cowboy-hatted Jean Marc Kohlec gave a commentary over the PA which seemed well received – not that I understood much of it!
The earliest car was a 1914 Torpedo Touring, followed by a selection of vehicles from each decade including a ’32 Phaeton, a ’35 Langenthal Cabriolet, a turquoise and white ’49 pick-up compete with full size glass fibre cow and chickens in the back, a highly polished ’52 Woody, a jet black ’57 pick-up hauling an aluminium Airstream caravan, extravagant Impalas, rear-engined Corvairs, several Corvettes including a ’63 split rear screen, a ’69 427cu in big block and ’78 and ’98 Indy Pace car replicas, Bel Airs, El Caminos, Malibus, Chevelles and Camaros. Noisiest by far was a 2007 Monte Carlo SS Nascar, contrasted by the eerily silent electric Volt driven by the president of Chevrolet Europe, Wayne D Brannon.
After sauntering past the merchandise stalls, I sank a beer while listening to one of the excellent live bands and then spoke to organiser Andre, who told me: “I was born very close to here. Fifteen years ago a bunch of us decided to celebrate Louis Chevrolet because he is a native child of here so we organised a rally. And now every year at the end of August we have a four day rally where we always start in La Chaux de Fonds and travel across Switzerland, France and Italy. A rally with a lot of easy and good times, with no stress. It’s a pleasure rally. Each year the event got bigger and bigger and we had in mind that 2011 would be special for Chevrolet.
“A year ago I went to see Chevrolet Switzerland and Chevrolet Europe and I proposed to celebrate 100 years of Chevrolet here and I made a bet that we would bring 1000 Chevrolet. And I guess that we did it. Without the help of the town, the tourist office, Chevrolet and other sponsors, we couldn’t have done this today. I am very pleased.”
This was a terrific event and yet, as far as I could see, my car was the only one sporting a GB number plate. When it was time to go, I just headed up one of the many side streets, hung a right, ran parallel to ‘The Pod’ and drove straight out of town. No queues or traffic jams here. It all ran as smoothly as a Swiss watch.
Words: Steve Havelock
Photography: Steve & Marian Havelock
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