Corvette Timeline Tales: Happy 102nd Birthday, Ed Cole

Dateline: 9.17.11
“Kick the hell out of the status quo!” – Ed Cole

Ed Cole was one of what I call, “The Four Fathers of the Corvette.” The first Father of the Corvette was Harley Earl, the designer and creator of the Corvette. Earl was the “Idea Guy.” Ed Cole was the “Go-to” guy. Ed was already the chief of engineering of Chevrolet in ‘53 and was working on what would become the Small-Block Chevy engine. He was also the man that hired Zora Arkus-Duntov. The third Father of the Corvette was Zora Arkus-Duntov. Were it not for his at times, unbridled passion and insistence that Corvettes were successful at the race track, the car wouldn’t have survived the ‘60s. And the fourth Father of the Corvette was Bill Mitchell. His Sting Ray and Mako Shark II designs forever defined the Corvette “look.”

While Cole was one of the top engineers of his day, he did not start out wanting to be in the car business. When he first started attending Grand Rapids Community College as a lad, he wanted to become a lawyer! But a part-time job in an auto parts supply store hooked him into cars. He enrolled in General Motors Institute and got his engineering degree and a job at GM. Cole and Harry Barr co-headed a team to design and develop the revolutionary 1949 Cadillac V8 engine. It was the Cadillac engine project that set Cole up to be the lead man on the Chevrolet small-block engine project. Just stop and reflect on what an enormous contribution to Chevrolets and racing the all-time classic Small-Block Chevy engine is.

I called Ed Cole the “go-to” guy because of his relationship with Duntov. Zora was quite an anomaly inside of General Motors. The prevailing attitude towards Duntov and Cole was likely, “You hired him, he’s yours!” It turned out that Cole was Duntov’s corporate angel and he always had Ed’s ear.

The book, “Zora Arkus-Duntov – The Legend Behind Corvette” by Jerry Burton is filled with wonderful stories about Cole and Duntov. One amusing story happened in early 1956 just after Cole and Duntov took a modified ‘56 Chevy Belair to Pike’s Peek and broke several records. After the event, while the guys were celebrating over drinks, Zora told Ed, “We should show the world that the Corvette is no longer an underdog. Let’s show how fast the car will really go.” Cole asked, “How fast is that?” To which Duntov just pulled a number out of the air and said, “Oh… maybe… 150 miles per hour.” Cole was interested, but reminded Zora that his main responsibility was the development of the fuel-injected engine. Zora took Cole’s interest as a go-ahead and started working on body modifications that would eventually lead to the speed record run on the sands of Daytona Beach with John Fitch, Betty Skelton, and himself driving modified ‘56 Corvettes. Duntov was a loose cannon, and he was Ed Cole’s loose cannon.

After Cole was made general manager of Chevrolet in ‘56, he embarked on an over-the-top project called the “Q-Chevrolets.” Cole was fascinated with the idea of using a transaxle on all Chevrolet cars (Corvette included) by 1960, with a marketing angle of increased interior space and more weight over the rear drive wheels. It was soon discovered that the project would be too expensive and dropped. But Chevrolet did manage to get the rear-engine Corvair into production. The Q-Corvette became the seed of the ‘63 – ‘67 Sting Ray and the proposed all-aluminum engine, drive train, and transaxle would finally go into production in the 1997 C5 Corvette.

But Ed Cole was destined for big things inside GM. In ‘65 he was promoted to vice-president and in ‘67 president of General Motors. Cole guided GM through some very challenging times in the late ‘60s and into the mid-’70s before he retired. he oversaw the end of the muscle car era, the beginning of the subcompact era, the elimination of lead from GM’s gasoline engines, and the introduction of the catalytic converter. The mid-’70s saw some power players in GM put out to pasture. Cole retired in ‘74, Duntov in ‘75, and Bill Mitchell in ‘77. But powerful men such as Cole never sit still for long. Right after his retirement from GM, Cole took a position as CEO of Checker Motors Corporation. Yes, the cab company. Cole was also an avid pilot  On May 2, 1977 while flying his beagle B 206 Series 2 plane, he crashed in a storm and was killed at the age of 67.

Ed Cole was inducted into the Corvette Hall of Fame at the National Corvette Museum in 1998. Ed’s motto was, “Kick the hell out of the status quo!” I rather like that attitude! – Scott

PS – For a full review of Small-Block Chevy engines from the 1955 265 to the mighty LS9, CLICK HERE.

PSS – For more information about the life of Ed Cole, visit the below sites…,_Edward_N.

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