Albert Champion ignited the automotive industry with his innovative products. Born in Paris, France in 1878, Champion developed a desire for speed as an errand-runner for a bicycle manufacturer. He wanted to be the fastest person at his job, which impressed his employer, who suggested entering a bicycle race. Champion won the first race he entered, spawning an impressive career in bike racing that would bring him the U.S. in 1899.
In the U.S., Champion also began racing automobiles. One such car was the Packard Gray Wolf, which Champion crashed on the Brighton Beach course in Brooklyn, NY in 1903. He sustained a compound fracture in his femur, leaving one of his legs two inches shorter than the other. While recovering in France, Champion decided he wanted to join the automobile industry. He began studying vehicle components, taking an interest in magnetos and electrical parts. He retired from cycling and returned to America in 1905 to incorporate the Albert Champion Company in Boston, MA. Champion imported French electrical parts and later developed his own spark plugs using ceramic insulators. Champion’s spark plugs were designed to shield the center electrode from grounding against metal and were more resilient against moisture and engine heat. His products became wildly successful, enabling him to open a second factory in Toledo, OH. Champion’s products also caught the attention of William Durant, the founder of General Motors, who asked Champion to start a new business in Flint, MI to produce spark plugs and ignition parts for Buick. That company eventually became AC Spark Plugs (taken from Champion’s initials) and was made an independent division of GM after Alfred Sloan’s 1916 reorganization. AC later manufactured replacement parts for other car makers in addition to GM vehicles.
Champion was eventually named president of AC and continued to oversee its growth. However, in October 1927, Champion collapsed and died suddenly while on vacation in Paris. Following his death, the AC Division continued to grow and evolved into GM’s United Delco Division, later becoming ACDelco. Additionally, Champion’s original company, Champion Spark Plugs, lives on today as a division of the Federal-Mogul Corporation.