Edward Cole is widely recognized as one of the most innovative leaders in the history of the automobile industry. Cole was born in Marne, Michigan in 1909. His early ambition was to become a lawyer and he attended Grand Rapids Junior College to prepare for a legal career. However, his interest turned to cars following a summer job with Hayes Body Corporation.
He enrolled at General Motors Institute in Flint, Michigan in 1930, where he excelled so strongly that he was pulled out of classes before graduation and assigned to a special engineering project at Cadillac. Cole became Cadillac’s head design engineer in 1943 and was responsible for U.S. Army light tanks and combat vehicles. Following WWII, he was made Cadillac’s chief engineer and was an important part of the team that developed Cadillac’s 331 cubic inch V8.
In 1952, Cole was promoted to chief engineer for Chevrolet and later named general manager of the brand. While at Chevrolet, Cole pushed for numerous major engineering and design advancements to the company’s car and truck lines. He was the driving force behind the creation of the rear-engine, air-cooled Corvair (though that car later became infamous because of consumer advocate Ralph Nader) and was heavily involved in the development of the Corvette sports car as well as GM’s rotary engine.
Cole is also regarded by many as the father of the venerable Chevrolet small block V8, which is still in production today. Cole continued to earn promotions, becoming executive vice president in July 1965 and president and CEO of General Motors in 1967. He served in that capacity until his retirement in 1974, ending his 44-year career at General Motors. At the time of his retirement, Cole held 18 separate patents, one of which was for catalytic converters.
After retiring from GM, Cole became chairman and CEO of Checker Motor Corporation. He was flying his private plane to the company’s headquarters to oversee a redesign of the company’s taxis when he crashed near Kalamazoo, Michigan, killing him instantly. Though his death was untimely, Edward Cole remains a highly respected figure within the automotive industry thanks to his never-ending quest to improve technology to meet new challenges.