Ed Cole

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Ed Cole
Edward Nicholas Cole

(1909-09-17)September 17, 1909
DiedMay 2, 1977(1977-05-02) (aged 67)
Cause of deathCrashed piloting his airplane
Alma materGeneral Motors Institute
OccupationAutomobile industry executive
Years active1948-1977
EmployerGeneral Motors
Notable work
Chevrolet Corvair Chevrolet Vega

Edward Nicholas Cole (September 17, 1909 – May 2, 1977) was an American automotive executive for General Motors.


Cole was the son of a dairy farmer. In his youth, he designed, built, and sold homemade radio sets, and as a teenager became a field representative for a tractor manufacturer. He wanted to be a lawyer, but landed a part-time job in an auto parts store while attending Grand Rapids Community College.[1] He then enrolled in General Motors Institute, where he was a member of the Phi Kappa Epsilon (now Pi Kappa Alpha) Fraternity. Soon after Cole married his hometown sweetheart, Esther Engman.[2] He worked in engineering, rising to co-head a team (with Harry Barr) that developed the 1949 Cadillac V8. He was briefly assigned to run a GM plant in Cleveland, Ohio, when Chevrolet general manager Tom Keating requested his assignment as chief engineer.

He became chief engineer of the Chevrolet Division in 1952. His most important task was to develop a new engine for Chevy's lineup to replace the Stovebolt Six; that new engine was Chevrolet's small-block V8, a massive success that remained in production for decades. He collaborated with Zora Arkus-Duntov to revitalize the weak-performing early Corvettes, and he also introduced engineering and design advancements in the Chevrolet car and truck lines between 1955 and 1962.[3]

Cole was promoted to general manager of Chevrolet in 1956. During these years, Chevy was a perennial sales leader, but with only larger cars in the lineup. As general manager of Chevrolet, he directed the development of the Corvair intended to pursue the compact car market. The strong early sales of the new car with its radical design with rear-engine, rear-wheel drive layout, put Cole on the cover of Time magazine October 5, 1959 issue.[4] Cole was promoted to head the GM car and truck group in 1961, then to executive vice-president in 1965, and to president in 1967.

Cole was chief engineer of the Chevrolet Vega and directed the GM design staff in developing their first subcompact, four passenger vehicle. Cole's persistence in getting his advanced engineering projects to the production line resulted in the innovative aluminum engines in both the Corvair and Vega. He "would preside over Vega's troubled launch, which was intertwined with a disastrous 1970 confrontation between GM and the United Auto Workers."[1] Ironically, Cole's greatest engineering triumph came the same year.[1] Cole ordered engine compression ratios reduced after 1970 knowing regulations would tighten. Cole oversaw the transition away from leaded gasoline and prepared GM for catalytic converters in 1975.[1]

Cole retired from GM in 1974. He then became chairman and CEO of Checker Motors Corporation and Chairman of International Husky, an air-freight company. In 1977, the Rifle River Scout Canoe Base was renamed the Edward N. Cole Canoe Base to reflect the dedication of Edward N. Cole to Scouting in the Detroit Area. He died at age 67 in a crash during a storm.[5] He was piloting his private twin-engine Beagle B.206 Series 2 plane near Kalamazoo, Michigan, about 50 miles (80 km) south of where he was born.[6] Cole became a member of Michigan Gamma Chapter of the Tau Beta Pi Engineering Honor Society in 1952.[7] In 1998, Cole was posthumously inducted into the Corvette Hall of Fame.[8]

His son, David E. Cole, is Chairman Emeritus of the Center for Automotive Research (CAR) in Ann Arbor, Michigan.[9][10]

He was inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame in 1977.[11]


  1. ^ a b c d Donnelly, Jim (May 2007). "Edward N. Cole". Hemmings Classic Car. Retrieved 14 June 2011.
  2. ^ "AUTOS: The New Generation". Time. 5 October 1959. Retrieved 14 June 2011.
  3. ^ "Edward N. Cole". GM Heritage page. Retrieved 14 June 2011.
  4. ^ "Ed Cole on cover". Time. LXXIV (14). 5 October 1959. Retrieved 14 June 2011.
  5. ^ "Accident report: NTSB identification: CHI77FA042". The National Transportation Safety Board. Retrieved 14 June 2011.
  6. ^ Memorial Tributes: National Academy of Engineering, Volume 1. National Academy of Engineering. 1979. pp. 27–32. ISBN 978-0-309-02889-9. Retrieved 14 June 2011.
  7. ^ "Tau Beta Pi Leaders and Innovators". TBP engineering honor society. Archived from the original on 19 June 2011. Retrieved 14 June 2011.
  8. ^ "Corvette Hall of Fame: Edward N. Cole". National Corvette Museum. Retrieved 14 June 2011.
  9. ^ Beeke, Candace (29 April 2009). "David Cole, Center for Automotive Research: Auto's future vital to U.S. economy". Michigan Live. Retrieved 14 June 2011.
  10. ^ "Dr. David E. Cole, Chairman Emeritus, Center for Automotive Research" (PDF). German American Chamber of Commerce of the Midwest. Retrieved 14 June 2011.
  11. ^ "Edward N. Cole". Hall of Fame Inductees. Automotive Hall of Fame. 1977. Archived from the original on March 16, 2016. Retrieved March 15, 2016.
Business positions
Preceded by
James M. Roche
President of the General Motors Corporation
1968 – 1974
Succeeded by
Pete Estes