STRANGE GH: Ottawa County tot takes dad’s car for spin, winds up CEO of GM

Nov 14, 2011

Cole was born in Berlin (Marne, Mich.) on Sept. 17, 1909, to Franklin and Lucy Cole. At the age of 5, the boy’s fascination with cars got him into trouble.

The year was 1914 when little Ed climbed into the driver’s seat of his father’s parked 1908 Buick, released the handbrake and went for short ride. The car struck a tree and came to a stop. Edward was unhurt and damage to the vehicle was minor.

His dad scolded him good, but that didn’t dampen Ed’s enthusiasm for the “horseless carriage.”

At age 16, Edward was one of the rare “two-car owners” in Marne when he rebuilt a pair of old vehicles. He also converted old Model A jalopies into homemade tractors, which he sold to area farmers, on his father’s property.

Cole began his automotive career in 1929 with General Motors in their Cadillac division. Soon after that, Cole married his hometown sweetheart, Esther “Dolly” Engman. He advanced his work in engineering to co-head a team that developed the 1949 Cadillac V-8.

His associates once said, “Ed just has one speed — full-throttle.”

He became chief engineer of the Chevrolet division in 1952. As general manager of Chevrolet, he directed the development of the Corvair, intended to pursue the compact car market. Cole was featured on the cover of Time magazine — Oct. 5, 1959, issue. 

Cole was promoted to head the GM car and truck group in 1961, eventually becoming company president in 1967. He retired in 1974, then became chairman and CEO of Checker Motors Corp.

Cole deserves credit for weaning American cars off leaded gasoline by introducing catalytic converters to the market in 1975.

On May 2, 1977, Cole’s inspirational career ended as it had started it — with “a crash.” He died at age 67 during a storm while piloting his private twin-engine Beagle Series 2 airplane near Kalamazoo. The plane crashed 50 miles south of where he was born — Marne.

Literally, we can all breathe a little easier thanks to Cole’s innovative work, and it all began here in Ottawa County 97 years ago when a curious tot took his father’s car for a spin.

Comments

Kevin S. Collier

Esther Engman was Edward Cole's first wife. In the article above it indicates her nickname was "Dolly."

Edward remarried circa 1964. Dollie Cole was name of Edward's second wife.

Let the record stand corrected. You will find the Esther “Dolly” Engman error on the internet in countless Edward Cole biographies including one on Facebook.

This correct information comes directly from ancestors of Edward Cole.

Dave Cole

Ed Cole was my father. I enjoyed the story although there were a couple of errors. The one about Dolly was noted. Generally it was corrrect. Actually he was president and not Chairman and CEO. His main accomplishments were probablly leading the engineering team that developed the '55 Chevrolet that featured the small block V-8. GM jus tbuilt the 100 millionth of that base engine. Also, he was the force behind the introduction of the auto catallytic converter that is the most important envirnmental technology ever introduced in terms of pollution eliminated. This occurred in the early 70's. He was truly and outstanding engineer and innovator.
One of our sons, Scott Cole and his family live in Grand Haven. You have written about our oldest granddaughter, Abby Cole, quite often. She is an excellent athlette as are her siblings.
We live in Ann Arbor, I was a professor of engineering for many years at the U of Michigan working on auto related issues.
Dave Cole

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