Got a classic GM car? You can trace its roots directly to this building
If you call yourself a car enthusiast, you really should know who Billy Durant was.
A salesman extraordinaire, Durant not only founded General Motors, he also lost it — twice. Chevrolet exists thanks to his vision, and there was even a short-lived Durant automobile. In the end, the Great Depression, boardroom politics and a stroke curtailed Durant’s ambitions, and he spent the years prior to his death in 1947 running a bowling alley in Flint, Michigan.
That’s a hell of a life.
One of Durant’s earliest ventures, in a partnership with industrialist Dallas Dort, was the Durant-Dort carriage company, which produced horse-drawn carriages at a Flint facility called Factory One. When Durant purchased a controlling interest in struggling Buick Motor Company in 1904, the seeds of General Motors were sown, making Durant-Dort Factory One the de facto birthplace of GM despite never officially wearing the conglomerate’s name.
Busts of Durant and Dort alongside the Flint River beside Factory One.
In fact, until four years ago, GM didn’t even own the still-surviving building. Factory One had spent decades in disrepair before GM product development boss Mark Reuss and Kevin Kirbitz, now Factory One operations manager, hatched a plan to restore the facility.
“Factory One sparked the global auto industry and was a catalyst in the formation of General Motors,” Reuss said in a statement. “It preserves the stories of the early visionaries who built a brand-new industry in this city, within the very walls of where it happened.”
That should keep the car nerd in you busy for a few years.
Given the decay, restoration was formidable: Water damage necessitated foundation repair, 17,000 bricks were renewed and windows and doors got period-accurate replacements. Inside, as much original structure as possible was salvaged — beams, brickwork and such — as reinforcements and plumbing, electrical and AV updates were added.
The result is gorgeous inside and out, and it’s available to rent out for events and displays; for us, though, the more interesting use is as a vessel for Kettering University’s massive vehicle-manufacturing archive collection, viewable to the public by appointment. It’s an incredible treasure trove for anyone interested in the global auto industry, and if you’re a true car nerd, prepare to get lost for hours in the documents and images. The Durant-Dort office building is right across the street, and as a bonus, Charles Nash’s former house is 100 yards away, too.
If you’re near Flint and want to check it out, Durant-Dort Factory One is at 303 W. Water Street; you can give them a call at (810)-777-5101 to set up a visit.