Though most Americans have heard of the two companies Albert Champion founded--ACDelco and Champion Spark Plug--few know much about the extravagant and flamboyant man behind them. Like a Richard Branson of the early twentieth century, Champion was a powerhouse whose life was defined by both speed and success.
Champion rose from poverty in Paris to great wealth and fame in both his native France and the United States. As a bicycle racer, he set more than 100 world records. When the urban speed limit was 10 mph, he was the first ever to drive a motorcycle a mile under a minute on a motorcycle. Following a severe car-racing crash, he was confined in traction for 11 weeks. Handicapped but undeterred, he hobbled out of the hospital on crutches and recovered to win the French national cycling championship.
Champion invested his prize money to become a tycoon in the booming American auto and aviation industries. Working closely with the leading players in the new and revolutionary fields of commerce, he became a leading player. He amassed thirty US patents. His contemporaries included Charles Lindbergh, who endorsed Champion's spark plugs in an ad by saying, AC Spark Plugs kept my engine running perfectly"; Louis Chevrolet, whom Champion backed financially until it came out that he was trying to seduce Chevrolet's wife, which led to a fist-fight and the end of their friendship; Walter Chrysler; and William Durant, founder of General Motors.
Good looking and a natty dresser, Champion was an incorrigible ladies' man, whose many dalliances were fodder for the newspapers. In the end, it was a love triangle that resulted in his death at age 49 in 1927 under mysterious circumstances.