KEITH CRAIN

Dollie Cole was a remarkable woman

COMMENTARY
Keith Crain is editor-in-chief of Automotive News
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Last week Dollie Cole died at the age of 84.

She was the widow of Ed Cole, the consummate car guy who also was the president of General Motors.

Ed Cole had a lot of automotive credits, but certainly the most famous and enduring has to be the creation of the 1955 Chevrolet small-block V-8 engine. It's still being used in various iterations.

Dollie was quite a lady.

In a day when divorce was unknown at GM, the recently divorced Ed Cole took Dollie to the automaker's board meeting in New York on the company plane, announcing to the world that this was the woman he intended to marry whether GM board members liked it or not.

They did get married a short time later. Ed Cole's divorce and remarriage to Dollie were followed by a whole bunch of executive divorces at GM.

In the late 1960s and early '70s when Ed was president of GM, Dollie was the most public wife in the auto industry. She was charming, generous and very outspoken. She changed the perception of an automotive executive's wife.

Even after Ed died in a plane crash, she was seen quite often, showing up every year at the Indianapolis 500. She outlived Ed by 37 years.

Ed Cole was a tinkerer. He had a basement workshop and enjoyed spending time figuring out automotive solutions.

Once when they were headed out to some social event in Detroit, Dollie complained loudly that she was sick and tired of coping with a seat belt that was ruining her mink coat. Pointedly, she asked Ed why he wasn't doing something about it.

That remark prompted the birth of the airbag, although both she and Ed envisioned a system that wouldn't require any other safety device, especially the then lap-only seat belt.

It led to GM's Air Cushion Restraint System and although it took a long time to get airbags into cars, GM had test vehicles from Buick and Oldsmobile on the road years before they went into production. I owned a Buick and an Oldsmobile that were both equipped with airbags and lap belts, no three-pointed belts.

Dollie was an inspiration way back then.

She was the inspiration for a lot of women in the automobile business. She was one of the great cheerleaders for a greater voice for women in the industry, whether they were wives, consumers or engineers.

Dollie was a remarkable person, as was her husband, Ed Cole. They both epitomized a lively time in the auto business.

You can reach Keith Crain at kcrain@crain.com.


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