Monthly Archives: January 2016

David M. Parry transportation visionary

Prior to starting the Indianapolis-based Parry Auto Company in summer 1909, David M. Parry was president of the Parry Manufacturing Company for 27 years. The company was among the largest carriage factories in the word in the 1890’s. Parry was also a principal stockholder in the Overland Automobile Company, which he relinquished to John N. Willys in 1907.

Some of the early Parry auto production took place in seven Standard Wheel Works facilities at 1140-60 Division Street, before Parry buildings were completed. He offered the Parry as a two-passenger roadster and five passenger touring car with four-cylinder overhead valve engines, priced from $1,285 to $1,485. A December 9, 1909 Motor Age article stated that Parry planned to build 5,000 autos in 1910. Parry production did not meet this benchmark, thus forcing the company into receivership due to heavy equipment outlays.

1911 New Parry
1911 New Parry ad

In 1911, after reorganizing the firm as the Motor Car Manufacturing Company, the car name was changed to New Parry. The only thing new in this offering was the name. The two-passenger roadster and five passenger touring car were essentially duplicates of the previous offerings. Additional models were a four-passenger touring car and a four-passenger demi-tonneau. These four cylinder models were priced from $1,350 to $1,750.

The Pathfinder introduced in 1912 succeeded the New Parry as a boattail speedster. It was noted for several advanced body innovations, such as the disappearing top and a spare wheel cover. Initially, Pathfinders had four cylinder engines, followed by sixes with V radiators. The Pathfinder was issued a certificate of performance by the Royal Automobile Club following its participation in a trial in 1912.

1916 Pathfinder ad
1916 Pathfinder ad

The company was reorganized as The Pathfinder Company in 1916. The year also saw the introduction of a model with a Weidley 12 cylinder engine called Pathfinder the Great, King of Twelves. These models ranged from $2,750 for a seven-passenger touring car to $4,800 for a special enclosed body car. Shortage of materials during World War I severely handicapped Pathfinder operations. In December 1917, the company was liquidated in receivership.

David M. Parry’s 1906 estate, called Golden Hill, gave its name to the historic Indianapolis neighborhood that arose when his family divided the property into residential building lots. The original Parry mansion and its 4.5-acre site has been restored and is on the market. Follow this link for more information.

For more information on Indiana auto pioneers follow this link.

Did you know?

Did you know the cars that won the 1920 and 1921 Indianapolis 500’s were built at 33-37 West 11th Street in Indianapolis? This is not well known to the general public, and there is more to the story with Louis J. Chevrolet’s involvement.

William Small Building
William Small Building

The story starts with the construction of the William Small Company showroom in 1915 at 602 N. Capitol. Typical of its era, the building had a concrete frame, brick curtain walls, and tile block interior walls. At different times, the agency sold Chevrolet, Monroe, and Premier automobiles. Small had the foresight to purchase hundreds of cars from the factory prior to America’s involvement prior to World War I.

After he acquired the manufacturing rights to the Monroe Motor Car, the vehicles were built at the 11th Street from 1919-1923. At that time, he believed that sales could be stimulated by participation in racing. In summer 1919, he convinced Louis Chevrolet (the person for whom the Chevrolet is named) to come to Indianapolis to direct Monroe racing operations also at this site.

Under this agreement, Chevrolet built four Monroe race cars for Small’s use, and three identical Frontenac racers for himself to enter in the 1920 Indianapolis 500-mile race. By April 1920, their cars were entered in the Indianapolis 500. When time trials got underway, all of the Frontenacs demonstrated their speed by being among the 11 to qualify at better than 90 miles per hour.

Gaston Chevrolet and riding mechanic Johnny Bresnehan in
Gaston Chevrolet and riding mechanic Johnny Bresnehan in
1920 Indianapolis 500 winning Monroe

However, defective steering arms on three of the entries failed during the race. By mid-race Joe Boyer and Gaston Chevrolet were running first and second. Gaston won the race, becoming the first American to win at the brickyard since 1912. Joe Thomas finished eighth in another Monroe.

A little while later, Louis began working on two new eight-cylinder Frontenac cars for National Champion Tommy Milton and Ralph Mulford for the 1921 race. By maintaining a steady 92 miles per hour pace and brilliant driving in the turns, Milton overtook the cars ahead of him to win the 1921 Indianapolis 500 with an average speed of 89.62 miles per hour. Percy Ford drove a four-cylinder Frontenac to third place, and Mulford drove the other eight-cylinder Frontenac to ninth place. With this victory, Chevrolet became the first car builder to win two Indianapolis 500 mile races.

Tommy Milton with Barney Oldfield and Louis Chevrolet with
Tommy Milton with Barney Oldfield and Louis Chevrolet with
1921 Indianapolis 500 winning Frontenac

Now you know the story of the happenings in the William Small building in late 1919 and the early 1920’s. In late 1921, Louis Chevrolet along with his brother Arthur and Cornelius W. VanRanst formed The Chevrolet Brothers Manufacturing Company in Indianapolis to build high-performance Frontenac cylinder heads for Ford and Chevrolet racing engines. That’s a story for another day.

For more information on Indiana auto pioneers follow this link.

Indiana Cyclecars

In early 1914, interest in cyclecars reached critical mass in the American market. A cyclecar was a motor car designed along motorcycle lines for simplicity and lightness. Cyclecars were first produced in Europe in 1909 and became popular there by 1912. In 1913, production began in the United States. In fact, Indiana had some prominent players in this saga.

The W. H. McIntyre Company of Auburn Indiana, was one of the first American cyclecar manufacturers with the Imp first introduced in November 1913. Some have called it “America’s first compact car.” It weighed only 600 pounds, cost only $375, and got 50 miles per gallon. The V-twin engine produced 15 horsepower and attained 50 miles per hour. The Imp had four forward speeds plus reverse. The Imp line offered a tandem-seated passenger car and a single-seated delivery “truck.” The latter sold for $395. The company introduced a four-cylinder cyclecar with side-by-side seating designed by William B. Stout in August 1914.

McIntyre Imp
McIntyre Imp

Cyclecars soon became a craze. Soon, manufacturers organized the American Cyclecar Manufacturers’ Association with W. H. McIntyre as its first president. Of the more than 50 manufacturers, Indiana was well represented by Comet, Hoosier Scout, Imp, and Merz.

The Comet Cyclecar Company of Indianapolis initiated operations in early 1914. The Model A was a $400 belt-drive tandem two-seater powered by a 10 horsepower V-twin Spacke engine. One interesting feature of the Comet was the front fenders fitted to the wheel spindles in motorcycle fashion. It was designed by Fred B. Mertz and financed by E.R. Parry and S.C. Parry of the Parry Manufacturing Company, together with Marshall T. Levy. The company’s plant was located at Tenth St. and the Canal with offices in the Century Building.

1914 Comet
1914 Comet

The cyclecar craze in America died about as fast as it began. The little cars were no match for the mass-produced conventional motor car. By late 1914, the Ford Model T had reduced its starting price to $440. This full-sized car was just about as economical to operate as a cyclecar, and the market for the cyclecar evaporated. So, the cyclecar craze lasted a little over a year.

For more information on Indiana cars & companies follow this link.

How shall I spend my vacation?

How shall I spend my vacation? The question in 1914 according to Joseph M. Block, secretary of the Gibson Automobile Company located on North Capitol Ave in Indianapolis, was settled once and for all. “Nearly everyone is independent of the railroads nowadays, and the first breath of spring no longer means the beginning of a long and arduous study of railroad and steamship folders”.

Automobiles relieved the vacationer from visions of long, hot and dusty rides in a stuffy railroad train to reach sometimes overcrowded summer places. When traveling by auto the vision was cool vistas, shaded country roads, green fields, hills and valleys.

1914 Overland
1914 Overland

“Every year, said Block who distributed the Willys-Overland automobile, thousands more Americans are taking vacations in a motor car, and enjoying every minute of them. They come back from those trips rested in mind and body, refreshed and gloriously healthy from open air touring.” Overland dealers reported a rush of orders for spring delivery, because patrons wanted their cars early so that they could prepare for a real vacation.

It’s interesting how the automobile provided new mobility for the common man over 100 years ago. Just imagine getting in a touring car and motoring out of the metropolis into the country side back then. With our modern highway systems we can readily jump in our car and in a short time be in the country. For many of us the automobile is our primary means of vacation travel. We don’t have to rely on public or commercial means of transportation.

1914 Marmon
1914 Marmon

We’ve come a long way in 100 years. It’s time to take the car on vacation.

For more information on Indiana rides & drives follow this link.

Is this an automotive first?

Here is an interesting find at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum, the Premier Special. I noticed that this car featured a single overhead camshaft (SOHC), hemi-head, four-cylinder engine. I wondered if this was an automotive first.

I was aware of some European engines featuring overhead camshaft designs that postdate the Premier Special. Upon further research, I found that the Premier Special possesses the world’s first engine with an overhead camshaft, inclined valves, and magneto ignition.

Carl Fisher with 1904 Premier Comet
Carl Fisher with 1904 Premier Comet
Photo courtesy of FirstSuperSpeedway.com

On October 1, 1904, Hoosier entrepreneur Carl G. Fisher won the five-mile Diamond Cup race in Chicago, Illinois, driving the factory-entered Premier Comet. After his success driving the Comet, Fisher commissioned George Weidely of the Premier Motor Corporation of Indianapolis to build him a car to compete in the 1905 Vanderbilt Cup Race.

1905 Premier Special
1905 Premier Special
Copyright © 2012 Dennis E. Horvath

For the Premier Special, Weidely designed an engine with a 7 inch bore and a 6 inch stroke, displacing 923.4 cu. in. The shaft-and-bevel SOHC operated the rocker arms for the overhead valves having an included angle of 45 degree. Thus, he created a hemispherical cylinder head design some 107 years ago. This predates the successful 1913 Peugeot engine designs. The Special reportedly cost Fisher $15,000.

However, the innovative machine exceeded the Vanderbilt maximum weight limit of 2,200 pounds by 300 pounds. After drilling over 420 holes in the car, it was still 120 pounds overweight, and therefore, ineligible for the race.

Fisher’s Premier Special was untested in competition until he entered it in a five-mile handicap event at the Indiana State Fairgrounds one-mile dirt track on October 21, 1905. He took the lead on the last lap and finished with an average speed of 59.21 miles an hour.

The Special raced no more. George Weidely is overlooked for his automotive first of innovating the single overhead camshaft, hemispherical cylinder head, four-cylinder engine in 1905.

For more information on Indiana auto museums follow this link.