Monthly Archives: December 2016

Lexington Motor Car Company

Another of the lessor-known autos in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum Indiana Automobiles: Precision over Production exhibit is the 1922 Lexington Model U.

1922 Lexington Model U
1922 Lexington Model U

This manufacturer’s Indiana history began in 1910, when a group of Connersville businessmen enticed the infant Lexington Motor Car Company to relocate from Lexington, Kentucky, to Connersville.

The company was promotionally minded and entered both the Glidden Tour and the Indianapolis 500 in 1912 to attract attention.

In 1915, the four-cylinder engine was supplemented by a light six and a supreme six. With the new Ansted engines, Lexingtons became modern and powerful.

Lexingtons became popular with the release of the Thoroughbred Six and Minute Man Six models. In 1918, the newly formed Ansted Engine Company acquired the Teetor-Hartley Motor Corporation of Hagerstown. The combined Lexington and Ansted facilities measured three blocks long and two blocks wide totaling 270,000 sq. ft. of floor space.

Lexington built two short-wheelbase race cars with the powerful Ansted engine for the 1920 Pikes Peak hill climb. The cars placed first and second in their initial outing and brought home the Penrose trophy. The company cars also second place wins in 1921 through 1924. Again in 1924, Otto Loesche won in 18 minutes and 15 seconds. He brought the trophy home for keeps. The Penrose trophy is on display at the Reynolds Museum on Vine Street in Connersville. In the 1926 event, Joe Unser, an uncle of Indianapolis winners Bobby and Al Unser, placed second place.

Frank B. Ansted, president, announced the formation of the United States Automotive Corporation at the New York Auto Show on January 12, 1920. It was a $10 million merger with the Lexington Motor Car Company, the Ansted Engineering Company, and The Connersville Foundry Corporation from Connersville, plus the Teetor-Hartley Motor Corporation of Hagerstown.

The high point of Lexington production arrived in 1920 with over 6,000 cars built. On December 16, 1921, William C. Durant, founder and former president of General Motors, ordered 30,000 Ansted engines for his new Durant Six that was being built in Muncie by Durant Motors of Indiana, Inc.

Records show that in 1922, United States Automotive Corporation owned 10 different factories that were building parts for its cars. Lexington Motor Car Company and United States Automotive Corporation were affected by recessionary events in the early 20’s. Production in 1922 plummeted to roughly a third of the 1920 total.

In 1923, The Ansted Engine Company entered receivership with William C. Durant as a principle shareholder. Lexington Motor Car Company also entered receivership in 1923. In 1927, E.L. Cord’s Auburn Automobile Company purchased Ansted Engine and the Lexington Motor Car Company, respectively. The Lexington was soon phased out.

I believe the story of the Lexington Motor Car Company adds to Indiana automotive history and thank the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum for sharing this car.

Be sure to visit the Indiana Automobiles: Precision over Production exhibit ending March 26, 2017, to see the gems of Indiana automotive production.

For more information on Indiana-built automobiles, follow this link.

Frederick S. Duesenberg builder of America’s greatest luxury car

fred-duesenberg

In 1897 Fred Duesenberg, assisted by his brother August, built a rotary valve engine. This was the beginning of a grand era of automobile racing and the construction of what many have called America’s greatest luxury car—the Duesenberg.

Fred Duesenberg built his first automobile in 1904. This auto served as a prototype for the Mason automobile that debuted two years later. The brothers established the Duesenberg Motor Company in 1913 to build their new four-cylinder “walking beam” engines. In 1916, a Duesenberg finished in second place in the Indianapolis 500.

The brothers also built the “walking beam” engine under a U. S. government contract for use in light training airplanes later in 1916. In 1918, they developed and shipped 40 V-16 aviation engines before World War I ended. This engine spawned Fred’s desire to build America’s first overhead camshaft, straight-eight automotive engine.

Twenty Grand Duesenberg
Twenty Grand Duesenberg

In 1920, Duesenberg racers finished the Indianapolis 500 in third, fourth, and sixth places. Later that year the brothers announced that the Duesenberg Model A automobile would be built about two miles from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s main gate, at Harding and West Washington Street. In addition to an innovative engine, the auto premiered the first American use of four-wheel hydraulic brakes. The race car version finished first in the 1921 French Grand Prix. This accomplished another first for an American manufacturer-—winning a European Grand Prix. Duesenberg’s racing fortunes multiplied in the mid-1920’s with first place finishes at the Indianapolis 500 in 1924, 1925, and 1927.

In 1926, E.L. Cord assumed control of Duesenberg operations and commissioned Fred to build the mighty Duesenberg Model J. It nearly doubled the horsepower of its nearest rival. Many still tout the Model J as one of the finest production cars ever made.

Thanks to Fred Duesenberg for building America’s greatest luxury car. For more information on Indiana auto pioneers, follow this link.

Monroe Motor Company

One of the lessor-known autos in the Indiana Automobiles: Precision over Production exhibit is a 1920 Monroe Model S built by the William Small Company. This is the first Indianapolis-built Monroe I’ve ever seen.

1920 Monroe Model S
1920 Monroe Model S

In 1918, the Monroe Motor Company assets were purchased by the William Small Company, the former distributer of Monroe autos in Indianapolis.

Small then recruited Louis Chevrolet as a consulting engineer to work out design problems for the new Monroe at the Indianapolis Small facilities. This new Monroe sported a 35 horsepower, 4 cylinder Monroe engine. The 1920 Monroe Model S was available in either a five-passenger touring car or a two-passenger roadster.

In preparation of the Small entries for the 1920 Indianapolis 500-mile race, Chevrolet recruited Cornelius Van Ranst to help build seven race cars, four of them to campaigned under the Monroe name, and three as Frontenacs. Louis’ brother, Gaston Chevrolet, drove a Monroe to victory in the 500, which was the first win by an American car at the Brickyard since 1912.

Gaston Chevrolet in 1920 Monroe
Gaston Chevrolet in 1920 Monroe

Unfortunately, three months later, the William Small Company went into receivership. In January 1922, the Monroe assets were acquired by American Fletcher National Bank in Indianapolis. By June 1923, Premier Motor Corporation of Indianapolis obtained control of the Monroe Motor Company and produced cars for a short time.
I believe the brief story of the William Small Company adds rich details to Indiana automotive history and thank the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum for sharing this car.

Be sure to visit the Indiana Automobiles: Precision over Production exhibit ending March 26, 2017, to see the gems of Indiana automotive production.

Indiana Auto Facts

I would like to share some interesting Indiana auto facts that I have learned over the years.

The Inter-State Motor Company was started in 1908, when the Commercial Club of Muncie, spearheaded by the five Ball brothers, J.M. Marling, and Tom Hart decided to open an automobile production plant. After World War I it was eventually sold to GM.

1910 Lambert touring car
1910 Lambert touring car

John Lambert (1860 – 1952) along with his father and brother, established an engine plant in Anderson, known as the Buckeye Manufacturing Company. In 1902, Lambert formed the Union Auto Company in Union City to produce a rear-engine automobile with gearless, friction-drive. In 1905, Lambert closed this firm and formed the Lambert Automobile Company in Anderson. For the next 12 years, the company manufactured automobiles, trucks, fire engines, and farm tractors. All used the friction-drive pioneered by Lambert. Cars using engines from this company were manufactured until 1917. Lambert received over 600 patents for his automotive designs.

William B. Barnes (1898 – 1987) invented “overdrive” a device that would increase the life of the engine, yet improve fuel efficiency. In 1932, Muncie’s Warner Gear backed this development.

Adolf Schneider (1891 – 1987) and his brother Heinrich, invented the hydraulic torque converter for diesel locomotives in their native Switzerland in 1924. Later, Schneider came to the U.S. where there a better chance of manufacturing it. Warner Gear eventually agreed to work with Schneider.

Ralph Teetor (1890 – 1982), blind since age five, is best known for the invention of cruise control. Teetor was inspired to invent the device while riding with his lawyer. The lawyer would slow down while talking and speed up while listening. The rocking motion so annoyed Teetor that he determined to invent a speed control. It was well received at its debut in 1961, in a Chrysler Imperial.

Perry Remy, 19, and his 14 year-old brother Frank, opened an electrical contracting business in Anderson in 1895. Later they incorporated as the Remy Electric Company, manufacturers of electrical equipment for gasoline engines. The company was a success, due largely to Perry’s design for the magneto: in 1910, nearly 50,000 were produced. United Motors Corporation bought Remy and its chief rival, Dayton Engineering Laboratories Company in 1916. The Delco Remy merger under General Motors, took place in 1938.

1936 Cord sedan
1936 Cord sedan
Copyright © 2008 Dennis E. Horvath

Gordon Buehrig (1904 – 1990) started his career in 1924, as chief engineer for Gothfredson Body Company and then worked for a variety of other auto companies. In 1929, he became chief body designer at Duesenberg in Indianapolis. He designed many of the famous Duesenbergs, the Duesenberg radiator ornament and the classic 1935 Auburn line. He is most famous, however, for the 810 Cord which drew huge crowds at its debut at the 1935 New York auto show. The car ushered in aero-dynamic styling. It had disappearing headlights, front-wheel drive and step-down entry. The Museum of Modern Art in New York, honored the 810 Cord in a 1951 show stating, “the originality of the conception and the skill with which its several parts have been realized make it one of the most powerful designs in the exhibition…”

C.C. Adelsperger, S.R. Bell and J.W. Wogoman founded Union City Body Company in 1893. It produced bodies for horseless carriages made by a number of companies operating within 100 miles of its shop. Bodies for Haynes, Apperson, Davis, Lexington, Clark, Premier, and Chandler automobiles were all produced at Union City. As the company’s reputation grew, it received contracts to make bodies for some of the nation’s most beautiful automobiles including the Auburn, Cord, Duesenberg and Pierce-Arrow. By the late 1920s, however, many of Union City Body’s customers were closing their doors and the company turned to manufacturing theater seating in order to remain in business. In the 1950s, the company began focusing on parcel delivery trucks.

Maxwell Logo

When Maxwell-Briscoe built its plant in New Castle in 1906. At the time, it was the largest automobile plant in the nation. Maxwells were made there until 1925. The newly formed Chrysler Corporation purchased the plant that year making it one of its original eight plants.

Tom and Harry Warner, Abbott and J.C. Johnson, Col. William Hitchcock and Thomas Morgan founded Warner Gear Company of Muncie in 1900. Warner Gear’s first major contribution to the industry was the differential. The company also produced transmissions, steering gears and rear axles and had broad appeal among the nation’s automobile makers. Warner was the first company to develop a standardized transmission in 1926. It could be mass produced at half the cost of specialty transmissions and was suitable for use in almost any automobile. This successful innovation saved the company during a time when specialty manufacturers across the country were closing their doors. A merger with Borg & Beck, Marvel Carburetor and Mechanics Universal Joint Company in 1928 created Borg Warner Corporation. The diversity of its products kept the company stable during the Depression years.

That’s the story of some of Indiana auto pioneers. For more information on Indiana auto pioneers, follow this link.

Congratulations to Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Indiana Automobiles show

I must say congratulations to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum for the Indiana Automobiles: Precision over Production show. This show is open now thru March 26, 2017. If you are a historic car-buff, you must see this show.

The museum does a great job presenting this show in honor of Indiana’s Bicentennial celebrating Hoosier automotive production. In partnership with private owners and other automotive museums around the state, more than 35 historic Indiana-built cars like Auburn, Cord, Cole, Duesenberg, Haynes, Marmon, Premier, Studebaker, Stutz, and Waverley are in the exhibit. The galleries are staged as Indianapolis-built cars, Indiana-built cars, and Indiana race cars.

1928 Auburn 8-88 Speedster
1928 Auburn 8-88 Speedster

Over 40 Indiana cities and towns can claim some sort of connection to early automotive history. Approximately 400 firms – large and small – operated statewide between 1894 and 1963.

Many started as carriage builders in the 1800s, several experimenting, by the turn of the 20th century, with internal combustion engines. Many self-trained engineers created one-off “horseless carriage” prototypes in their own shops. The more successful eventually built factories and produced, in quantity, automobiles for sale to the public.

1899 Waverley Electric
1899 Waverley Electric

Providing a proving ground and testing facility for the early automotive industry was the impetus of building of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Not only would the track be available to companies for private testing, but the staging of occasional automobile races would give the firms an opportunity to demonstrate the worth of their products in competition, while the public observed from the grandstands. Companies like Cord, Duesenberg, Marmon, and Stutz continued to use the track to privately test and develop the vehicles they were selling to the public.

The Indiana Automobiles: Precision over Production exhibit tells this story well. The display presents some cars that you might be aware of. One that I especially recall is the 1920 Monroe Model S Touring car produced in Indianapolis by the William Small Company. Gaston Chevrolet won the 1920 Indianapolis 500-mile race in a Monroe designed by his brother Louis and sponsored by William Small.

1932 Cord L-29
1932 Cord L-29

I encourage you to visit the Indiana Automobiles: Precision over Production exhibit to experience Indiana’s automotive legacy.

For more information on our automotive heritage, follow this link.