October 9, 2015, marked the 107th anniversary of the introduction of the first Cole Solid Tire Automobile. Joseph J. Cole’s motto was to build the finest, incorporating most of the best. By the end of the company’s drive through history, it contributed several innovations to the automotive industry.
Cole’s story starts with founder Joseph Jarrett Cole, who started working in the carriage business in about 1888. He served as a salesman and corporate executive for the Parry Manufacturing Company of Indianapolis, one of the world’s largest makers of buggies, surreys, and wagons. Later, he rose to secretary and principal stockholder at the Joseph W. Moon Company of St. Louis, Missouri, before branching out on his own.
In November 1904, Cole purchased a one-half interest in the Gates-Osborne Carriage Company of Indianapolis. He became president and changed the name to The Cole Carriage Company on December 4, 1905. The company was known for its full line of vehicles.
Cole had enough foresight to know that the automobile would replace horse-drawn vehicles and began to think seriously about building an automobile in early 1908. The first Cole Solid Tire Automobile was ready for inspection on October 9, 1908. The high wheeled car was designed for the road conditions of the day with solid rubber tires.
J. J. Cole adopted the phrase “The Standardized Car” for his product, thus indicating that Cole used components that were “the standard by which all cars would be judged in the future.” He ran a six page ad in the July 26, 1913, issue of the Saturday Evening Post, which was the largest automobile ad ever purchased to that date.
On July 12, 1913, chief engineer Charles W. Crawford and three Cole officials drove a Cole 30 cross-country from Indianapolis to Chicago, then to San Francisco and Los Angeles. They drove back to San Francisco, Vancouver, British Columbia, returned to Portland, Oregon, and then back to Indianapolis. The trip was accomplished without incident, except stopping to repair tires.
Cole Motor Company introduced the new Cole V-8 to the line-up, introducing it at the Chicago Automobile Show in January 1915. The new V-8 was designed by Charles Crawford and manufactured for Cole by the Northway Manufacturing Company of Detroit. The Cole V-8 consisted of two banks of four cylinders each, cast en-bloc with the upper half of the crankcase. Most engines of the period had removable cylinder blocks bolted to the crankcase. Each cylinder head was attached to the block by 18 bolts, with a copper asbestos head gasket.
During World War I, Cole facilities were not adequate for war production, the government permitted Cole to continue building passenger cars. After enjoying many years of prosperity, Cole began losing money in the wake of the post World War I recession. The recession brought a decline in all business activity as well as a serious curtailment of automobile sales.
In 1923, Cole Motor Car Company inaugurated a new method for creating new model mock-ups. A sculptor’s clay-processing plant operated on Indianapolis’ west side. Cole instructed his design engineers to use clay over wooden forms because the semi-hardened clay was more easily sculpted than solid wood. The shaped and hardened clay was painted and allowed management to envision what the new models would look like. Competitors soon adopted this styling method that Cole innovated.
The success of other manufacturers’ low-priced, mass-produced cars cut the volume of Cole cars. Production ceased completely in October 1924. In January 1925, while his company was still solvent, J. J. Cole chose to liquidate rather than jeopardize the remaining assets of the corporation.
Cole made a total of over 40,700 automobiles. Each model was a quality product, with the best material, craftsmanship and design available for the time. For a brief period, Cole was second only to Cadillac in volume of sales in its price range. This little-known manufacturer contributed several innovations to the automotive industry.