Overland the one that got away

As far as Indianapolis and Indiana are concerned, the Overland automobile was the big one that got away.

The Overland was the creation of Claude E. Cox, a recent graduate of Terre Haute’s Rose Polytechnic Institute in June 1902. The automobile was part of his senior thesis project at Rose for which he devised a four-wheel automobile.

1903 Overland
1903 Overland
Copyright © 1903 Standard Wheel Company

The revised Overland was tested while he worked at the Standard Wheel Company in Terre Haute in February 1903. By January 1905, the facilities at the Terre Haute were cramped, and Cox moved the automotive department to the Standard Wheel facilities in Indianapolis.

In March 1906, David M. Parry put up the majority of the money to organize the Overland Automobile Company in addition to his Parry Manufacturing Company factory at Oliver Avenue and Drover Street in Indianapolis.

John North Willys, an automobile dealer from Elmira, New York, soon contracted with Overland for 500 of its cars. During the Panic of 1907, he learned that Overland was in dire financial straits and the company couldn’t fill the orders. When he came to Indianapolis to scrutinize Overland’s operations, he learned that the company was essentially one day away from receivership. Willys worked with a local hotel proprietor to raise the cash to cover a personal check to cover Overland’s payroll.

Willys ascended to president and general manager in early 1908, and over 400 cars were produced that year, followed by over 4,000 in 1909. Overland returned to profitability, and Willys acquired the Marion Motor Company of Indianapolis that same year. He also acquired the idle Pope-Toledo factory in Toledo, Ohio, at the same time.

In the modernized Willys-Overland facilities in Toledo, the company soon built over 12,000 cars. Thus, all the Overland automotive operations soon moved to Toledo.

This plant went on to produce the Willys Jeep during and after World War II. In fact, Fiat Chrysler America’s Jeep production is headquartered in the Toledo complex.

That’s the story of Overland’s the one that got away.

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