Claude E. Cox demonstrated the first Overland automobile at the Standard Wheel Works at 13th and Plum streets in Terre Haute on February 12, 1903. The Wheel Works was the largest manufacturer of wheels in the world at the time with three plants in Ohio, and one in Michigan, Fort Wayne, and Indianapolis. General offices were in Terre Haute along with a facility that specialized in heavy wheels for wagons and trucks.
Cox designed the Overland as part of his thesis while he was a student at Rose Polytechnic Institute. He also worked at the Wheel Works as a salesman while he was studying at the nearby college. The runabout used a five-h.p., single-cylinder engine and planetary transmission. His design had several innovations and received an unusual amount of attention. Cox placed the engine of his car in the front, remarking that it was the “logical” place for it. Cox also improved the seating arrangement by making the entrance to the rear seat compartment through the sides rather than through the rear of the auto as in earlier models.
The Wheel Works devoted the second story of one of the new buildings to manufacturing Overlands. Demand for the autos increased to the point that it was difficult to produce the necessary quantity at the Terre Haute facility. In January 1905, Overland operations moved to Indianapolis facilities at 900-1300 West Henry Street. Cox went to Indianapolis as manager of the Overland Automobile Department of the Standard Wheel Works. He improved the 1905 models with the addition of a shaft drive and a steering wheel.
More financial backing was required when Standard sold the car and manufacturing rights to David M. Parry who formed The Overland Automobile Company in March 31, 1906. Parry previously had made a personal fortune manufacturing buggies and carriages.
Shortly before the national panic of 1907, John North Willys contracted with Overland to manufacture 500 cars in 1908 and paid $10,000 to bind the agreement. This gave the factory the financial ability to increase its facilities. During the panic, Overland noted that it could not fill its contract nor meet its current payroll. Over a weekend, Willys raised the $350 and deposited it to the credit of the Overland Company.
Bankruptcy was stalled for the moment on the pledge that the company would be reorganized with Willys as president, treasurer, general manager, sales manager, and purchasing agent. Overland resumed production. In 1908, Willys built 465 four-cylinder Model 24 automobiles, paid the most pressing debts, and showed a profit of $58,000.
By September 1909, with the inevitable improvement in credit and the available cash, Willys took over the plant of the Pope auto manufacturing facilities in Toledo, Ohio. This became the home of his Willys auto empire and production started on a new automobile that he named the Willys-Overland.
Willys assembled Willys-Overlands in Indianapolis through the 1911 model year. Then the plant produced component parts for Willys-Overland until 1923.
Claude Cox continued to be affiliated with the automobile industry all of his life. In 1909, he left Indianapolis and joined the Inter-State Automobile Company in Muncie. In two years he left Muncie for the Wilcox Motor Car Co. in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Then, in 1912, he became the director of research for General Motors Company in Detroit, Michigan. At the time of his death in 1964, Cox was president of Bartlett Research, Inc., an automotive research firm in Detroit.
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