Transitioned from a successful buggy builder to a respected manufacturer of automobiles
The company eventually known as both as The Elkhart Carriage and Motor Car Company and the Elcar Motor Company serves as an excellent example of the typical firm that made the transition from a successful buggy builder to a respected manufacturer of quality-assembled automobiles.
The story actually begins with the Elkhart Carriage and Harness Manufacturing Company, whose predecessor was started in 1873 to produce buggies and carriages. In 1906, Elkhart Carriage founders William B. and George B. Pratt developed their first experimental model. In 1908, they began manufacturing the Pratt-Elkhart. The company’s first motor buggy reflected its roots. It was typical of many other highwheelers of the day offering a high-ground clearance to clear obstructions encountered while driving in the country.
By early summer 1909, the brothers recognized that providing a more conventional shaft-driven automobile was the market’s direction. This new medium-sized Pratt-Elkhart Model 30-35 automobile was offered as a 1910 model.
New models soon followed:
- The 1912 Pratt-Forty at the end of 1911
- The Pratt-Thirty by mid-1912
- The Pratt-Fifty at the end of 1912
- The Pratt-Sixth at the end of 1913
- The 1915 Pratt Six-Fifty
- The 1915 Pratt Four-Forty
- The 1915 Eight-Fifty series.
In August 1915, William and George Pratt invited a number of individuals to invest in their company. The corporate name was changed to Elkhart Carriage and Motor Car Company and the car’s name of Pratt to Elcar. The new executives realized that the firm’s wealth lay with producing a popular-sized car versus a mid- to high-priced car like the predecessor Pratt, which was priced around $2,000.
Photo courtesy of William S. Locke
To accommodate public demand for lower-priced cars, The Elkhart Carriage and Motor Car Company decided to offer a four-cylinder Elcar Model B for about $800 in 1916. It was advertised as “The Car for the Many.”
As a result of World War I, the company contracted to produce military ambulance bodies for the army in May 1918. Automobile production resumed in 1919 with a carryover of the 1918 models. The line-up consisted of four each of the four-cylinder and six-cylinder models. Elcar, like most other manufacturers, enjoyed the immediate post-war boom in 1919 with record production. The recession of 1920 quickly followed. In the last quarter of 1920, Elkhart began offering sales incentives to dealers. By the end of the year, the company had reported its first loss during one of its greatest sales years.
On June 29, 1922, the Pratts retired and sold their operating control of the company to a group of executives from the Auburn Automobile Company. At the same time, the corporate name changed to Elcar Motor Company. In late 1922, Elcar also entered the taxicab market. The company produced cabs under many names including El Fay, Martel, Paragon, and Royal Martel.
Elcar’s new line-up debuted at the January 1923 auto shows. Popular options for the 1924 model year were balloon tires and four-wheel brakes.
Beginning in 1926, Elcar executives began to concentrate on its six- and eight-cylinder offerings because of their larger profit margin versus the highly competitive four-cylinder market. By the end of the year, they ceased offering four-cylinders.
Late in the decade, Elcar continued to pride itself in its adaptability in essentially custom building various body styles.
By mid-summer 1929, Elcar—as well as most auto manufacturers across America—saw a drastic slow down. The stock market crash of October 1929 hit simultaneously with Elcar’s introduction of its 1930 models. The company had so much material on hand that some of it was not used up until 1931.
The company struggled to hold on, but entered receivership in October 1931. Elcar Motor Company ceased operations in 1932. A few more cars and taxicabs were built from parts on hand until late 1933.
Elcar’s last model, the Model 140 offered the third most powerful standard American production car for 1930, trailing only Cadillac’s V-16 and the Duesenberg Straight 8. Elcar’s offerings could match the best-built American autos of the day, but quality-assembled automobiles could not match economically the cars built by mass producers.
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