Tag Archives: Cole Motor Car Company

1911 Cole Model 30 Torpedo Roadster displayed at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum

The 1911 Cole Model 30 Torpedo Roadster displayed at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum is an excellent example of the early Cole automobiles. Visit the Indiana Automobiles: Precision over Production exhibit today.

1911 Cole Torpedo Roadster
1911 Cole Torpedo Roadster

In the early months of 1908, Joseph J. Cole began to give serious thought to building an automobile and secured the permission of the other board members of the The Cole Carriage Company to build an automobile that the company might manufacture. The first Cole Solid Tire Automobile was ready for the board’s inspection on October 9, 1908.

The first Cole’s carriage appearance was the result of its design to meet the road conditions of the day. It was a primitive high wheeler with solid tires, powered by a 14 hp air-cooled flat twin engine. In the next seven months, the Cole Carriage Company built 170 solid tire cars retailing from $725 to $775.

The Model 30 introduced in 1910, was successful in racing events around the country. They captured the Massapequa Trophy in the Vanderbilt Cup Race, in addition to numerous other contests on both East and West coasts, including a 24-hour marathon at Brighton Beach.

Plans for the new 1912 Cole Model 40 were reviewed by the board in November 1911. This model included a Leonard Electric lighting system, a Prest-O-Lite self-starter, a Bosh dual ignition, a Schebler carburetor, and Firestone pneumatic tires with demountable rims. Their second newcomer, the Speedster was built for “The man who wants to get there first.” Each and every Speedster was tested at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and guaranteed to go 70 miles per hour. Other major improvements for 1913 include shifting the driver’s seat from the right to the left side of the car and the adoption of the Delco “starting, lighting, and ignition system.”

The “Cole Eight” made its debut in January 1915. With this introduction, Cole became the second manufacturer after Cadillac to offer a V-8 engine. Cole headlined the “Berline Limousine,” a large model that seated six in the spacious body. The early part of 1916 marked the shift to total eight-cylinder engine production.

The year 1917 saw the introduction of the unique “Cole Toursedan,” designed to give the motorist a closed car in the winter and an open touring car in the summer. The Toursedan had a permanent top and could be transformed to a touring car by storing all of the windows and the upper sections of the door frames in provided compartments.

The Cole “Aero-Eight” was displayed at the New York Auto Show in January 1918. The V-8 engine, rated at 80 h.p., had a counterbalanced crankshaft and aluminum-alloy pistons. In 1919 marked a high point for the company and was very near the actual capacity of the plant. This ranked Cole as second only to Cadillac among America’s high-priced automakers.

The recession brought a decline in all business activity as well as a serious curtailment of automobile sales. The success of the low-price, mass-produced cars cut the volume of Cole class cars approximately 50 percent.

In 1922, Cole had all aluminum bodies on three of the five closed models. Cole added another “first” to its credit in September 1923 by introducing “balloon tires” as standard equipment on the Volante model. The Firestone Balloon Tire operated at 25 p.s.i. versus the 70 p.s.i. in a standard tire. The 1924 Master Models offered a newly designed multiple disc, self-adjusting clutch. Production of the Cole automobile ceased 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. The 1925 Cole Brouette on display at the Speedway Museum is one of the last Coles built.

A total of 40,717 automobiles bear the Cole name. Each and every automobile was a quality product, utilizing the best material and craftsmanship available, and designed in the latest manner. These characteristics were all a symbol of the J. J. Cole, who had built them, a man who truly possessed a touch of tomorrow is all he did.

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Cole “The Standardized Car”

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.

1912 Cole
1912 Cole

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.

1918 Cole with Willoughby body
1918 Cole with Willoughby body

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.

Indianapolis auto heritage

Indianapolis was a commercial producer of automobiles and taxicabs from 1897 to 1937. The Circle City, with 65 different vehicles manufactured here, ranked second to Cleveland, with 82, as Detroit’s chief rival for the title of the nation’s auto capital.

David L. Lewis notes in The Automobile in American Culture that until 1905 Indianapolis contained more auto plants than did any city in Michigan. Indianapolis makes, like Duesenberg, Marmon, and Stutz, are highly sought after by collectors today and have achieved the “Classic” designation from the Classic Car Club of America. Plus, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway brought acclaim for the city as the birthplace for many engineering improvements and played an important part in the development process for Indianapolis makers as well as other autos.

Stutz Motor Car Company
Stutz Motor Car Company

As with the majority of manufacturers around the state, the companies in Indianapolis were primarily assemblers. They concentrated on providing uniqueness to their products, which proved to be their undoing. They were not able to compete with the mass producers who could control all components of the process and, therefore, offer a product at a much lower price.

Many of the buildings that housed the movers and shakers of Indianapolis automotive industry still stand. Capitol Avenue has the nucleus of what might be regarded as an Indianapolis automotive heritage district.

HCS Motor Car Co., 1402 N. Capitol Ave., 1920-1927
Harry V. Hyatt, Graham-Paige Showroom, 1327 N. Capitol Ave., 1929
Stutz Motor Car Co., 1008 N. Capitol Ave., 1916-1935
Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co., 640 N. Capitol Ave., 1913
Frank Hatfield Ford Showroom, 627 N. Capitol Ave. 1920
Williams Building Showroom, 611-617 N. Capitol Ave. 1916-1917
William Small Co., (Monroe Factory), 602 N. Capitol Ave., 1918-1923
Cadillac Co. of Indiana Showroom, 500-514 N. Capitol Ave., 1910-1911
Gibson Co. Building (Willys-Overland affiliation), 433-447 N. Capitol Ave. 1916-1917

Duesenberg Final Assembly
Duesenberg Final Assembly

The Duesenberg Motor Car Company (1920-1937) final assembly building is situated at 1511 W. Washington Street. At 1225 W. Harding Street is the Marmon complex (1919-1932).

The former home of the Cole Motor Car Company (1913-1925) is at 730 E. Washington Street, and at 1307-1323 E. Washington is the Ford Motor Company (1914-1932) branch. This plant produced over 581,000 vehicles for the Indiana Region.

These buildings serve as an overview of the over 40 existing sites of Indianapolis automotive heritage. Occasionally one of the existing structures is demolished. There needs to be a way to better recognize these heritage sites for posterity. Let us know your thoughts.

For a personal tour of various Indianapolis automotive sites, follow this link.