Tag Archives: David M. Parry

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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Overland’s Indiana origins

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.

1903 Overland
1903 Overland
Copyright © 1903 Standard Wheel Company

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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David M. Parry transportation visionary

Prior to starting the Indianapolis-based Parry Auto Company in summer 1909, David M. Parry was president of the Parry Manufacturing Company for 27 years. The company was among the largest carriage factories in the word in the 1890’s. Parry was also a principal stockholder in the Overland Automobile Company, which he relinquished to John N. Willys in 1907.

Some of the early Parry auto production took place in seven Standard Wheel Works facilities at 1140-60 Division Street, before Parry buildings were completed. He offered the Parry as a two-passenger roadster and five passenger touring car with four-cylinder overhead valve engines, priced from $1,285 to $1,485. A December 9, 1909 Motor Age article stated that Parry planned to build 5,000 autos in 1910. Parry production did not meet this benchmark, thus forcing the company into receivership due to heavy equipment outlays.

1911 New Parry
1911 New Parry ad

In 1911, after reorganizing the firm as the Motor Car Manufacturing Company, the car name was changed to New Parry. The only thing new in this offering was the name. The two-passenger roadster and five passenger touring car were essentially duplicates of the previous offerings. Additional models were a four-passenger touring car and a four-passenger demi-tonneau. These four cylinder models were priced from $1,350 to $1,750.

The Pathfinder introduced in 1912 succeeded the New Parry as a boattail speedster. It was noted for several advanced body innovations, such as the disappearing top and a spare wheel cover. Initially, Pathfinders had four cylinder engines, followed by sixes with V radiators. The Pathfinder was issued a certificate of performance by the Royal Automobile Club following its participation in a trial in 1912.

1916 Pathfinder ad
1916 Pathfinder ad

The company was reorganized as The Pathfinder Company in 1916. The year also saw the introduction of a model with a Weidley 12 cylinder engine called Pathfinder the Great, King of Twelves. These models ranged from $2,750 for a seven-passenger touring car to $4,800 for a special enclosed body car. Shortage of materials during World War I severely handicapped Pathfinder operations. In December 1917, the company was liquidated in receivership.

David M. Parry’s 1906 estate, called Golden Hill, gave its name to the historic Indianapolis neighborhood that arose when his family divided the property into residential building lots. The original Parry mansion and its 4.5-acre site has been restored and is on the market. Follow this link for more information.

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