Tag Archives: Joseph J. Cole

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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Taking a ride in the first Cole Solid Tire Automobile

The Cole Motor Car Company is one example of an automobile manufacturer that evolved from Indiana’s carriage industry.

The Cole 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 carriage makers Parry Manufacturing Company of Indianapolis and the Moon Brothers Carriage Company of St. Louis for about 16 years.

Joseph J. Cole and Nellie Cole with the first Cole
Joseph J. Cole and Nellie Cole with the first Cole

In November 1904, Cole purchased a one-half interest for $25,000 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 began to think seriously about building an automobile in early 1908 and secured the permission of the other board members to build a model for the company to manufacture. At about the same time, the company employed Charles S. Crawford, a graduate engineer from Washington University, to assist Cole in developing the automobile.

Legend has it that Joseph J. Cole was so excited about the prospect of driving the first car of his design that he forgot to include one important accessory—the brakes.

He spent most of the afternoon on his initial test run driving around and around Monument Circle in downtown Indianapolis until the car ran out of gas, providing the necessary means to stop the car.

Soon, the first Cole Solid Tire Automobile was ready for the board’s inspection on October 9, 1908. The car was designed for the road conditions of the day.

A second model was completed and shown to the directors on June 1, 1909. Because of their favorable impression of this second car, board members voted to incorporate as The Cole Motor Car Company on June 22, 1909. This conventional second model was known as the Cole Model 30. The company sold 112 units of the Model 30 by the end of 1909. In 1910, an additional 783 were sold and another 1,316 in 1911.

By the end of the company’s drive through history, Cole contributed several innovations to the automotive industry.

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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.

Perilous Drives

Charles H. Black of Indianapolis was one of the early automotive pioneers. He probably was also one of the first Americans to actually drive an automobile, a German-made Benz in 1891.

Black 10-passenger Wagonette
Black 10-passenger Wagonette

This historic journey in Indianapolis resulted in another automotive first, according to an account related by Black’s mechanic. During this six-block drive, Black crashed into a surrey when the horses became frightened – the first automobile accident. At the next turn, the car drove into the Occidental Hotel shop window, thereby, creating the second automobile accident. The third happened when the auto destroyed another shop window a few feet away.

Acting in accordance with the suggestions from the police, Black and his passengers drove back to his carriage factory, ending one of the first automobile journeys in America.


Joseph J. and Nellie Cole in first car
Joseph J. and Nellie Cole in first car

In 1908, Joseph J. Cole entered the newly established automobile manufacturing field in Indianapolis. He was so excited about the prospect of driving his first automobile that he forgot that one important accessory was missing – the brakes. He spend most of the afternoon on this initial test drive driving around and around Monument Circle in downtown until the car ran out of gas, providing the necessary means to stop the car. He then had the car towed back to his shop.


Carl G. Fisher w 1913 Packard Runabout
Carl G. Fisher w 1913 Packard Runabout

A story about Carl G. Fisher, one of the founders of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Lincoln Highway, illustrates the lack of adequate facilities for traveling any distance in the early days of the automobile. Around 1912, Fisher and a few friends were driving in unfamiliar territory nine miles outside the city limits of Indianapolis. Night fell along with a torrent of rain. In an open – top car, Fisher and his friends were drenched is seconds and miserably lost. There were no street lights to guide them in the pitch black night or road signs marking the way.

They did, however, feel comfortable that they had guessed the way back home until they came to a three-way fork in the road. No one was sure which fork to take, but someone thought he saw a sign at the top of a pole. Fisher lost the competition as to who would have to climb the pole to read the sign. So, he shinnied up the pole and attempted to light a match so that he could read the sign. One match after another was extinguished by the rain. Finally, one lit so that Fisher could read the sign-“Chew Battle-Ax Plug.”

This experience may have been one reason that Fisher became one of the automotive pioneers responsible for making night travel and long distance drives a reality. Fisher was instrumental in developing head lights and building modern highway systems.

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