By the early 1920’s, the motor car was starting to become a popular form of transportation, due to the increased reliability of cars, as well as the improvements to roads. This drew many people to the automotive industry, wanting to produce their own cars and make a profit from sales. Many of these companies folded quickly. There were however, some companies that were set up as stock frauds to make a quick profit for the company principals, with no serious intention to produce cars at all. One of these was the Ranger.
The genesis of the Ranger was the creation in Houston in 1920 of the Southern Motors Manufacturing Association. Along with the production of trucks, tractors and trailers, an automobile was planned, which was given the name Ranger. The car was announced to the general public in the September 26, 1920 edition of the Houston Post, with manufacture planned to take place in a 343,500 square feet factory on 52 acres on the north-eastern outskirts of Houston. A lavish promotional brochure was printed, extolling the size and capabilities of the factory.
The Ranger A-20 consisted of two body styles – an open tourer and a roadster. Both models were powered by a 4-cylinder engine built in-house. The engine produced 31 horsepower, and was claimed to be designed especially for the hot Texas climate. The car had a 116-inch (294-cm) wheelbase. The Ranger featured a black chassis and mudguards, and a choice of two colours for the body – “Ranger Maroon”, or “Blevins Blue”, named after the company president, Jacques E Blevins, of whom more will be revealed later. The tourer was priced at $1,850, while the roadster was priced at $1,595. A top speed of 50 mph (80 kmh) was claimed. In a further bid to highlight the virtues of the Ranger, Southern Motors claimed that prototypes had been subjected to a 35,000 mile (56,000 kilometre) road test.
In 1921, a larger model on a 123-inch (312-cm) wheelbase and powered by a 6-cylinder engine developing 57 horsepower was announced in the middle of 1921. This car was priced at $3,550.
It is believed that production of the 6-cylinder model never eventuated, as the company was placed in receivership in mid-1922. The Ranger would have been forgotten, except that in 1924 fourteen people who had been involved with the Southern Motors Manufacturing Association were indicted for fraudulent selling of stocks. Government prosecutors claimed that $6,000,000 dollars had been collected from unsuspecting members of the public, and that the total production of the Ranger was a handful of cars, “largely for stock selling purposes and many times at a loss”. The chief instigator of the scheme was company president Blevins, who had resigned as Secretary of the American Fire Insurance Association in August 1917, prior to establishing the Southern Motors Manufacturing Association. Blevins was also a Vice President of the Breckenridge State Bank & Trust Co. of Breckenridge, Texas, and was involved in many community organisations, giving him the credibility of a local businessman who wanted to bring manufacturing profit and success to Houston.
In order to give the impression to prospective shareholders that production of the Ranger had commenced, and cars were ready for sale, prosecutors claimed that the handful of completed cars were shuffled back and forth between the company’s lavish showrooms in Houston and the factory on Wallisville Road. Shareholders were entertained at both locations, unaware that they were looking at the same cars in both locations. These cars were sold at cost in 1923 when the company was liquidated, and at least one car survives today, an A-20 tourer. The irony of the demise of the Ranger was that according to all reports it was a well-engineered and assembled car, which may have succeeded on its own merits.