The shadowy “Owen” motor car

There have been many examples of “shadowy” makes in motoring history, with little hard evidence of any manufacturing.  Some of these were linked with stock market fraud to fleece investors and customers. The granddaddy of the “shadowy” makes was the Owen, a make with at least six different names, listed on and off for 36 years, no press descriptions after 1902, no road tests, advertisements or even a photo to show that even just one Owen was built.

The first reference to an Owen car was in March 1901, when Edward Hugh Owen announced that the Automobile Transport Company of Comeragh Rd, West Kensington, London was building a 3.5 hp voiturette called the Twentieth Century. By December of that year, Owen told the Motor Car Journal that he was prepared to take orders for 9, 12, 16 or 24 hp cars, with delivery in early 1902. In January 1902 the company name had changed to the Twentieth Century Travel Co, and the cars were now named Lococars. Only one model was described, a 24 hp powered by a 4-cylinder engine. No illustration was forthcoming.

By 1905 the company had reverted to the name of the Automobile Transport Company, and was listing cars under four different names – 10hp Parisia, 20hp Londonia, 30hp Twentieth Century and 40hp Owen’s Gearless. These cars were listed up to the beginning of World War 1, along with a 60hp model listed up to 1913. Cars named Models A, B & C were said to have been made during World War 1. Owen provided details of chassis numbers, but this doesn’t prove that complete cars were manufactured. While most makes would provide names of famous people who drove their cars in publicity materials and advertising, Owen conveniently said “On Application”, thus hiding the fact that no cars had been built and sold.

After World War 1 Owen listed the smaller Orleans model, with 10hp, 15hp and 20hp models. The first 8-cylinder car was listed in 1921 – the Model OE with a 5.3 litre V8 engine, 2-speed gearbox and a starter motor and carburetor of Owen’s own manufacture. A chassis price of £2,250 pounds was quoted, £150 pounds more expensive than a Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost. The car was actually illustrated in the “Buyers’ Guide”, (picture below) but the side view is suspiciously like the American Kenworthy, with slight retouching. The Kenworthy was never offered for sale in Great Britain and would be thus sufficiently obscure to be unknown to most British readers – another example of Owen’s cunning.

 

1921 Owen Eight
The only known photograph of an Owen car.

In 1925 the V8 gave way to 7.6 litre straight-8 engined model with a chassis price of £1850, which was steadily reduced to £1775 in 1929, staying at that price until the Owen disappeared from buyers lists in 1935. Owen never took any paid advertising in any known magazine. All of the lists which contain details of the Owen are in buyers’ guides and insurance manuals, which would have been free insertions.

Two addresses in Comeragh Road pop up in regard to the Owen – Nos 6 and 72. No. 72 is part of a terrace of late-Victorian era houses with no commercial premises. No. 6 consists of a small shops with a flat above, so once gain there is no chance of any manufacturing taking place there. Links to other cars produced around the same time and in the same area show that the Owen was not one of these cars. The most plausible explanation is that EH Owen was a fantasist in the Walter Mitty mould, and judging by all of the contradictions in his history and specifications of the car, not a very good one.

Nick Georgano’s “Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile”, Stationary Office, London, 2000, was used as the source for this blog post.

1930 Marquette

The Marquette was introduced by Buick in the wake of the success that Oakland had discovered with its Pontiac, and Cadillac with the La Salle. It was a companion car, a distinct marque of its own, but produced and marketed under the aegis of the Buick Motor Company. A small car on a 114-inch wheelbase, the Marquette was powered by an L-head six cylinder engine, unlike the famous Buick famous valve-in-head engine. It was offered in six body styles in the $1,000 price range, and rushed into production on the 1st of June 1929, nearly two months before the introduction of Buick’s 1930 model line (It was common practice then for cars built in the second half of a year to be classified as a model of the next year).

Promotion was vigorous, and press reaction was favourable. Although the car looked like Oldsmobile, another General Motors marque, one reporter called the Marquette “a small edition of the Cadillac”. Its herringbone-pattern radiator core set it apart from other GM marques.

1930 Marquette Model 34 Sports Roadster - the herringbone radiator pattern can clearly be seen.
1930 Marquette Model 34 Sports Roadster – the herringbone radiator pattern can clearly be seen.

If the Marquette did not shine in styling or engineering, it did in performance, with a maximum speed of nearly 70 mph. A Marquette was driven from Death Valley in California to the top of Pikes Peak in Colorado with no problem at all, covering the 778 miles in 40 hours and 45 minutes.  It seemed that the car had a strong and successful future, but this was not to be. The stock market crash of late 1929 occurred shortly after the car’s release, and with sales being slightly sluggish, Buick cancelled production of the Marquette after just one year. Buick production had been declining each year in the late 1920’s, and the company decided to produce an “economy” car at a slightly lower price to bring in money to the company. The company was also planning on bringing out a full range of straight-8 engine powered Buicks in 1931, and thus the company wanted to concentrate on getting these cars right prior to their introduction.

Total production of the Marquette was approximately 40,000 cars, with 35,000 being built in the United States and 5,000 cars being built in Canada. Approximately 760 chassis were imported into Australia and fitted with Holden bodies.

1920-1922 Ferris Six

Ferris

The Ohio Motor Vehicle Company of Cleveland, Ohio decided to get into the car manufacturing business in 1920, after previously manufacturing trailers. They named their new car the Ferris, after Ohio secretary-treasurer William E Ferris. Like may cars of this era, the Ferris was an “assembled” car, in that most of the major mechanical components (engine, gearbox, wheels) were purchased from outside suppliers, and then assembled at the company’s Cleveland factory.

For all of its life the Ferris was powered by a Continental 9N 6-cylinder engine. The C-20 and C-21 Models were offered for sale in 1920 and 1921, with prices ranging from $3350 for a touring car and sports sedan through to $4875 for a closed sedan. Bodywork was one area which made the Ferris stand out from other assembled cars. Aluminium bodies looked custom-built, the high curved radiator was distinctive, and disc wheels with side-mounted spares were offered as standard equipment. The Ferris had the advertising slogan of “The Car of Character”, and in promotional literature the Ferris was dedicated “to the man who would not live on a street where all houses are alike.” To help project this image, the majority of publicity photos of the various Ferris models were taken in front of the exclusive Union Club in Cleveland.

In 1922 two new models were introduced – the Model 60 and Model 70, with six different body styles for each model. Prices for the Model 60 ranged from $2595 for the tourer through to $3895 for the sports sedan, while prices for the Model 70 ranged from $2795 for the tourer through to $4100 for the sports sedan.

Like many independent manufacturers of this era, the 1921 mini-recession dealt a fatal blow to the company. The company went into receivership in the middle of 1921, and this arrangement continued until production finally ended in 1922. Total Ferris production was approximately 440 cars. The drawing at the top of this blog entry is a 1921 C-20 or C-21 Sports Sedan.

The following books and websites were used in the preparation of this blog entry:

Beverly Rae Kimes and Henry Austin Clark, Jr, “The Standard Catalog of American Cars: 1805-1942”, 3rd edition, Krause Publications, Iola, WI, 1996
Nick Georgano “The Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile”, Stationery Office, London, ENG, 2000

The Holderness Motorist’s Guide for New South Wales – 1915

Through my interest in early Australian motoring history, I have made contacts with several like-minded individuals, one of whom sent me a hard copy of this very interesting and informative publication.

Holderness

The bulk of the guide is the complete listing of all persons who owned motor cars in my home state of New South Wales in early 1915, as well as other items of interest for motorists. Holderness Motors Limited were located in the eastern Sydney suburb of Randwick, and were one of the largest hire-car operators in Sydney at the time. From what I can gather, similar guides had been published by Holderness since at least 1910. Holderness offered a direct marketing service to advertisers by providing envelopes with addresses of the car owners mentioned in the Guide, into which advertising materials could be placed.

Here are examples of some of the information contained in the Guide:

  • The speed limit within four miles of the General Post Office was 15 mph.
  • Drivers were not to drive a car backwards more than what is absolutely necessary.
  • All of the towns where petrol could be obtained were listed, so that drivers on country trips could fill up and not end up running out of petrol between towns.

Up to the end of March 31, there were 10,734 privately registered motor vehicles in New South Wales. The most popular makes were:

  1.  Ford                2,144
  2. Overland          659
  3. Buick               403
  4. Hupmobile       390
  5. Renault            361
  6. Talbot              350
  7. FIAT                 288
  8. Studebaker     263

There were 583 cars in total whose individual makes had less then 10 cars registered, along with 68 cars whose makes were unknown. Some of the lesser known makes to feature on the list include Astor, Chenard-Walcker, Pierce-Arrow, Lacre, New Parry, I.H.C, Briscoe, Simms-Welbeck, Deasy, New Pick, Innes, Mors, Black Crow, Thomas Flyer, Orient, Rochet-Schneider, Vermorel, Gladiator, Hall, Mass, Bell, Penn, Kissell, La Licorne, Bentall, Unic, Paterson, Adams, Hansa, Alpena, Winton, Marion, Jackson and Abbott.

Every motor car dealer in New South Wales was located either in the Sydney central business district, or in an inner suburb such as Redfern, Glebe or Petersham. It wasn’t until after the end of World War 1 that dealerships were established in country towns. If a country resident bought a car, the firm would send a driver to personally deliver the car to the customer. The driver would then give the owner some basic information on simple mechanical repairs, and possibly even include a driving lesson. The driver would then have to arrange his own way back to the dealership.

Number plates were pretty simple – starting at #1 and working upwards. The first number in use in New South Wales was #2, and the largest number was #13908. Taxi-cab number plates were included in these plates as well.

Australian car dealerships – 1925

With the recent announcements that Ford, Holden and Toyota will cease to manufacture cars in Australia from 2017, this will mean that Australia will need to import all passenger cars from then on. This is not a new phenomenon. Up to the mid 1920’s, there was no large scale car manufacture in Australia. The only exceptions were stillborn attempts like the Australian Six.

Here is an interesting list from a February 1925 edition of the Australian “Motor Life” magazine, showing which makes of passenger cars were imported into Australia, and which companies imported them.

 

Dist

 

The first thing to notice is the number of makes, along with the range of countries from which these cars originated. Back then many countries had well-established car manufacturing industries, with many different makes. In 2014, very few of the makes on the 1925 list are still manufacturing cars – Bentley, Buick, Cadillac, Chrysler, Chevrolet, Citroen, Dodge, Fiat, Ford, Lancia, Lincoln, Mercedes-Benz, Opel, Peugeot, Renault, Rolls-Royce and Vauxhall are the only survivors. CASE still manufacture agricultural machinery, having stopped car production in 1927. The list also shows how motoring in Australia in the mid 1920’s was concentrated in the two most populated states – New South Wales and Victoria.  The island state Tasmania is not listed at all – I presume that there were dealerships in Tasmania, but they were not worth mentioning by the “mainland” motoring press!

Many of the dealers in Sydney and Melbourne did not concentrate on one make, instead importing a wide range of vehicles, eg AV Turner was the dealer for Benz, Diatto, Itala, while Boyd Edkins was the dealer for Humber, Mercer, Oldsmobile and Vauxhall. The Rugby listed was the car built by Durant as the Star. As there was an English manufacturer called Star importing cars into Australia, the name was changed to Rugby to avoid confusion. I have no idea if the name change lead to increased sales in Queensland and New South Wales, where Rugby League and Rugby Union were the two most popular winter football codes. The Stanley Steamer was the last gasp for steam-powered passenger cars. By the early 1920’s, the internal combustion engine was a fully reliable power source, so the advantages held by steam early in the 20th century had dissipated. 1924 was the last year of production for a full range of cars,  with production dwindling until finally stopping in 1927.

Gray Four

Gray Four

I mentioned in an earlier post that I have a keen interest in 1920’s era cars, and especially the many and varied “independent” makes which were a part of the US motor industry during this decade. The Gray is a classic example.

The Gray Motor Corporation was founded in Detroit, Michigan in 1922, as an offshoot of the Gray Motor Company, which had supplied engines to other car makes of the era.

Many of the executive personnel were ex-Ford Motor Company employees, including treasurer Frank L Klingensmith. They decided to take on Henry Ford and his hugely successful Model T in the low-price market. The Gray was powered by a 2.8 litre 20 hp four-cylinder engine, and shared the same wheelbase as the Model T – 2,358mm.

Unlike the Model T’s planetary transmission, the Gray featured a conventional three-speed unit, and suspension was by cantilever springs at the front and rear. The Gray was unable to compete with Ford on price – the roadster and tourer costing $490 and $520, compared with the Ford prices of $364 for a roadster and $348 for a tourer. Gray had predicted that they would manufacture 250,000 cars a year, but by mid-1923 only 1772 cars had been sold.
The company changed its strategy, moving upmarket with a car on a longer wheelbase. Klingensmith did not agree with this strategy, and resigned from the company in January 1925, after which he went on an extended holiday in Australia. The new car cost more – prices ranged from $630 for a tourer up to $995 for sport sedan. Four-wheel brakes were added in 1926, but the company was out of business by the middle of the year. Factory equipment and other assets were sold by auction.

Despite being in production for only 4 years, the Gray was sold new in Australia by various dealers in the major capital cities. The advertisement featured in this entry, though is a mystery. The illustration is from the Adelaide News, dated the 22nd of November 1927. The reference to the “new” Gray is confusing, as the company had gone out of business in mid-1926. It seems that part of the assets of the Gray Motor Corporation which went for auction included a batch of chassis, without bodies.

I can only assume that Drummonds either purchased these chassis direct from the auction, or through a third party, and shipped them to Adelaide, where a local body-builder fitted them with bodies. Drummonds were dealers for a wide range of makes, such as Flint, Amilcar, Moon and Armstrong-Siddeley. None of these were lower-priced cars, so maybe Drummond’s wanted to establish a clientele in this price range. I have no information as to how many chassis were imported into Australia, what they sold for, and how many were sold.

George Innes – Australian motoring pioneer

A lot of people think that the manufacturing of cars in Australia started after World War 2, when Holden commenced manufacturing in 1948.

This is not the case. As in many other countries of the world, there were many pioneers who were interested by cars, and attempted to manufacture their own vehicles.

One of the early pioneers of car manufacture in Australia was George Innes. Innes was a Tasmanian by birth who had moved to Sydney around the turn of the 20th century.

Innes was strictly not a manufacturer. Innes imported vehicles from Lacoste and Battmann, and replaced the engines with locally built 1 cylinder and 4 cylinder units, as well as adding other local accessories. Two of Innes vehicles were sold to HR Arnott, of the famous biscuit making firm, with both cars completing the 1905 Dunlop Reliability Trial between Melbourne and Sydney.

Here is a period photograph of one of the Innes cars:

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In 1920, Innes was asked to display one of his cars at the Sydney Motor Show.

He spoke to the Sunday Times newspaper in early January of that year, giving his recollections of motoring back in the early part of the 20th century:

MOTORING

IN THE GOOD OLD DAYS An Ancient Car at the Show

(By BEDE CARROLL)

A car which will attract a lot of attention at the motor show is an old 9 h.p.Innes, built in Sydney 12 years ago. After having a look at the ancient, and comparing it with the latest models from abroad, one can see the wonderful strides made in the motor industry. The ancient is owned by Mr. George Innes, who is one of the pioneers In the motor industry here. Chatting with the writer yesterday afternoon, Mr. Innes stated :

‘My run out to the motor show to place the old 9 h.p. Innes on exhibition brought back old times. The old machine was not ‘taken down,’ to use a familiar expression. A spark plug was put in, an old coil unearthed, and a dry cell attached, valves cleaned, some petrol supplied, and off we started, just as

though the car had remained in commission instead of lying in the yard for years past, and the ancient ran surprisingly well. ‘It was about 1907 that I happened to be at Mr. Finlayson’s residence at Thirlmere, and discovered the remains of an engine in the fowlyard. He told me I could take it. I gathered it together, and have kept it ever since, hoping to find time to complete it and show it running, but have had no luck, and it is now being cleaned up, and will be sent to the show, where its novel operations will be explained.

I started in the motor business in Sydney In 1897, purchasing a small De Dion tricycle, which was brought to Sydney by Madame Serpollet. I purchased a two gallons tin of spirit for 10/, and got the machine going. Later, I may add, I imported a quantity of spirit and sold it at 3/9 per gallon. Later on American firms came on the scene, and we purchased it at 1/1 per gallon for a long time. I enjoy the doubtful honor of being the first motorist fined in N.S.W. It cost me 10/.- and expenses for having driven a motor vehicle (a motor tricycle) round the Domain at a pace faster than eight miles an hour. I often wonder why Mr. Alf. Edward, Superintendent of Traffic, has not had the money refunded to me; but perhaps he thinks I had a cheap advertisement.

My first car was a Pieper, made in Belgium. When I unpacked it and got the engine going the next trouble was to drive it. After some practice I ventured out with the family aboard, and managed to negotiate the city streets without much difficulty. Soon after I put the car ont he Newcastle boat and drove from the coaly city to the Newcastle Show. Here I struck trouble. Everyone wanted a ride, and, thinking I had a buyer, I persuaded Tom Ellis to mount. This ended the ride, as the axle broke, and I had to make a new one to drive home.

In the early days one of our chief troubles was broken porcelain in the plugs. We could not get plugs, so had porcelains made at Bakewell Bros., and managed very well. We also used glass centres in the plugs at times. Surface carburetters were generally used, and later the De Dion made the spray type. Then the Longuemare came along, also the multi-spray type. Ignition was generally by inducting coil and dry cells, but some machines were fitted with a platinum tube kept hot by small flame. Later the current was supplied by the Apple dynamo, driven by the belt from the engine. It was quite O.K. while it lasted, but it soon went to pieces.

We hear lots of talk about the wonderful modern car, but my opinion probably differs greatly from many others. The only improvements as regards reliability are in the ignition and automatic lubrication. Many cars were fitted with both in 1907, and were just as reliable as those of to-day. Self-starters and electric-light systems are a luxury, but add greatly to the cost of motoring. As regards petrol consumption, no improvement has been made, as records prove; but in efficiency, horse-power per weight of machine, a great deal has been done.’

Only one Innes car is known to have survived. Sydney vintage car enthusiast Geoff Simmons painstakingly restored the vehicle, after buying the remains of it in 1985:

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