Lot 327: 1915 Simplex Crane Model 5 46hp Boattail Tourer
Producer of one of the finest and most exclusive luxury cars built in the USA before World War I, the Simplex Automobile Company was founded when wealthy textile importer Herman Broesel purchased the Manhattan-based S & M Simplex company in 1907. The latter had come into being in 1904 when A D Proctor Smith and Carlton R Mabley set up as automobile manufacturers in order to avoid the punitive customs duties levied on the foreign makes they imported. These included some of Europe’s finest: FIAT, Panhard, Renault and the Daimler-built Mercedes, whose advanced Simplex range inspired a host of imitators, Messrs Proctor Smith and Mabley included. Designed by Edward Franquist, the four-cylinder S & M Simplex was a very expensive car ($6,750 in 1904) and although the price dropped to $5,750 under Broesel’s ownership, it remained within the reach of only a privileged few.
Broesel’s first Simplex was another Franquist design: a 50hp ‘T-head’ four featuring four-speed sliding gear transmission and twin chain drive. These 50hp Simplexes were formidable competition cars – an example finished 6th in the first Indianapolis 500 – but more often were seen in luxury car guise boasting extravagant coachwork by the likes of Brewster, Demarest, Healey, Holbrook and Quinby. Following Herman Broesel Senior’s death in 1912, his sons sold out to a New York-based consortium. The new management identified the need for a six-cylinder model to maintain Simplex’s place in the front rank of luxury car manufacturers and took the short cut of purchasing the Crane Motor Car Company, which was already building an exclusive and expensive ($8,000 for the chassis alone) ‘six’ at Bayonne, New Jersey. Simplex also retained the services of Henry M Crane, whose reputation as a car designer was reinforced by his previous work in marine engineering, engines of his design and construction having powered Dixie speedboats, which won the coveted Harmsworth International Trophy on four occasions.
The new model which Crane created for Simplex was very similar to the Crane Model 4 that his company had been building, but on a longer (144”) wheelbase. Of 4.375”x6.25” bore/stroke, the six-cylinder engine displaced 563cu in and was almost identical to that of the Crane model. Cast in two blocks of three cylinders, with all valves on one side, it was claimed to develop 100-110bhp at 1800-2000rpm. The crankshaft ran in three main bearings of 2.75” diameter and the connecting rods were machined all over. The carburettor was a Newcomb design, modified by Crane, and there was magneto ignition. Drive was via a single-plate clutch and three-speed transmission to a 3.0:1 ratio rear axle. These attributes endowed this massive car with outstanding acceleration as well as a high top speed. Officially titled ‘Simplex Crane Model 5’, the new car became the ‘Crane-Simplex’ in popular parlance. When introduced, the chassis price was $5,000, which was raised to $6,000 a year later and to $7,000 the year after that.
It is evident from the serial numbers that Crane wanted his previously built cars taken into account when Simplex assigned serial numbers to its new model. Four-cylinder Simplex numbers had reached the 1500 region and allowance was made for the continued production of those cars by starting the numbers of the six-cylinder cars at 2000. However, since previously built Crane cars had been numbered from 1 to 38, allowance was also made for these, so Simplex Crane Model 5 numbers began at 2039. Therefore the car offered here, number ‘2046’, is the eighth of just 70 built in 1915, deliveries of which commenced in August that year.
Simplex was acquired by the Wright-Martin Aircraft Corporation in 1916 and its New Brunswick factory turned over to Hispano-Suiza aero engine production following the USA’s entry into WWI. Automobile production was suspended for the duration of the war but never resumed, although a few cars were constructed from existing parts. By this time fewer than 500 ‘Crane-Simplexes’ had been built. Rights to the Simplex name were acquired in 1920 by former Packard vice-president Emlen S. Hare and shortly thereafter by Henry Crane himself, but no further cars were made. It was a sad end to a marque that, in its day, had ranked within the highest echelons of the world’s luxury automobiles.
This car’s early history is unknown prior to its discovery in careful storage in the 1950s. At that time it was equipped with a closed, four-door, four-light body believed to have been built by the Boston firm of George McNear and possibly original, which would seem to indicate that the car was first owned in the New England area, most likely in metropolitan Boston. This body was subsequently removed and discarded. The car’s second known owner, the late Frank Gardner, sold it in bare-chassis form to John McKiernan, of Massachusetts, and after a short period ‘2046’ passed to Harold Langdon of Portland, Oregon, one of the Northwest’s earliest and most discerning collectors of fine automobiles.
Harold Langdon owned the car for the next 40-or-so years. Chassis number ‘2046’ appears to have done very few miles during its lifetime, based upon Mr Langdon’s tear down which revealed very little wear anywhere. The car has been re-bodied by him in a period sporting style, the beautifully executed coachwork having been constructed during his retirement years. All instruments are correct and the rare original Newcomb Simplex carburettor has been rebuilt recently by Laidlaw Restorations. Harold was a winning entrant in Pebble Beach’s early years and a long time supporter of the Forest Grove Concours d’Elegance where he showed the Simplex upon completion of its long-term restoration approximately five years ago.
Approximately 467 Simplex Crane Model 5 chassis were built during 1915 - 1919 and it is believed that fewer than 40 exist today, only one of which is older than ‘2046’. First owners of the small number built included the Rockefeller family with three, and the Vanderbilts. The Rockefeller Collection still owns one of the family cars and the Vanderbilt example is at the Vanderbilt Historic Site. The famed Nethercutt Collection has no fewer than three Simplex Cranes and Bill Harrah’s collection included two prior to its dispersal. These precious cars do not change owners very often and tend to gravitate to the most stable ownership - Jay Leno was a winner at last year’s Pebble Beach Concours with his magnificent example.
The ‘Crane-Simplex’ truly deserves its reputation as one of the finest American automobiles of the industry’s heroic, pioneering age, and this wonderful example should reward a future owner with many enjoyable miles and years of use.
Collectors Motor Cars, Motorcycles & Automobilia|
Bonhams & Butterfields, Larz Anderson Auto Museum, Brookline, MA
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