This is a question I get often when I am telling someone about a Cole or the history of the company. Since most people have not seen a Cole at a car show or event, many think it must have been a make that was around for a few years like many of the pre war makers. When I tell them that Cole was around from 1909 and 1925, they are surprised. Then when I tell them some of the innovations that Cole is responsible for or was early and played a big part in the industry (like the V8), they say “How come I have never heard of or seen one of these?” I then let people know that there are 77 known Coles to survive out of the 40,717 that were produced during the life of the company and they say, “why so few?”. I bet there are more than 77 out there globally, though we have not identified them yet. Even if there are a 100 or 150 Coles out there, that is still a 0.3% survival rate which is very small.
Why so few? That is a question that I have been pondering and looking into. From looking into this there appears to be three primary reasons that the survival rate for Cole is comparatively smaller than average.
The scrap drives of World War II were looking for metal, and specific types of metal were prized more than others. Aluminum was highly sought after for aircraft and other applications. Well, the big Cole cars had lots of sought after metals! All Coles going back to the beginning had aluminum engine blocks and many had all aluminum bodies. Coles also had plenty of brass, bronze, nickel, and German silver. Essentially Coles were highly sought after for scrap and it was your patriotic duty during the times to turn the car in.
Another contributing factor, was that Cole as a company ended in 1925. After liquidation, JJ Cole Jr. started another Cole company that sold parts and service to Cole owners until the early 30’s, however after that it was not easy keeping these cars driving. Between the end of the parts supply and the great depression, there was just too much time between when the company ended and the start of the war. That means that the people who had Coles, probably could not keep them running so they turned them in to the scrap drives. Other cars that were manufactured until the early 30’s had a chance to keep them driving and the big volume cars like Ford, Cadillac, and Buick all had the service network to keep many of their cars driving. It just wasn’t practical to keep a Cole on the road for many people so they were scrapped.
The last factor is that in the late 30’s, most Coles were out of style compared to what was coming out. Just like with today’s autos, a car that is 15-20 years old is not exciting to the buying public. Given that, the cars were out of favor and hence much easier for people to turn them into the scrap drives for all of that important metals that they were built with.
There is no concrete data or information that really exists about that time and especially for Cole specifically, however by looking at the era, the needs, and the dates, it is not hard to make some conclusions. At this point we have a limited number of Coles that still exist and we are lucky to have those! The people that are lucky enough to own a Cole have now become the caretaker of a piece of history from a by gone era and one of the most important times in the auto industry.
There are a few misconceptions out there about when the Cole Motor Company added the V8 engine into their cars and exactly what they were. I wanted to give a definitive timeline and information about the development of the Cole V8 and a bit more details on the engine. Much of this information comes from the little known book that was a college dissertation written by Howard Russell Delancy in 1954 at Indiana University. Delancy was given exclusive access to the Cole family, all historical papers and archives, survivors who worked at Cole, and other people in the industry. I also have reviewed advertising, dealer books, and manuals of the time.
Why did JJ Cole want a V8 for his cars?
A V8 at the time was somewhat of a risk as there were plenty of other high powered proven engines. There were really two primary reasons on why Cole rushed ahead with a V8 engine. The first was that Cadillac was Cole’s primary competitor and JJ Cole wanted to have a better car at a $100 less in price. In order to do this, Cole would have to launch a V8 engine at about the same time as Cadillac. The second reason was that JJ Cole liked new technology, high power, and a smooth running engine. He thought that the V8 would give him this. Cole liked to include components in his cars that were the standard in the industry or would be the standard in the industry. One of Cole’s well known slogans was “A touch of tomorrow in everything that we do today.”
When was the Cole V8 Introduced?
One misconception about Cole V8’s is when they were introduced. While there were V8’s in use prior to 1914 in different cars, they were one offs or specialized uses. Cadillac is rightfully credited with introducing the V8 engine into a mass production vehicle in September of 1914. Cole introduced their V8 engine a few short months later in January of 1915. Cole ordered 1000 V8 engines made and then put them into 1915 model cars. However, the primary production in 1915 of Coles was still 4 and 6 cylinder vehicles. The V8 engine was an option in all body styles that year. By the end of 1915 Cole decided that the 1916 model cars would only be available with V8 engines and Cole ceased production of cars with 4 and 6 cylinders. The Oakland automobile company also released a V8 later in 1915 after Cole and it was also manufactured by Northway.
Wasn’t the Cole V8 the same as Cadillac’s?
Another misconception is that since Northway was the engine supplier for both Cadillac and Cole, that Cole just used the same Cadillac engine and hence is why they had the V8 a few months after Cadillac. This is wrong as the V8 engines for Cadillac and Cole were different and engineered to each companies design and specifications. In 1914, Charles Crawford, who was the Chief Engineer at Cole, spent most of the year at Northway in Detroit working with their engineers on the design of the specific Cole V8 engine. Cadillac’s V8 was a L-head configuration with 314 cubic inches of displacement and solid heads while Cole’s V8 engine was a Flathead design with 346 cubic inches of displacement and included detachable heads. Cole’s V8 design was billed as having more power than the Cadillac and was also easier to maintain.
Early trouble and then success for the Cole V8
The introduction of the V8 by Cole in 1915 was not flawless as they were plagued by problems of the engine leaking oil and throwing it all over the engine compartment. This would cause the valves to get stuck. Charles Crawford spent a lot of his time in 1915 working on a fix and JJ Cole wrote a letter to Northway accusing them of shoddy machine work. Cole and Northway ended up getting things ironed out and that led to the decision to go to only V8’s from that point on in all Cole cars. Cole ended up having to replace many of the original 1000 V8 engines that were released in early 1915. The Cole V8 engine was fast and powerful and was a favorite for some stock car racers during the era. Cole improved the design again in 1919 when they released the Cole 890’s and that improved horsepower to almost 90HP.
Hopefully this clears up any confusion about the introduction of the Cole V8 engine. I have included scans of the portion of Delancy’s work on the V8 for further details and information. There are two known surviving 1915 Coles with the V8 engine.
Previously it was thought that the 1911 Palace Touring was the oldest Cole car to still survive. Well, in December of 2018 a 1909 Cole High Wheeler Model D was identified. The Cole High Wheeler was made by the Cole Carriage Company and you can find out more about the High Wheelers at this section on the site. Here is a bit more information about the newly discovered Cole High Wheeler.
I received an email from a gentleman saying “How would you like me to bring the Cole car that none are know to exist to the owners meet in May?” As you can imagine my curiosity rose to a very high level! Car number 78 is a 1909 Cole High Wheeler and it will be unveiled at the Cole Meet up in May. There were no known surviving Cole High Wheelers from the Cole Carriage company out of the 170 that were made.
This car is in Kansas and a gentleman that was the owner recently passed away at 95 years old and this was in his barn. The man purchased the car when we was in high school as a car to work on and play with. Over the years it did have some modifications made to the seating and other various components. The man didn’t even really know what kind of car it was and he just loved it for what it was. In the 90’s he did write to the Horseless Carriage Research Foundation and sent them pictures and information about the car and they came back that it was a 1909 Cole Solid Tire High wheeler. The person that is doing work on the car for the family will be bringing it to the Gilmore and doing a talk on the car at the event. I am not going to share pictures of it now, except a teaser shot of the two cylinder engine. The tank and oiler are wrong on it and are being changed out, but the actual engine, exhaust, and transmission matches up perfect to the photos from the sales catalog.
I was going through the boxes of documents and papers from the former Cole Motor Car Club of America and I found this wonderful photo. It is Helen and Joe Cole from the late 1940’s with their family’s 1919 Cole Aero 8 Roadster. The photo is wonderful and it is great to see the Cole family still using the cars that represent their namesake.
This car is still around and resides in California. Many years ago, the car was in the Great Race and below is a picture from an old Cole Club bulletin. What a fabulous car and storied history that this Cole car has!
I wanted to give a special thank you to Leroy Cole. Without Leroy’s amazing knowledge and all of the information that he has generously shared with my son and I, the Cole registry would not be possible. As I mentioned in the page on the History of the Cole Motor Car Club of America, Leroy was instrumental in driving that very active club over the years. He also assembled a large collection of Cole history and artifacts that comprised of multiple truck loads in size. He has since passed on that collection to the Gilmore Car Museum and it is known as the “Cole Archive” in their research library. After we acquired our first Cole Motor Car, we met Leroy and he inspired us with his stories and deep knowledge of this amazing company and car. My son and I will carry on his dedication to the Cole automobile with the this registry and ensure that his hard work will continue on and be shared with others.
Again, thank you for all that you have shared with and done for us!
Winter is here and in Michigan the snow is flying. Many people do not take their historic cars from the 1910’s and 20’s out in the snow anymore, but back when the cars were made people did all of the time. Here are some great photo’s of the Cole family out in their cars during the winter time. It looks like lots of fun to me and I love the picture of JJ Cole pulling his son on a sled behind his Cole 30.
Just recently, we acquired this wonderful 1919 Cole 870, 860,and 850 Master parts lists. This catalog would have been available at the dealer and would have the entire breakdown of parts for the cars including prices, so that customers could order new car parts. These guides are very useful for Cole owners as they do have some good breakdown diagrams, parts diagrams, and of course all of the parts that are in an assembly. This particular 1919 Parts catalog has 143 pages and is in pretty good condition. The parts catalogs are not easy to find and I would say are a bit rarer than a car owners manuals. We also have a Series 9 parts catalog published in 1914 and will continue to add to the library. As always, if you have questions, please just send me an email and we can help you out.
Did you know that all V8 Coles 1916 and newer are considered Full Classics by the Classic Car Club of America? In 2012, Helen Cole and a few others worked very hard with the CCCA to have Coles considered Full Classics. the post 1916 Cole cars are eligible to attend CCCA events and you can participate in your regional CCCA club if interested. Right now there are 4 Coles registered in the CCCA and it would be great to see more of them as part of that club! You can find out more here https://classiccarclub.org/.
Have you ever wondered what a barn find was like in 1941? Well, through some of the Cole historical information we have, we can now get a glimpse into how it may have gone. It looks like the Cole family was looking for Cole Motor Cars of their fathers namesake and an agent reached out to JJ Cole Jr. with a lead on what appears to be a 1914/15 Cole Series 10. I say this because it has no cowl lights, but definitely looks to be a 4 cylinder model. Here is a picture of the car in the barn with the current owner as well as a letter to JJ Cole Jr. offering the car for sale by the agent. Also, here is a hand written letter to JJ Cole Jr. from the agent in follow up. I have no idea if this sale ever went through, but it is a fascinating piece of history!
In early 1913, Cole took a specifically labeled new Series 9 car on a long trip to test it out and show endurance as well as to raise marketing awareness for the ‘Standardized’ car. JJ Cole called it the standardized car because he wanted all of the best components in it that were or would be the standard in the automotive industry. Here are a few pictures from a company or Cole family scrapbook of the trip. The first picture is an 8×10 of the three drivers of the transcontinental test car. The second picture is the typed note on the back of the picture. The next picture is of the three individuals standing with JJ Cole. and then the picture after that is of some Cole execs arriving to the event in another Series 9 touring car. The pictures after that are from a 1913 Cole Service Bulletin with a map of the trip and then a great picture and story about the bear mascot mentioned on the back of the 8×10 photo.