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.