I wanted to share that in October of this year, Kevin Fleck and the Cole Motor Car Registry were featured in the Classic Car Journal. The article covers the exhibit at the Gilmore Car museum as well as the story of how we relaunched the registry and how we got involved in Coles. The author did a great job with putting the story together and it is definitely worth a read. The article can be found at this link
As they say, all good things must come to an end! Unfortunately, the Gilmore Car Museum exhibit on the Cole Motor Car Company has ended. The exhibit ran from June 1st, 2019 through October 31st, 2019 and featured seven rare Coles as well as a lot of Cole artifacts, signs, and documentation. The exhibit also had several in depth sessions with Kevin Fleck from the Cole Motor Car Registry, as well as open hood days.
The exhibit was enjoyed by many and there were rave reviews from attendees as well as some journals such as this article that appeared in early October at Classiccars.com. Be sure to check out the summary of the exhibit as well as a good number of pictures taken of the Coles and the artifacts at the summary page here.
From the days of the High Wheeler to the beginning of the Classic Era, the Cole exhibit covered it all. Showing the evolution of the automotive industry over 16 years through the guise of one company was a priority and it was accomplished. It was an honor to have been the guest Curator for this special exhibit!
In the early days of the Cole Motor Car Company you could buy just the working chassis if you wished. The chassis would have come with everything except for the body. This gave the opportunity for dealers, people, and body companies to make some unique autos. Two of the unique designs to appear in 1912 were a four person speedster and a four person roadster.
The four person speedster was a creation of W. Peck Jr. and included a removable rear seat. It was quite sporty and could carry four passengers. Unfortunately not much information is known about this auto such as was it completely a one off or did they sell several of these through a dealer. There are none known to survive today and we are just left with this great photo of the 1912 Cole four person Speedster.
Another great custom Cole from 1911 was the Cole 30 four person Roadster. This car was created four a special event with racing legend Barney Oldfield. The press covered the event and several great pictures of this special Cole were captured from the event. The sleek roadster with the four passengers sitting all in a line created quite a site and was pretty unique. This auto is also not known to have survived.
On June 30th, the West Michigan Region Horseless Carriage Club (HCCA) group took a tour to the Gilmore Car Museum to see the special Cole Motor Car exhibit. The tour started in Grand Rapids and then stopped at a members house by Gun Lake. After a short visit and look at some of the autos, the tour continued on to the Gilmore Car Museum. The autos that the members of the group drove were then allowed back on the main museum campus and parked on the main field and a wonderful picnic was had.
After the picnic lunch and some visiting, the group went to the exhibit to see the wonderful early Cole’s that were on display. The cars were opened up and the history of each car was reviewed with the members. This was a great behind the scenes look and made for a great one day event for the West Michigan HCCA group!
This past week was a great week for exposure of a few surviving Cole’s from the Cole Motor Car Company. It has been a good amount of time since a Cole has received some media exposure and has been shared to many people.
2019 Concours of America Media Day
First, Ben Burnham-Fleck’s 1923 Cole Two Person Sport Coupe Experimental Car was invited to the Concours of America Media day. This event took place at the historic Detroit Train Station that the Ford Motor Car Company has purchased and is restoring. The event takes place every year for the Concours to show off a few cars to the press, unveil some artwork, raise awareness about the charities, and generally build excitement for the upcoming event. The 23 Cole looked good setup in front of the train station and there was quite a bit of interest in the Cole from other collectors and the media. Ben, being 18 years of age, also garnered a lot of attention and was interviewed by Fox 2 Detroit, WWJ radio station, and a few news sites and magazines. Here are a few pictures from the event:
2019 Copshaholm Concours d’Elegance
The second event over the last week was when Kevin Fleck took his 1913 Cole Series 9 Touring car to the Copshaholm Concours d’Elegance event in South Bend Indiana. It was a beautiful day and a wonderful setting at the Oliver mansion with a total of 75 invited cars at the Concours. The 1913 Cole was in the Motor Cars of the Lincoln Highway class which covered 1913 – 1928. There was a lot of interest in the Cole’s styling, engineering, and history of the company throughout the event by attendees, the judges, and other collectors. At 1:30pm, a Best of Class award ribbon appeared on the front of the Cole and then the Cole was honored with a crystal trophy during the pass in review award ceremony. An automotive historian then shared the history of the Cole Motor Car Company to the attendees, many who had never even heard of a Cole. The other cars in the class that the Cole competed against were amazing cars and included:
1913 Pathfinder Model A Touring
1916 Packard Twin Six Touring Car (This auto was actually driven by the Packard President on the Lincoln highway during the inauguration of the road)
1920 Liberty 10-C Touring
1923 Auburn 6-43 Touring Sedan
1927 Studebaker Commander Victoria Coupe
1927 Studebaker Standard Six Roadster (Right Hand Drive)
1928 Hudson Super Six Series O Victoria (Purchased recently from the Hostetler collection Auction last fall)
Overall it was an honor to be able to participate in both of these events. A lot of history about the Cole Motor Car company was shared with people who were not aware. Also, exposing people to these quality built and interesting automobiles is a great thing for the Cole name and the hobby.
In July of 2019, there will be Cole Motor Cars at two major Concours d’Elegance events in the Midwest. Ben Burnham-Fleck’s 1923 2 Person Sport Coupe is invited to appear at the Concours of America at the Inn at St. Johns on July 28th, 2019. The St. Johns Concours is one of the largest and oldest Concours behind Pebble Beach and Amelia Island. It is an honor for Ben to have his 1923 Cole on the field with many other prestigious cars. More information about the St. John’s Concours can be found here.
On July 13th 2019, Kevin Fleck was invited to have his 1913 Cole Series 9 Touring car at the Copshaholm Concours in South Bend Indiana. This is a newer Concours event that focuses on a smaller number of prestigious cars displayed on the grounds of the beautiful Oliver mansion. The 1913 Cole will be participating in the ‘Cars of the Lincoln Highway Class’ which is one of the first highways in the US. The 1913 Series 9 will represent the Cole marquee very well! More information on the Copshaholm Concours can be found here.
If you are in the area of either one of these events, I highly recommend that you attend. Not only to see the two Coles, but also to see the many other fabulous cars that will be on display at these events.
What are balloon tires? Essentially a fancy name for our modern style tires that we still use today. Until balloon tires, car tires were more like bike tires—narrow and tall, using a very high air pressure of 60 psi. Balloon tires were essentially wider tires that were high volume and low pressure which were around 30 to 35 psi. The advantages of balloon tires were:
- A more stable and comfortable ride
- More braking power due to more tire surface on the road
- Less skidding
- Longer tire life and better for suspension
- Less chance for air leaks and blowouts due to low pressure
- New modern style
Firestone created the new balloon tires and Cole partnered with them to become the first production car to offer them. There was quite a bit of engineering required to make these tires work right. You had to change the rims, the suspension, brakes, and even the transmission. In 1922, Cole built the two-person Coupe Test Car (featured in this exhibit) with all of these engineering advancements as proof positive that they worked—touring them at the auto shows of the time. Upon successful testing, Cole launched balloon tires as standard on the 1923 Aero Volante and then on all 1924 Coles. Cole was the first pace car with balloon tires at the Indy 500 in 1924 as well. The tires quickly caught on and became standard in the industry. Today, we use and evolution of the same tire concept.
Firestone used the success of Balloon tires at Cole to push the other big makes such as Ford to adopt. Thomas Edison was also a big fan and proponent. Here is the content of a 1923 letter from Harvey Firestone to Henry Ford talking about Balloon tires and Cole’s success. (Letter found in Ford Archives)
Here is a 1924 ad featuring Thomas Edison’s view on Balloon tires. In 1924, Edison had Henry Ford modify his Model T to work with Balloon tires. Edison’s Model T modifications are in follow up to the notation he made in the Cole Brochure as noted in the Ford archive letter.
The Cole car gathering and Cole Motor Car Registry were featured in the most recent edition of the Gilmore Car Museum Industry Standard magazine. Here is the link to the article: History Making Cole Gathering
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.