The Durocar Manufacturing Company - Los Angeles, CA

Benbough family riding in their Durocar (photo credit: San Diego Historical Society)
photo credit: Los Angeles Herald, November 10, 1907
William Varney (photo credit: Jerry & Barbara Waters Cornia)
Varney family in their Stanley Motor Carriage (photo credit: Jerry & Barbara Waters Cornia)
William Varney driving a Durocar (photo credit: Jerry & Barbara Waters Cornia)
photo credit: Los Angeles Herald, September 4, 1910
While researching a friend's car (1908 Durocar, model K roadster - 2 cylinder, 26hp), the story of this unique chapter in West Coast automobile manufacturing came alive. Not often written about, the West Coast of America had it's own group of early automobile pioneers. Although there was a deep seated interest in automobiles from the start, the west has always had fewer automobile manufacturers. This story starts with a different and earlier automobile company - the Auto Vehicle Manufacturing Company. This company, worthy of research in it's own right, is quite possibly the first automobile manufacturer within California. They marketed a car called the Tourist (not to be confused with the Royal Tourist built in Ohio) and this is where the story of the Durocar begins.

William Moreland was an industry veteran, among the many stops on his extensive resume was working with Alexander Winton on his racing exploits. The March, 1907 edition of The Motor Way credited Moreland with the design of the Durocar, stating “at the recent automobile exhibition in Los Angeles, two cars of local make were shown... the Durocar was designed by William Moreland formerly with the Winton Motor Carriage Company and later the Haynes-Apperson Company.” After coming west, Moreland spent a brief stint at the  Auto Vehicle Manufacturing Company where he meet William M. Varney.

Varney, who came to California from Iowa in 1902, is said to have been a dealer for the Tourist automobile in Long Beach. He was certainly an avid enthusiast who won the "Light Touring Car" class trophy in the January 25, 1906 Los Angeles to Coronado (San Diego) endurance run. By 1907, the two were the driving force behind the launch of the DuroCar. However, there is one more individual of note who is claimed to have played a role in the birth of the Durocar - Carl Breer.

The Los Angeles Herald reported in September of 1907 that The Durocar Manufacturing Company of Los Angeles turned out its first finished cars yesterday. “One of these, a runabout, was delivered to Carl Breer of Stanford University. The runabout is painted cardinal to correspond with the colors of the university where it is to be used. Mr. Breer, who is connected with the Durocar Company and helped design the car, will act as northern agent for the machine at Palo Alto and San Francisco. The Durocar people also delivered their first touring car yesterday. Mr. Moreland, secretary and assistant manager of the company, drove it with four passengers to Ventura, where it was delivered to its owner. The Durocar Company has a dozen cars in the process of construction, but these will not be sufficient to fill all the advance orders received." (Said to be 25 cars in a separate article in the Horseless Age)

The extent of Carl Breer’s role in the design of the Durocar is unknown, though earlier he is said to have designed his own steam car, which upon review, helped him gain acceptance to Stanford. Breer would famously go on to be one of the four key founders of the Chrysler Corporation.

William Moreland, on the other hand, would leave the Durocar Manufacturing Company in under a year’s time and found the Moreland Motor Truck Company of Burbank in 1911. The Moreland truck being better known to history, would be manufactured for close to a decade.

William Varney, however, would be instrumental in running the company right to the end. In November of 1907, The Los Angeles Herald reported that the Durocar, a machine manufactured entirely in Los Angeles, had turned out sixty cars since July. The paper went on to state that the directorate of the corporation had been expanded. The directorate being composed of: W.N. Varney, president; C.A. Layton, Vice President; George Shugers, manager; and now A.P. Johnson; E.A. Featherstone; and L.E. Parker.

1909 brought upbeat news from The Herald, reporting that operations were now being run by Varney and production was up to nine cars a week. The Durocar had just won the Pomona Fifty-Hour race (May, 1909) and the company announced plans to build 100 cars of the 50 hp, four-cylinder type in 1910. Charles Fuller Gates, the company’s advertising manager, promoted the Durocar in well publicized tests of endurance in 1910. The company continued to advertise new offerings into 1911, but something was not well at Durocar. The Varney family history suggests that a partner ran off with the money. What is known is that the company appears to have had a cash-flow problem and ceased production in 1911. Automobile Topics, December, 1911, reported "with a view to creating the biggest automobile manufacturing plant on the pacific coast, a rejuvenation of the Durocar Co., of Los Angeles, Cal., is being undertaken, and the company is issuing $160,000 of treasury stock." It seems clear that company was unable to make a come back as there are no records of the company resuming production. Today there are four known, surviving Durocars.

photo credit: Los Angeles Herald, 1911

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