The final chapter for the Simplex Automobile Company


1917 Simplex Crane Model 5 (chassis 2333) (photo credit: Bonhams)

I was asked to do a little research on the Simplex Automobile Company. While doing so I learned a bit more about the many twists and turns of the final years of this esteemed brand. The company was born of a reorganization of the bankrupt Smith & Mabley Manufacturing Company in 1907 - taking the name Simplex Automobile Company.

Simplex would build 50, 75, and 90 horse power 4 cylinder engines that powered many racing victories through the early teens. In 1914, the company would acquire the Crane Motor Car Company and with it the services of Henry Middlebrook Crane. Henry Crane was an engineer and automotive entrepreneur who had graduated from MIT in 1896. The Horseless Age of July 7,1915 announces the introduction of the new Crane Six. The Simplex-Crane model with the Henry Crane designed 6 cylinder engine (making 110 hp) was the first (and only) 6 cylinder engine offered by Simplex. The Horseless Age of September 15, 1915 dedicated two pages to the new Simplex, explaining in detail the new engine and chassis. Simplex would sell 580 cars (both 4 cylinder and 6 cylinder cars) in 1915 - almost double the number of cars they had sold each of the last two years. Production would drop in 1916 and in 1917 Simplex would only offer one model - the 6 cylinder Crane car now called the Model 5.

On October 6, 1917, Automobile Topics announced that production of Simplex cars would be discontinued for the duration of the war (WWI). Wright-Martin Aircraft Corporation, the owners of the Simplex Automobile Company plant in New Brunswick, NJ needed the manufacturing capacity to fulfill an order for 450 Hispano-Suize motors (airplanes) for the war effort. Interestingly, the article notes that Simplex's planned output of 325 cars for the year would be completed prior to production being stopped - only 246 cars were actually produced in 1917.

In 1919, the Mercer Motor Company of Trenton, NJ would absorb the assets for the Simplex company (after war production had ended). Many company's struggled in the recession that follow the end of the war and in October of 1920 it was announced that Hare Motors (the selling and distribution company handling Mercer and Locomobile among others) would consolidate manufacturing of Mercer, Simplex, and Locomobile under the Hare Motors name (once approved by the board of directors of each respective company).

Emlen S. Hare, president of Hare Motors stated in The Automobile Journal of October 1920, a reduction in price for the Locomobile ($1350.00) and Mercer ($1000.00) was due to the "suppressed demand occasioned by the insufficient purchasing power of the country through the deflated value of the dollar." Hare appears to have attempted to increase sales through a price reduction and reduce costs through consolation of manufacturing, sales, and service. Hare expressed that they would loose money until the economy improved and greater car sales followed. This was not the approach taken by the majority of manufacturers at the time (many introduced slight price increases for 1921). In North America the recession immediately following World War I turned out to be brief, lasting for only 7 months from August 1918 to March 1919.

Regardless, the effect on Mercer, Simplex, and Locomobile was immediate and very negative. By July 1922, Automotive Industries reported a reorganization of Mercer Motors and reversal of its arrangements with Hare Motors. The article states the Mercer would use the assets of the Simplex Company as part of the collateral to secure the financing related to the reorganization. However, it was not long after (November of 1922) that announcement came of the formation of a new company to continue the Simplex, with the plant and assets being purchased from Mercer by none other than Henry Crane. Plans for a 100 cars per year were spelled out, but it appears production never resumed. The proud Simplex name would be retired for good.

The car shown herein is a 1917 Simplex Crane Model 5 (chassis 2333 - the 167th car produced in the last year). This car was purchased in the 1930's from the original owners by Cameron Bradley, who I've written about previously. Mr. Bradley was an early MA based collector who established the Wolfden Antique Auto Museum. This car was sold by Bonhams at the Simeone Museum sale in 2012 for $208,500.

The Horseless Age, September 15, 1915

The Horseless Age, September 15, 1915

Automotive Industries, Nov. 16, 1922

3 comments:

  1. Cameron Bradley purchased this vehicle in 1936/7 from Lucy Conger May, the original owner. Lucy's husband Edward May died in 1927. The order was placed in 1917 but not delivered until 1919.

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  2. Great information! Thanks for contributing.

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  3. You are welcome. Just a bit of FYI. I came across this history after learning of the May history connection to this Simplex from the John Rich Auto Museum in Frackville PA. It just so happened their quest to learn more of the May/Simplex 2333 history, brought them to me, the grandson of the grandfather who chauffeured driving this vehicle for the Mays for more than 10 years.

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