1912 Simplex 50hp Touring

1912 Simplex 50hp Touring with J.M. Quinby body (photo credit: Richard Owen, supercars.net)

At this year's Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance one of the featured marquees was Simplex, and of the roughly dozen cars that were shown, a couple were familiar to me. One of these cars was this 1912 Simplex 50hp touring with body by Quinby. This car was owned for over 20 years by a family friend and sold just prior to this year's event to Craig McCaw who showed the car at Pebble. 

This car sports an interesting touring style body with Victoria top by J.M. Quinby & Company of Newark, NJ. Founded in 1834, J.M. Quinby had a long-standing reputation for carriage building when they entered into building automobile bodies in 1899. Celebrating their 75th anniversary in 1909, the company's brochure noted their specialization in aluminum bodies. Quinby had showrooms in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Manhattan, and was for a time, the agent for Isotta-Fraschini and Simplex automobiles. This car was most likely purchased out of the J.M. Quinby showroom at 232 Fifth Avenue in New York.

This car has an extraordinary history that starts with it's purchase by Harold Vanderbilt. Harold Stirling Vanderbilt (1884-1970) was the third child of William Vanderbilt and known as "Mike" by those close to him. He was the younger brother of "Willie K" Vanderbilt, the name sake of the Vanderbilt Cup Races. Though less well known in race circles, Harold also campaigned races cars in the early years. Harold could afford the best in cars and owned many. However, he was more interested in sailing, and later in life, would win three America's Cups in J-class yachts.  

Around 1906, Harold met Eleonora R. Sears (1881-1968), who shared Harold's passion for sporting endeavors and cars. Eleonora "Eleo" Sears was the child of a prominent Boston family and circulated in the aristocratic social circles of New York and Newport, RI. She was a pioneer female athlete who's credits include winning the US Woman's doubles tennis championship 5 times, the first woman to ride in an all-male polo match, and the first woman squash champion in history. The Prince of Wales is said to have considered Sears his favorite dance, squash, and tennis partner. In 1911, the New York Times speculated that Harold Vanderbilt and Eleonora Sears were engaged to be married. In 1912, Harold gave Eleonora this Simplex Touring car (maybe in celebration of a coming marriage?)! However, a marriage was not forthcoming and the couple would drift apart soon after. Eleonora never married, but did keep the Simplex into the 1940s. 

The car was sold to a Mr. Sam Elliot who, in turn, sold it to Charles Chayne, GM's Vice President of Engineering at the time. It was Mr. Chayne who first restored the car. Using his resources at GM, Chayne made certain alterations to the car, including a custom-built power steering unit. Chayne later donated the car to the Larz Anderson Museum where it was kept until being offered at auction in the late 1970's. The car was purchased by the Collings Foundation who would eventually sell the car to our friend.

What an amazing car - it certainly looked fantastic on the fairway at Pebble Beach.

Automobile Topics, June 10, 1911

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