The early days of automotives saw dozens, if not hundreds, of carmakers to the market as former carriage makers shifted from horse-drawn transport to gas-powered vehicles.
Each company sought to distinguish itself with personal production of reliability, luxury and comfort. Such is the case of the 1917 Simplex Crane Model 5, with many features of the car coming as special order or custom work specifically for buyers.
The LeMay Collection Simplex Crane has a custom body by Brewster & Co. that offered the amenities, comfort and convenience of a 46-horsepower car that cost more than 10 times the average American's annual salary. “To those who demand the utmost in smoothness, flexibility and luxurious comfort, this car is dedicated,” a Simplex Automobile Co. advertisement stated, noting that the company’s short-lived, top-end model came in racing and touring models, with both offering luxury. It, for example, was outfitted with two bodies, one with an open body for summer touring and a hard top for winter driving.
Like the landmark Duesenberg of its day, the Simplex Crane combined high-speed racing engines with luxury design, and were sold for extremely high prices. Anyone who asked for the price obviously could not afford one even with the lifetime guarantee as long as it remained the property of the original purchaser.
The LeMay Collection’s Simplex Crane illustrates the car’s high-brow status. It was specially ordered by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. as a birthday present for his father, John D. Rockefeller, Sr. The giants of industry and politics had owned five Simplex Cranes over the years. In 1937, the Rockefellers gave the four-door car to the Boston Museum of Automotive Conveyance.
A 1918 Simplex Crane Model 5 is part of the Rockefeller car collection housed at Kykuit, the family estate and a National Trust Historic Site. This 1918 and LeMay’s 1917 are the only known surviving Simplex Crane automobiles from the five owned by the Rockefellers.
Harold E. LeMay purchased the 1917 car in 1995 at auction in Charleston, S.C. The car was then donated to the namesake LeMay – America's Car Museum in 1997 by Harold and Nancy LeMay as one of the early cars in the early days of the effort to build a magnet car museum in Tacoma.