America is a car culture. It was raised on the road, whether on family road trips to see relatives or through commerce that shuttled from city to city on trucks. The Car of the Week takes a look at one of those vehicles as a way to not only look back at automotive changes but the history that created them.
Published in the Tacoma Weekly
The upper crust of 100 years ago enjoyed the good life that few people in those days could even imagine. The horse and buggy was on the way out, but the wealthy of the day not only had automobiles but made sure those motorized horseless carriages showcased their standing in life. The chassis itself cost $7,000 compared to the “commoner car” price of $400 for the Model T of the time. Customization could easily double the price tag of the Simplex.
Such is the case with the 1917 Simplex Crane Model 5. It featured all the amenities and convenience items one might expect in a car costing 10 to 15 times the average American's annual salary. It was state of the art for its day, with its leaf spring suspension, one at each wheel that provided a level of comfort that was so smooth that passengers could drink their tea – pinkies properly extended, of course – even on the most rutted roads of the day.
"To those who demand the utmost in smoothness flexibility and luxurious comfort, this car is dedicated," read a Simplex Automobile Co. advertisement at the time as a way to challenge the market dominance of the better known Duesenberg automobiles.
The model at America's Car Museum was owned by John D. Rockefeller Sr. and was given to him by his son on his birthday. The model was given special attention by the company since the high-profile customer was, well, rich. “Mr. R is making birthday gift of car to his father and request us to endeavor to have it completed for delivery July 8,” the order stated. “Do our best."
And they did. The car remained in the family for 20 years,before it was donated to the Boston Museum of Automotive Conveyance. Harold E. LeMay bought the car in 1995 and later donated it to the LeMay Museum. The car is only one of two Crane Simplex cars owned by Rockefeller known to still exist. Models without ties to notable owners top $200,000.