The Overland Company was formed in 1902 by Charles Minshall and Claude E. Cox. Cox had just completed his degree at the Ross Polytechnic Institute while Minshall was the president of the Standard Wheel Company. Neither of these individuals had much experience in engineering or in the automotive industry. For his senior thesis, Cox had rebuilt his motorized, three-wheeled vehicle into a four-wheel design. This experience gained him a solid reputation with Minshall who established Cox as the head of the newly formed Overland Automobile Company.
Their first vehicle was introduced in 1903. It was powered by a single-cylinder engine that produced five horsepower. The engine was placed in the front under a hood and power was sent to the rear wheels through the use of a two-speed planetary transmission operated by foot pedals. Though the automobile industry was very new, the Overland Company produced rather advanced vehicles. Two dry cell batteries and a jump spark system controlled the ignition. A key was used to prevent theft and to start the vehicle. This key would change the current from one battery to the other. When not in use, the owner could remove it and take it with them.
In the early part of 1905, the Overland Company was moved to an abandoned warehouse located in Indianapolis. Though production was steady, Minshall re-evaluated the automotive industry and felt there was too much competition. He withdrew his financial support. Luckily, David M. Perry stepped in to aid the Overland Automobile Company. Perry had attempted to create an automobile but was successful, so when the opportunity was presented, Perry quickly bought up 51 percent of the Overland Company.
Automobile production has always been very competitive. By 1907 the Overland Company was again in financial difficulty. Their prospects became a little better when John North Willys, a car dealer in New York, had ordered 500 vehicles and pre-paid $10,000. Production continued for a short time but was forced to close its doors due to financial difficulty. Perry's house was seized as well as all of his assets. Seeing an opportunity, Willys purchased the company and resumed production in 1908. Since the company did not have facilities, a circus tent was used. Production rose steadily and by 1909 nearly 5000 vehicles had been produced.
Though production was on the rise, Cox and Willy's relationship was on the decline. This forced Cox to leave the Overland Company. Overland was now completely in Willy's control. He began by buying up smaller companies. This proved to be a good decision as production skyrocketed, nearly amounting to 15,600 vehicles produced in 1910. This meant Overland was the number two producer in the United States.
The Overland Model 86 sat atop of the longest wheelbase that Overland produced in 1916. The steering wheel was made of walnut and was 18 inches in size.
The Model 90 was an attempt to undercut their competition, mainly Ford. Willy's created hype by promising a vehicle in 1917 that would include a self starter and electric lights all for under $500. A strike at the Toledo Overland plant meant there were no automobiles being produced and Willys was unable to keep his promise. When produced resumed in 1919 the low-priced Overland sold for $875. This was a respectable price but Ford was able to sell their comparable vehicles for $200 less.
The Model 90 was outfitted with a four-cylinder engine capable of producing just over 30 horsepower. The transmission was a three speed selective sliding gear unit. By Daniel Vaughan | Mar 2006