Sold for $208,500 at 2012 Bonhams - Preserving the Automobile: An Auction at the Simeone Foundation.
In the autumn of 1914, the Simplex Automobile Company acquired the Cane Motor Car Company and introduced a new range of motor cars called Crane-Simplex. The 1917 Crane-Simplex Model 5 has a refined 564 cubic-inch, six-cylinder engine on a 144-inch wheelbase chassis.
This Model 5 was ordered by the Whitney family of Boston and was shipped to the Boston coachbuilders Farnham & Nelson to have its aluminum dual cowl Victoria phaeton coachwork fitted. Ever since, its various owners have preserved this highly original car and kept it in excellent operating condition.
This seven-passenger touring convertible with a body by Brewster was a very luxurious automobile in 1917. Brewster constructed the body from the finest materials, and the chassis and the engine were far from cheap. In 1917 the cost of the chassis alone was around $7,000. Compared to the price of a new Model T Ford, which was about $400 complete, the Crane-Simplex was quite expensive. It was also quite rare; the cars were built in very low numbers and the owners were the wealthy and the powerful, including the Rockefeller family.
The Crane Simplex featured all the amenities and convenience items one might expected in a car costing 10 to 15 times the average American's annual salary. A line from the Simplex Automobile Company advertisement tells the buyer: 'To those who demand the utmost in smoothness, flexibility and luxurious comfort, this car is dedicated.' The Simplex built racing and touring cars, but was best known for its high-priced luxury cars that were enjoyed by an elite clientele.
This particular Crane Simplex was ordered by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. (1874 - 1960) as a present to his father, John D. Rockefeller, Sr. (1839 - 1937), for his 83rd birthday.
Rockefeller, Sr. was an American oil industry magnate and founder for the Rockefeller Foundation.
In 1904 Smith & Mabley Manufacturing Company of New York City built their first car. To date, this remains one of the few companies to produce vehicles in New York City. The vehicles they produced were called the S&M Simplex. Noted for their quality, the company was positioned to perform well in the new and evolving automotive industry. Production continued until the company went bankrupt in 1906 partly because of a mounting recession. The following year, the assets were absorbed into the Simplex Automobile Company and purchased by Herman Broesel. Broesel was a wealthy textile manufacturer who was responsible for inspiring some large and fast Simplex models, such as the 50 and 90. Broesel died in 1912 which meant the company was now in the hands of his sons. The following year sales slumped and the brothers decided to abandon the company. Simplex was purchased by Goodrich, Lockhart and Smith who moved the company to New Brunswick, New Jersey. A year later they acquired Crane, resulting in the Crane-Simplex. Later, the company was purchased by Mercer Automobile Company.
The merger between Crane and Simplex was suitable; both produced high priced and high quality automobiles. Their vehicles were built to order. The Crane Company had been founded by Middleton Crane and had built a reputation for creating some of the nicest, most expensive automobiles in all of America. No expense was spared on the creation of their automobiles. The chassis, engine, and assembly was very detailed and every effort was made to create quality and insure durability.
Thus, the Crane-Simplexes were built in very low numbers. Their clientele included the wealthy and powerful, including the Rockefeller family.
The Crane Motor Car Company was purchased by the Simplex Automobile Company in 1914. Part of the acquisition included the services of its founder and chief engineer, Henry Crane. Up to this point in history, the Crane Motor Company produced vehicles in limited quantities; after the merger, production increased.
Henry M. Crane graduated from M.I.T. with degrees in mechanical and electrical engineering. His first employer was the American Bell Telephone Company, followed by Western Electric. He began the Crane and Whitman Company of Bayonne, New Jersey in 1906 which became the Crane Motor Car Company around 1910.
The first model produced by Crane was the Model 3 which made its debut in 1912. The rolling chassis cost a staggering $8,000 with custom coachwork costing additional. Between the years of 1912 through 1914, around 40 example of the Crane were produced. These cars would become the basis for the Simplex Crane when the merger occurred in 1914.
The Model 50 chain-drive Simplex had impressive power, speed, and endurance. It was an attractive car that lacked some of the refinements the American luxury-car buyer had grown to expect in the pre-WWI era.
The Simplex models prior to the merger had been powered by a four-cylinder, T-head unit. After the merger, the newly introduced Model 50 was fitted with a six-cylinder Crane-designed unit that offered 110 horsepower from the 564 cubic-inch unit. In similar design to the Rolls-Royce Silver Ghosts, the engine was built in two blocks of three cylinders each. With side valves the engine operated very quietly from idle upwards. The engines were so well built and engineered, they were produced without change during their production span. A new shaft drive setup replaced the old chain drive mechanisms. The wheelbase of the Model 5 Crane measured 144-inches.
In February of 1920, Simplex became part of the Hare's Motors, which included Mercer and Locombile. This dream-team lasted for only a short time, until 1922, when ownership passed to Henry Crane. He had hopes of reviving the marque but it would never come to fruition.
Henry Crane became a consulting engineer to GM Chairman Alfred P. Sloan. Crane later became famous in the boating field for his engines that powered the Dixie speedboats, which won the Harmsworth Trophy four times.By Daniel Vaughan | May 2008