Vanished Vehicles – Part 8
A look back over the past century and beyond at the manufacturers that once produced transport for the masses….
Stutz Motor Company - USA 1911-1937
Initially, Harry C Stutz used the name of the Ideal Motor Company when embarking on motor vehicle production in 1911 although his first ‘home-built’ machine had woken his neighbours back in 1898 when Stutz was 22. Learning his trade with the American Car Company followed by the Marian Motor Company, Stutz set up his new venture near to the recently completed Indianapolis Speedway. Within a few months Ideal entered their first Indianapolis 500 race finishing a creditable 11th
but for Stutz a top-ten result was his minimum requirement. Sports-race machines became the Stutz Motor Company’s core product with the introduction of the Bearcat model just prior to WW1. The ‘White Squadron Racers’ as the Stutz team became known would take championship victories in 1913 and 1915 and Stutz raised further funds by offering share options. Many were purchased by Allan A Ryan who began to influence daily running and production; Stutz took exception and left his own company in 1919. Ryan went bankrupt soon after and three investors took control of Stutz in 1922 bringing with them a wealth of new talent often ‘headhunted’ from competitors. Stutz continued with racing including a 2nd
at Le Mans in 1928 (not better by a US built car until 1966) but also produced many ‘high-end’ saloon and luxury models. The Wall St crash of 1929 and subsequent depression produced the inevitable sales slump, although the marque struggled on with much reduced production the Indianapolis factory closed in 1937.
Between the Wars
Automobiles L Rosengart – France 1928-1955
A partnership between Jules Salomon (designer who drew the first Citroen’s) and car parts manufacturer Lucien Rosengart began with the production of Austin Seven’s, re-named LR 2. Under a licence Rosengart had obtained from the UK manufacture several years earlier the pair would invest in the old Bellanger plant near Paris. Reliable, attractive and cheap ensured the LR 2 success and production of up to 28 cars per day by 1930. The facelift LR 4 followed in 1932 alongside other models supplied under licence via the German marque of Adler or Citroen and the LR 439 ‘Supertraction’. Expansion increased but the larger models failed to sell as well as the original LR 2; by 1936 Rosengart was in financial difficulties and transferred the company name to Societé Industrielle de l'Ouest Parisien (SIOP). WW2 arrived and the factory was heavily damaged by the German Army, Rosengart fled to America until hostilities ceased; on his return to France he looked to continue car production. A light van (Vivor) that was a much altered LR 4 was their first vehicle post war; proving popular this continued until 1953.
Rosengart himself was losing influence on the company’s direction with the rights and name already sold to SIOP in 1936. The replacement for the Vivor was the expensive Ariette Break, a station-wagon version of the saloon, based on Renault’s 4CV. The Rosengart model was one-third higher in price than the Renault original thus by 1952 SIOP was forced into bankruptcy, unable to compete. The Neuilly factory laid off 1700 workers in late 1952 only to reopen a year later with a new model arriving in 1955. The Rosengart was still unable to compete on price and the factory doors were closed again for the final time within weeks.
Gilbern Sports Cars – Wales 1959-1974
The Welsh Gilbern was an implausible combination of two characters; a German ex-POW and a master butcher. With the first 3 letters of the name Giles Smith plus the first 4 of Bernard Friese, a company was born; from humble beginnings behind Smith’s butchers shop to a Rhondda Valley factory. Friese enjoyed an engineering background and previously worked with glass-fibre. Smith desired a ‘special’ but rather than purchase one in kit form they decided to manufacture their own; once completed the GT was tested by Autosport, producing such a positive reaction plans for more followed. Initially, their four seat GT car was sold in component form utilising all new parts but with much of the construction completed, new owners fitted power plant, running gear and some minor trim parts.
New components enjoyed warranty terms and the pre-painted car could be assembled in days; also saving on Government purchase tax. During the early 1960s the GT1800 enjoyed B Series power but later cars would change to Ford with V4 and V6 configurations. The factories staffing level increased as did the production rate from 1 per month to 1 per week by 1965. A new model the ‘Genie’ arrived in 1967 but the company was struggling with development and just one year later ACE Group took control, Smith left shortly after although Friese continued another year. ACE investment increased Gilbern staff to 60 and the Invader model arrived in 1969 with updates in 70 and 71 before the company was sold on again for £1. Gilbern production spluttered on, ambitious expansion cited as part of its downfall but in March 1974 production ceased completely.
Avanti – USA 1963-2007
Studebaker needed a fresher image as the 1960s arrived and hoped Avanti was the car to achieve this. They employed radical designer Raymond Loewy, famous for the Greyhound Bus, zippo lighter and the Shell Logo to pen a vision for the younger consumer. Given just 6 weeks to complete his work a fibre glass body would be fitted, saving time and weight plus incorporating a Loewy original, the grille-less front, offering aerodynamic efficiency with unique looks. The V8 from Studebaker’s Hawk model was used with an optional super-charged version available at launch in April 1962. The pre-order count climbed but production couldn’t match, mainly due to miss-calculations and body panels failing to fit correctly.
The South Bend Factory, home of Avanti, closed its doors in December 1963 but the story continued with a local Indiana Studebaker dealer. Nate Altman, determined to keep the project going along with the South Bend factory joined with business partner Leo Newman. Avanti II arrived in August 1964 fitted with a Chevy V8 from the Corvette, a much improved car on the original. Hand built Avanti II’s sold in small but profitable numbers for the next decade and following the death of co-founder Altman in 1976 his brother Arnold took the reins. The Avanti company changed hands to wealthy enthusiast Stephen Blake in 1982 when a 3rd
version was built plus a coupe and convertible in 1984. A new glossy paint finish proved their downfall when it failed to adhere, forcing a massive recall programme that bankrupted Blake. Several attempts have been made to re-introduce the Avanti marque, the last and final effort came to nothing in 2007.