In the early days of the American Automobile Industry many strange things happened that shaped the industry into the brands we know today. Henry Ford and the Ford Motor Company were not immediate successes, Henry Ford presented
his plans for the Ford Quadricycle to Thomas Edison, Cadillac was an outgrowth of Henry Ford’s second Bankruptcy, Lincoln became part of Ford as revenge for the actions of Henry Leyland and, Edsel Ford did far greater things than the car named for him. Woven in this amazing evolution were some pretty spectacular works of art, and machinery.
Recently we became the owners of a champion bred Whippet watching her run with her brother is an example of the beauty and grace that inspired the radiator and hood ornaments of iconic brands from years gone by, and the catalyst for this article.
Greyhounds: Henry Ford was born near Dear-born Michigan in 1863. His first mechanical success was with a pocket watch gifted to him; at 13 he simply took it apart and back together. His mechanical skill became known and requested. At 16 he left life on his family’s farm and became a machinist apprentice. While working for Thomas Edison he married had son Edsel and by 1896 developed plans for his Quadricycle and presented them.
His first attempt at auto manufacturing failed after one year, the company did not bear his name it was “The Detroit Automotive Company” next was the “Henry Ford Company” another short-lived attempt and abandoned. It wasn’t till 1903 that the “Ford Motor Company” was finally incorporated. Racing new variants brought fame and recognition and in 1908 the first Model T rolled out of the factory.
It wasn’t till 1913 that the assembly line was introduced and a new model T could be built in one hour and thirty-three minutes. Over the next two decades business flourished. In 1922 Ford bought Lincoln a company started by Henry Leyland who took over the “Henry Ford Company” and renamed it Cadillac. Well Revenge was in Henry Ford’s heart when he walked Henry and Wilfred Leyland out of their company after buying it for a supper low price.
Lincoln was originally named for Abraham Lincoln our 16th President. Edsel Ford was flexing his corporate muscles and Henry didn’t like that; he put Edsel in charge of Lincoln. Edsel had an eye for design and wanted his father to redo the Model T. Now at Lincoln he could express his abilities. In 1927 Edsel commissioned Gorham Silver Company to create a hood ornament for the Lincoln. Edsel looked at the Greyhound as a symbol of Elegance, Style and Grace. The Greyhound ornament was used through the 1930’s. Henry Ford had tried to appeal to the upscale market with more opulent Models with little success. Edsel was able to succeed with the Lincoln and later with the New Model A with a Greyhound radiator cap manufactured only by Stant as a factory option. The introduction of the New Model “A” ended 19 years of production and 15 million sales of the Model T.
Whippets John P. Willy didn’t live in Detroit; however Detroit had not become the auto capital of the United States yet. He was born in 1873 and lived most of his life in Upstate New York. He too was the son of a farmer. In his early business years he owned a bicycle shop and then became a bicycle manufacturer, and then, an automobile retailer of Overland cars. He became a successful business person who knew how to take advantage of one company’s misfortune and turn it to his advantage.
His original Willy’s Overland Company was an amalgamation of several failed companies that resulted in becoming; second only to Ford Motor Company in 1915. Willy’s headquarters was in Toledo Ohio probably because of companies he bought. One example was the assembly plant used by Duesenberg when they ran into financial trouble. He acquired a unique and sought after “Knight” sleeve valve engine that powered many early cars and machinery. Much later it would be part of the trilogy that created the Jeep; but we are talking of the 1920’s.
John Willy was fascinated with the European design of cars. Europe was building lower slightly
smaller bodied cars with more streamlined style. He had seen success with 4 and 6 cylinder models and several body styles. In 1927 some four decades before the Ford Falcon, Plymouth Valiant and Chevy Vega he set his sights on a 100 inch wheelbase car powered by a six cylinder engine that would cost under $1000.00 Dollars. The car was a tremendous success in its day.
In England in the mid 1800’s The Whippet dog breed was evolving and getting known as the “Poor man’s Race Horse”. The smallest of Greyhounds were bred with Terriers to establish this medium sized, beautifully proportioned, lean, super fast, spirited and agile breed. An early promotion pitted a Whippet dog that could cover 200 yards in 13 seconds (a speed of 35 mph) against his new model. The Whippet Car was graced with a “Beautiful Leaping Whippet” part #343490
that was drawn in-house long before Jaguar established the Leaper and Growler for their automotive Masterpieces.
In 1927 Model T Ford Sales dropped to 399,750 units; the Whippet sold 100,000 in the first year and was the third largest in 1928 with 355,000 cars. War, leveraged finances and the depression ended this and other Willy’s Models; however there is much more to this story of automotive survival.
Today the Whippet Dog Breed is the 55th most popular in America and often mistaken for the small Italian Greyhound or the larger Greyhound the Willy cars are far less well-known; unless you like drag racing or off-road trail blazing. I guess, Speed, Stamina, and, Agility works in different ways!
Jaguars it was 1922 William Lyons was 21 and William Wamsley was 30. These men’s fathers covered an overdraft account worth 1000£. With that a new company was started it would build sidecar for surplus triumph motorcycles. In Europe small cars, cycle cars and motor bikes were all gaining popularity.
Even though the economic condition was challenging by 1926 the company had grown and required larger facilities. While the company expanded into newer and bigger facilities it got a new name. “Swallow Sidecar and Coach building Company”. In 1927 they produced a two seat car based on the Austin Seven called the “Austin Swallow”. By 1928 the company relocated to Coventry; a larger facility was needed and a larger car would be introduced. 1929 yielded nearly 100 Fiat Swallow Cars. The next years were a blur with cars produced with obsolete fiat chassis and on standard or swift chassis.
By 1929 Mr. Lyons had created a low sleek Swallow SS; it wasn’t till 1936 that the first SS Jaguar 100 was produced. Mr. Lyons commissioned F. Gordon Crosby an artist to create the Iconic “Leaper” a big cat not a dog; amazingly these creatures run and compress their spines and running look similar. Today it is the symbol of the company and graces all its vehicles in many ways. Originally the Leaper was
offered for the cost of two pounds and two shillings. Over the years there were several updates to the Leaper. Although an ocean separated them Fords, Lincolns, Willy’s, and, Jaguars reason for choosing their mascot was similar. All exhibited speed, grace, and, agility.
The Jaguar existed as a model from SS Cars Limited who built complete cars in conjunction with Standard Motor Company. After the war years the connotation of SS was not popular and SS Cars Became Jaguar Cars in 1945 and remained that way until it merged in 1966 with British Leyland, after that there were many changes I will write about in the future. Many years after Greyhounds adorned the hoods of Lincolns and Fords, Jaguar with its “Leaper” logo became the property of ford motor company.
Not to leave the poor man’s race horse out of this; remember the Whippet was a dog breed from England and the car with it on its hood was built in America with European influences. The car raced to life in a short burst of speed and quietly vanished with barely a whimper. Its pretty amazing to me that as an infant my first ride in a car was a Willy’s Knight and we are now owners of a Whippet!
I hope you enjoyed this article and look for future announcements on “Automotive Magnetism”
Please Note: This article would not be possible without the information culled from the internet. The information in this article is available to everyone who dares to search. The words and story line are my own. “art that works not works of art”
alan b. meschkow
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