1918 American LaFrance Open Speedster
(Featured on 27th May 2013)
Make: American LaFrance
Sellers original description:
In 1871, Truckson LaFrance, whose family trade was iron working, started building rotary steam engines and in 1903, built approximately 25 chain drive cars with tube coil radiators mounted below the front of the frame, 'rear-entrance tonneau' seating, all righthand drive. The price was set at $5,000 and all the vehicles were sold exclusively by Sidney Bowman of New York City. 1906 saw the experiment of shaft drive cars although this was not pursued.
In 1909, Simplex chain-drive rolling chassis were purchased and shipped to the new LaFrance factory in Elmira, New York where new bodies were fitted and badged as LaFrance. In 1910 Simplex contracted LaFrance to design for them a 50hp, four cylinder engine and later the following year, an American LaFrance four cylinder, 50hp Roadster was entered in the one mile dirt track race at the Syracuse New York State Fair. This resulted in Type 75-12-10 & 38 model vehicles being manufactured with approximately 5,000 built until around 1925. These were all in the style that we see this vehicle in today, albeit with an assortment of configurations.
Mercedes-Benz, through their subsidiary Freightliner Corp, purchased the American LaFrance Company in its entirety from the Figgie International Company. With it came the oldest surviving LaFrance car, a 1911 four cylinder, 50hp Roadster and 14 fully restored American LaFrance Fire Trucks which are all now housed in the new LaFrance Museum in Cleveland, North Carolina.
The impressive vehicle on offer today was originally imported into the UK in the mid 1980's whereupon it was converted into the speedster configuration you see today. It was then used extensively on tours and rallies within the UK and throughout Europe before returning to South East England for further restoration. It was completely overhauled, painted and run-in to the point where it can now be used with confidence as required. The 14½ litre, six cylinder, T-Head motor turns over with the aid of a solid iron flywheel and a 5½ bore through twin chain drive to the rear wheels and provides almost unlimited low-down torque. Starting is by either push-button or hand-crank and the radiator is a German silver (nickel silver) unit with an aluminium bonnet and piano hinges. The original vehicle was specified with a Ross steering box, a Rolls-Royce unit and a vast improvement on the original LaFrance item. The seats are in the 'Roi de Belge' style with leather padded wicker and a period touring trunk can be found to the rear. With three forward gears and one reverse, wooden artillery wheels and more kerbside presence than any million pound supercar, it is little surprise that these immense creations are hugely popular on the Peking to Paris Rally; indeed there has been one on every single event (bar one) since its inception and on every single West to East Road Race in the USA.