Gray Motor Corporation

 This rare Gray Touring car is on display at the Classic Car Collection in Kearney, Nebraska:

The Gray Motor Corporation began manufacturing automobiles in 1922 and set a new world’s record for long distance gasoline economy that same year.  The record was set by a stock Gray carrying a capacity load.  At 10 o’clock on a Wednesday morning in September, Mayor Rolph of San Francisco officially started the Gray on its run to New York.  The Gray headed south toward Los Angeles on the first leg of its journey, complete with a police escort.  The driver was Leo DeClark, and he was accompanied by Captain A. B. Waldon, the official observer for the American Automobile Association.

Philadelphia Inquirer (September 24, 1922)

It could not have been an easy trip considering the state of our nation’s roads, or lack thereof, at the time.  The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that, “The tour from San Francisco to New York puts a severe test upon any car.  Mountains must be climbed and deserts with heavy sandy roads negotiated.  Rivers are to be forded, and storms are to be expected.  In some parts of the route, the Gray will encounter thick, clayey, gumbo roads that seem actually to grasp the wheels in an endeavor to hold them back.”

In spite of the unfavorable conditions, the Gray made the trip in 26 days and 16 hours.  It traveled a total of 4,819 miles and averaged 33.8 mpg. This success was featured in Gray Motor Corporation advertising:

Pittsburgh Post Gazette (November 12, 1922)

 Unfortunately, it was not enough to keep the company in business.  They closed their doors in 1926, and that was the end of the world record-setting Gray automobile.   

Buick Portholes (I Mean VentiPorts)

Buick Ad – December 1948

Here is an interesting fact about Buick portholes . . . the official term for them is “VentiPorts”. They first appeared on the 1949 Buick and were actually functional at that time. They were used, according to Buick, “for identification and cooling purposes”. The origination of the VentiPort is described this way by the GM Heritage Center:

“The idea for VentiPorts grew out of a modification Buick styling chief Ned Nickles had added to his own 1948 Roadmaster. Four amber lights were installed on each side of the car’s hood which were wired to the distributor. The lights flashed on and off as each piston fired which was supposed to simulate the flames from the exhaust stack of a fighter airplane. Combined with the bombsight mascot, VentiPorts put the driver at the controls of an imaginary fighter airplane. Buick chief Harlow Curtice was so impressed with this styling feature that he ordered that non-lighting VentiPorts be installed on all 1949 Buicks, with the number of VentiPorts (three or four) corresponding to the relative displacement of the straight-eight engine installed.”

Buick Ad -November 1948

After 1949, the VentiPorts were no longer used for cooling, some say because Buick owners were complaining about kids shoving all sorts of unwanted items into the holes. In any case, they became purely decorative like the ones on this 1952 Buick:

1952 Buick Special at the Nebraska Prairie Museum
1952 Buick Special at the Nebraska Prairie Museum
1952 Buick Special at the Nebraska Prairie Museum

This is what the VentiPorts look like off of the car:

1951-2 Buick Roadmaster VentiPort
1951-2 Buick Special VentiPort

The number of VentiPorts helped to distinguish Buick model series with the more powerful Buicks, with more chrome, having more VentiPorts . For instance, only the Roadmaster had four VentiPorts through 1954. Then, in 1955, four were placed on the Roadmaster, the Century and the Super while the Special had only three.

1955 Buick Century (Buick sales brochure)
1955 Buick Special (Buick sales brochure)

Along with the cars, the VentiPorts themselves were restyled year after year. This is a 1956 VentiPort:

VentiPorts disappeared in 1958 and 1959, but they came back with a vengeance throughout the 1960s with a new rectangular shape. The 1964 Wildcat mixed things up by featuring vertically stacked VentiPorts. This is a VentiPort from a 1969 Buick Sport Wagon:

The VentiPorts continue to be brought back from time to time. Even the compact Apollo had them during the 1970s! Maybe Buick should make better use of them today in order to stand out from a field of cars that all look the same.

Buick Ad – June 1954
Buick Ad – July 1950

The Dodge Brothers and Henry Ford, Part 3

John Dodge
Horace Dodge

On November 3, 1916, the headlines of one paper read:

Evening Times Republican

The Dodge brothers, John and Horace, owned 10 percent of the Ford Motor Company stock, and that stock had proved lucrative.  From January of 1914 to October of 1915, special dividends of $34 million had been distributed to shareholders in addition to regular monthly dividends of 5 percent.  With earnings of around $60 million for the year ending July 31, 1916, it looked like even bigger dividends were on the horizon.  It looked that way, that is, until Henry Ford, the Detroit man accused of wild speculation, said otherwise.

Henry Ford

Ford announced that there would be no special dividends issued because profits were going to be used, instead, for business expansion.  Ford had plans to invest in iron ore mines and to build ships to transport the ore to steel manufacturing plants that would also be built and owned by Ford.  The Dodge brothers obtained a temporary injunction blocking Ford’s plans.  They accused Ford of engaging in reckless behavior during unstable post-war conditions and of depriving shareholders of a reasonable return on their investments. 

For his part, Henry Ford denied the allegations of recklessness and said he was only continuing his successful business model of selling a tremendous number of cars at a small margin of profit.  The LA Times quoted him as saying, “They own 10 percent of the stock and I own about 58 percent.  I can’t injure them $10 worth without at the same time injuring myself $58 worth.”

The court proceedings were brimming with showmanship and hyperbole.  The attorney for the Dodges asserted that much of Ford’s success was due to the mechanical and engineering abilities of the Dodge Brothers and questioned whether Henry Ford was “inventive genius or inventive crank.”  He also stated that Ford’s goal was to crowd out all competition, and if he would only admit that purpose he would go to jail. Ford accused the Dodge Brothers of just being jealous competitors.  He said the brothers tried to force him to buy them out and threatened to harass him until he did.  During the court proceedings, Ford shook his finger at the Dodges’ attorney and said “If you sat there until you are petrified I wouldn’t buy the Dodge stock nor would I buy that of any other stockholder.”

The court eventually sided with the Dodges, and that judgment was mostly affirmed by the Michigan Supreme Court.  Ford was ordered to issue dividends in the amount of $19,275,385 with the Dodges getting 10 percent of that.  Also, despite the finger shaking, Ford did buy back the stock owned by the Dodges in July of 1919 for $25 million.  The long-standing Dodge-Ford relationship had finally been severed.

Sadly, tragedy was about to strike the Dodge brothers.  In January of 1920, Horace and John attended an auto show in New York.  While there, they both contracted the influenza which had been a world-wide epidemic, and it developed into pneumonia.  John never left New York, dying in his room at the Ritz-Carlton.  He was only fifty-five years old. Horace continued to struggle with health complications until he died in December of that year with cirrhosis of the liver listed as the official cause.  He was only fifty-two years old at his death.

According to author Charles K. Hyde in The Dodge Brothers: The Men, the Motor Cars and the Legacy, Henry Ford and the Dodge brothers maintained a remarkably cordial relationship after the lawsuit.  It was well known that Ford was capable of carrying a grudge.  For instance, looking back at all he had achieved, Ford once said that he considered his “outstanding achievement” to be defeating George Selden (in the the automobile patent court fight).  He did not appear to retain any animosity toward the Dodges, however, and was reportedly very upset when he received the news of John’s death.  He attended John’s funeral and both he and his son, Edsel, served as honorary pallbearers at Horace’s funeral.

Unlike many of the showmen in the early days of the automobile industry, the Dodge brothers were not interested in self-promotion.  Perhaps that’s why John and Horace Dodge are not names as well-known as Henry Ford and others, and why there haven’t been numerous books written about them.  Their goal was simply to build a quality product “that speaks for itself,” their company motto.  The Dodge brothers made enormous contributions to the automobile industry and should be remembered accordingly.  This ad was published shortly after the death of Horace Dodge, and it is a fitting tribute, short and sweet, and one that surely would have had their approval:

The Indiana Gazette

The Dodge Brothers and Henry Ford, Part 1

The Dodge Brothers and Henry Ford, Part 2