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Pick of the Day: Among the last of the Detroit Electrics


George Smolinski
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I believe it's for sale, but I posted in General because I'm curious if anyone knows about these, has one, or has seen one.

https://journal.classiccars.com/2020/10/05/pick-of-the-day-among-the-last-of-the-detroit-electrics/?utm_source=infusionsoft-pod&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=pod&inf_contact_key=4af3141fd5a0135cf5cb6d40a44ca59b09c74070ac2bf3cfa7869e3cfd4ff832

If you could ignore the headline and caption and see only the photograph above, you sharp-eyed automotive historians might assume that the Pick of the Day is some sort of automotive concoction created by placing a late 1930s Willys greenhouse atop a late 1930s Dodge body.

And you’re be pretty close, because that’s just what Detroit Electric was doing as it struggled against the tide for viability in the automotive marketplace with its battery-powered vehicles. 

The Pick of the Day is, indeed, a rare surviving 1937 Detroit Electric Model 99C being advertised on ClassicCars.com by a dealer in St. Louis, Missouri.

Who knew that Detroit Electric, or any of the early EV producers, was still in business that far into the 20th Century (Detroit Electric ended production in 1939)? Or that its drivers still steered its vehicles with tillers instead of steering wheels? 

The Anderson Carriage Company was founded in 1884 in Port Huron, Michigan, but William C. Anderson moved his company to Detroit in the mid-1890s and in 1907 it moved again, not physically but from producing carriages to cars.

In the early days of the American automobile, about one-third of cars were powered by petroleum, another third by steam and the other third by electric batteries. Anderson was a leader in that final category, in part because of marketing his cars to urban-dwelling women who didn’t like the idea of powering up a boiler or the danger of hand-cranking an engine.

Detroit Electric cars (Anderson retired in 1918 and the company’s name changed a year later) also were popular because of their styling, which included a faux-radiator front section and a tall, glass-enclosed passenger compartment that resembled a china closet. And with a tiller that pivoted out of the B pillar, the interior was roomy and uncluttered.

 

Of course, tastes change, so in an effort to give its vehicles a more-modern appearance, the company started buying bodies from Willys-Overland, and then from Dodge, and thus the look of today’s car. 

“It isn’t known precisely how many of these later Detroits were built, and they are a rare sight, indeed,” the dealer notes in the advertisement. 

“This rare and unusual 1937 Detroit Electric Model 99 is an incredibly well-preserved survivor. It is a very late production model, one of a mere handful of known examples featuring the Dodge-sourced bodywork. It benefits from recent, sympathetic servicing and is offered in good working order, with a charming and endearing patina.”

The Model 99 was the long-wheelbase version of the Detroit Electric, with 112 inches between axles. The company also produced a model 97 on a 100-inch platform.

The dealer points out that “While Detroit sought to make the styling more conventional, the cabin is anything but that. The parlor-style seating arrangement places the driver on the rear bench seat, with a rear-facing jump seat and no traditional dash or steering column. The Model 99 was undoubtedly one of the last passenger cars sold with tiller steering. 

“Like the body, the cabin is exceptionally well-preserved, with original gray fabric trim in very good order. A few blemishes and minor tears are expected, yet overall, the seats, panels, and carpets are surprisingly intact. Fittings like the window winders and door handles have lovely, ornate details reflecting the Model 99’s high-end status.”

Appearances aside, “The beauty of early electric vehicles of this type is in their mechanical simplicity. Without a fuel system, cooling system, or many moving parts to maintain, they’re refreshingly straightforward to own and enjoy.”

The Standard Encyclopedia of American Cars reports that Detroit Electric advertised that its cars would “take you anywhere that an automobile may go with a milage radius farther than you will ever care to travel in a day.” It advertised a range of 80 miles between battery charges, although in an endurance run, a Detroit Electric reached 211.3 miles on a single charge.

“This example has been fitted with new, updated deep-cycle batteries in the front and rear compartments,” the dealer reports. “It drives quite well and needs little to enjoy to the fullest on the road. 

“It would also be a most welcome participant in preservation-class shows or in gatherings of historically significant alternative-fuel vehicles that are an increasingly relevant part of international concours events.”

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I believe I saw that car (and a twin) in a pole barn at an auction just north of Davison, Mi. about 5 years ago. The auction was to settle the estate of a classmate of mine and consisted of a huge collection of early Ford (T,A, and V8) cars and parts and these two unexpected odd-balls. I dont remember what they sold for, or if they did ( I assume there was a reserve), but I do remember there was very little interest in them among the Ford fans at that sale.

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Great car.......and a fantastic relic of the Edwardian motor age dragged into the late depression era. If I tripped over it, I wold add it to my collection. Rare, unusual, obscure, unique......can't ask much more than that!

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25 minutes ago, Restorer32 said:

Electrics steer much better to the left than they do to the right if you're built like me. 

 

Why would one want to "go left"!😎

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16 minutes ago, George Smolinski said:

I can think of 2 classes of people who would. The first is a NASCAR or other stock car driver. Considering the political season we're in, I'll leave the other class for you to figure out.

NASCAR drivers and smart people, but lets try and stay on topic here!

 

If you compare the photographs of the car for sale and the ones of it and its twin at the earlier auction, you can see that during its "....recent, sympathetic servicing..." they clearly replaced the grille and the front bumper off of the one for sale with the one off the less complete car. Apparently, the one originally on the car just wasnt rusty enough , or the replaced bumper and grille had that dent (visible in the auction pictures )in it that they didnt want to try and fix. It also had its Dodge Ram hood ornament removed- which probably wasnt original to the Detroit Electric rebodying effort anyway- and the blank plate or cover either off of the parts car or on that extra grille surround that is leaning against the car in the auction photographs was installed in its place.

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4 hours ago, Matt Harwood said:

Tiller steer even in 1937. How odd that must have felt to those consumers, electric or not. I wonder if that might have had anything to do with their demise?

Trivia question.....is it the last passenger car made with tiller steering?

 

Craig

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4 hours ago, Matt Harwood said:

Tiller steer even in 1937. How odd that must have felt to those consumers, electric or not. I wonder if that might have had anything to do with their demise?

Also odd is the seating position compared to other vehicles of the time.  One is basically controlling the car from the rear seat in relation, and the seat itself appears to not be adjustable looking at the closeness of tiller shaft to it.  I suspect the driver must have very long legs to reach the pedals.

 

Craig

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1 hour ago, Ben P. said:

In other words, these cars were built at the request of people who either only ever drove one - or were at least familiar with them.

Sound familiar to anyone? Let me know because I’ll be darned to remember which book I read that in and probably won’t read them ALL again🙂

 

I read that somewhere myself about thirty to forty years ago. I Am fairly sure I read it in one of the hobby magazines. It could have been almost any of the major ones, AACA, HCCA, VMCCA, Car Classics (Remember those?), or even Old Cars Weekly. So I won't be of much help to you.

Detroit  in trying to stay in business, as well as providing for their long standing customers, about 1930 or so was buying back their older models from estates and rebuilding them with some updating in appearance. The cars when redone would look like a 1915 Detroit Electric with Ford V8 wheels on them. (I don't think they were Ford wheels, but looked similar.) I think it was shortly after that that they began sourcing bodies and building cars like the one being discussed here. 

 

Personally, I have always wanted an early electric car. When I was still in high school, just getting into the hobby, I got to know a fellow in the local horseless carriage club that often went on local tours with his car. If I recall correctly, I think his was a Baker Electric. He was a very nice and friendly person. I do still remember his name. Lloyd Gano (spelling?). He was also allowed to drive the Electric on local one and two cylinder tours. I remember he would often start out ahead of the other early cars, and keep ahead of most of them for awhile. Eventually, the batteries would slow down, and the rest of the tour would pass him. He usually completed the tours  just a bit behind the others. He often came in at about ten miles per hour on now weak batteries.

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To me it looks like a late 20's Coupe bastardized with mid 30's Dodge hood and all 4 fenders grafted on the old coupe.  I would need lot of documentation to allow it on the judging field.  plus it's a hot rod with a later drive line.  REJECT  Not AACA material  IMHO

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I don't see the idea of not AACA eligible? They were small productions, as were a thousand other cars? They outsourced their bodies? So did MANY major Classics, and my 1915 model T Ford runabout (I 'think' my runabout is a Beaudette body, Ford sourced from at least five body companies in 1915). Ford did not begin building bodies inhouse until about 1917, and even at that continued to outsource many bodies throughout model T and model A production. The 1924 T coupe I used to have was a Fischer body.

 

I often argue that drawing firm lines in the sand is not really possible. There are always huge gray areas. The model T boat-tail roadster I had years ago had a manufactured body on a Ford chassis. It was authentically restored to as it could have been done in 1921. I would argue it should qualify as an AACA vehicle. Model T speedsters quite frankly get a well deserved bad rap. That is because too many people "restore" them to their own vision based upon other people's bad ideas (see how many old friends I offend with that statement?). However, the reality is, that model T (and other) speedsters and racing cars are as much a part of automotive history as any great Classic. Who would turn away Locomobile's Old Number 16?

Unfortunately, all that can open up a whole other lot of cans of worms. Yeah. Those lines are awfully hard to draw.

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Detroit Electric stopped making new cars around 1920. After that they stayed in business by reconditioning older models. They would take a used 1916 model, cut down the top, replace the old straight sided tires with new wheels and balloon tires, put on new headlights, tail lights and bumpers, repaint and reupholster, and recondition the chassis and drive motor and controls, and install new batteries. For all practical purposes you had a new electric car.

Newest of these restoration models I know of, was a 1932. Evidently they continued making cars on a one off basis until 1939. Whether the 1933 - 39s  used any reconditioned motors, controls or chassis or whether they were all new I don't know.

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6 hours ago, wayne sheldon said:

I don't see the idea of not AACA eligible? They were small productions, as were a thousand other cars? They outsourced their bodies? So did MANY major Classics, and my 1915 model T Ford runabout (I 'think' my runabout is a Beaudette body, Ford sourced from at least five body companies in 1915). Ford did not begin building bodies inhouse until about 1917, and even at that continued to outsource many bodies throughout model T and model A production. The 1924 T coupe I used to have was a Fischer body.

It still occurs in the 21st century.  The Tesla Roadster body was supplied by Lotus. (Elise)

 

Craig

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2 minutes ago, alsancle said:


Are we all talking about a different car?   1937 Detroit Electric was we’re my comments were directed.

Yes, a different car.

 

In keeping with the topic of an electric car using an outsourced body was still being done up until a few years ago.

 

Craig

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