1925 Wills Sainte Claire advertisement courtesy of Old Car Advertising
In 1919, Childe Harold Wills, metallurgist and chief engineer for Henry Ford’s first car, walked away with a reported $1.5 million settlement from Ford and $4 million he made in other investments, and set out to build a car of his own. It would be a luxurious and mechanically advanced machine, the opposite of the trusty but simple Model “T”. Wills used the relatively new alloy of molybdenum steel on almost every component of the car that would be stressed with the goal of producing an automobile of unequaled durability. To help the public understand the virtues of this new metal and also pronounce it, it was spelled out phonetically in advertisements the way it appears in our title.
The Model A-68 went on sale in the spring of 1921. Its revolutionary SOHC engine was one of just two in a U.S. production car at the time that we know of and the only V-8, the other being the six cylinder Leach. The Sainte Claire powerplant was a 60 degree, 265 cubic inch affair with integral heads that developed 67 horsepower. Cam drive was by spiral bevel gear and shaft, as seen in the center photo above. Good as the car was, Wills’ relentless perfectionism was problematic. The original target price of $2,000 was exceeded by fifty percent. The first year break even production goal of fifteen hundred units was never achieved, and the company entered receivership in 1922.
An early twenties Wills Sainte Claire Roadster photo courtesy of Shorpy
New financing allowed the development of a new 273 cubic inch inline six cylinder engine with a forged seven main bearing crankshaft and a removable head. Louis B. Miller and J.E. Wieber would set a coast-to-coast record time of 102 hours and 45 minutes in the new car in 1925 only to lose it to Ab Jenkins in a Studebaker in 1926. They would retake the title later that year by a margin of just over 3 hours, but such performances were not enough to make the car a financial success. The company did not survive the recession of 1926 and was forced into liquidation the following year.