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The Comet – The World’s Greatest Cycle Car

The slogan The Worlds’s Greatest Cycle Car is quite a boast, but during the short period of time between 1912 and 1914 when the cycle car craze was active, aggressive marketing was the practice at the time. The January 1, 1914 issue of The Automobile tells us that the Comet was built by the Economy Cyclecar Co. of Indianapolis, Indiana, and it was designed by Fred P. Merz. The name was later changed to the Comet Cycle Car Company.

The 100-inch wheelbase machine with a 36-inch tread was powered by a 10-h.p. Spacke V-twin air-cooled engine that was manufactured by the small engine and air compressor company also located in Indianapolis. The drive was through a planetary transmission and a shaft with dual V-belts and pulleys. It was a pleasantly-styled machine equipped with cycle fenders, the front pair were attached to the spindles and turned with the steering system.    

It was reported in the press that an initial batch of twenty cars were built for testing with production to follow. It is possible this was all that were assembled as the July 4, 1914 Automobile Topics reported on the Company entering into receivership at that time. The postcard image above was from Comet Cyclecar Co. of California, that was located in San Francisco and is courtesy of Alden Jewell. You can view a dozen plus articles covering other cycle cars here on The Old Motor.

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  • “The Cycle and Auto Trade Journal” – January 1, 1914. 

4 responses to “The Comet – The World’s Greatest Cycle Car

  1. Because the Economycar and the Comet looked so similar and because some of the same names were involved, it’s a bit confusing to wade through the corporate history. But here’s my attempt to do so.

    The Economycar prototype was a bullet-shaped tandem unit designed by Charles A. Trask, of Indianapolis, and was reportedly the thirteenth cyclecar brand announced in the United States. It was conceived in 1912, begun early in 1913, and first appeared in the 1913 Indianapolis Decoration Day parade. From its pressed steel frame were hung coil springs in front and quarter elliptical springs in the rear, on a wheelbase and tread of 100 inches and 32 inches, respectively. A 9-horsepower 2-cylinder air-cooled engine provided chain drive to the jackshaft and long belts to the rear wheels. The friction transmission provided only two forward speeds and one reverse. The steering setup was a buggy-like center pivot with cables, similar to the Falcon cyclecar, which enabled one wheel to be raised a foot or more without causing frame distortion. The $375 tandem unit weighed just 400 pounds, while a planned commercial variation with 30x30x40-inch delivery box was to weigh 450 pounds.

    Trask had logged 2,028 miles when he took the Economycar prototype into his shop to rework the pedal action and hand controls. Thereafter, he established the Economy Car Company in Indianapolis. Almost immediately, Trask also turned his sights toward New England. In December 1913, he was joined by J.B. Powell, of Boston, on a reliability run from Boston to Fitchburg, Massachusetts, during which the duo looked for a suitable factory site. A conference with the Fitchburg Board of Trade was conducted. However, a 100,000 square foot building in Providence, Rhode Island, was selected. All Economycar production in Indianapolis was abandoned when the firm organized as the International Cyclecar Company with their offices headquartered on Broadway, in New York City.

    Charles Trask had served as chief engineer for Cartercar, and for the Nordyke and Marmon Company. His new vice-president, Fred K. Parke, had been an officer of several vehicle manufacturing firms, including E.M.F., Studebaker, and the Universal Motor Truck Company. Under the International leadership, the Economycar engine was upgraded to a 12- horsepower unit and a $20 top was made available. Although the Economycar was not particularly noteworthy for its mechanical components or engineering, it did boast the first female cyclecar dealer.

    When the Economycar was featured for The American Cyclecar cover story in March 1914, orders began to pour in. A reporter joined Charles Trask on a trip from New York City, along the Palisades to Fort Constitution in the rugged hills of the Interstate Palisades Park.

    After months of testing and logging approximately 4,000 miles of travel through rain and snow, Trask noted a certain amount of shrinkage to the Wetprufe brand drive belts on the prototype. It was about 1/16th-inch narrower than when new, causing
    him to predict good service for 10,000 to 12,000 miles before new belts would be needed.

    International’s vice-president, Fred Parke, toured across Indiana, Illinois and Minnesota, then turned south through Iowa, Missouri and into Texas, all in an effort to determine whether recent reports that dealers were eager to get demonstrators but had no sales leads were true. To the contrary, Parke found that the Middle-west—Chicago in particular—was an ideal spot to manufacture cyclecars. In Parke’s opinion, Chicago was situated in the very heart of the ripest cyclecar market in the country. With that, the International Cyclecar Company began preparations to build 6,000 units in 1914. However, he had a falling-out of some sort with Charles Trask. By July, Trask had resigned his post with International.

    According to published reports, the Comet cyclecar had been designed by Fred P. Mertz and financed by E.R. Parry and St. Clair Parry. However, if not for the Comet name emblazoned across its sides, most cyclecar enthusiasts would have been hard pressed to tell the difference between it and the Economycar. Indeed, at first glance, the two cars looked alike. Closer examination revealed minor differences, such as Comet’s slightly longer wheelbase and the way its rear fenders were attached to the axle spindles instead of the body. Considering the striking similarity between the two cars, it was likely that the men had claimed more credit than was due them. In fact, Economycar designer Charles Trask had returned to Indianapolis and signed on as factory manager with the Comet Cyclecar Company to build the Economycar lookalike.

    At least 20 Comets were assembled in the Comet Cyclecar Company plant in Indianapolis. The tandem roadster was to list for $500, or $110 higher than a similarly equipped Economycar. However, only a handful of Comet roadsters and delivery cars were sold before the company closed up later in 1914.

  2. My grandfather was Fred K Parke. The family knows very little about him, so this article was particularly interesting to me. I think the car driver in the second photo was Fred K Parke, Am I correct?

  3. My grandfather told me that his father, Willam Lyons, had a major involvement with the Comnet Cyclecar. Also, the great uncle of a friend of mine, whose last name was Henschen. I researched this decades ago, so my memory is dim. But I recall seeing Henschen’s name associated with the company in a city directory. Has anyone seen these names anywhere in Comet Cyclecar documents?

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