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Updated: Seagrave-American Jet: Rare Period Photos of a Surviving Prototype

Update below. After finding the rare period photo above in auto historian Alden Jewell’s collection of a car that has been known in the past as the Seagrave Car, we decided to find out more about this unique compact 1961 prototype. Two surviving fiberglass bodied cars were eventually constructed, and it has been reported that a third vehicle with aluminum coachwork was built.

The following information was on auto historian John Lloyd’s Flicker feed, the source of the lead image from the “Car Life” article below: “This prototype car was produced by Continental Motors of Muskegon, Michigan. They hoped to find a company to produce the car and then manufacture and sell the engines needed to power them. The engine builder approached the Seagrave Fire Apparatus Company, although at the time they were in merger talks with FWD and quickly dropped the idea.”

“Eventually this concept was taken over by the American Jet Company of New York. Not having enough financing to continue the outfit was only able to build a second car. The firm was actually France Jet Motors, who had built one other unsuccessful earlier concept car which was shown at the New York Auto Show.”

More information and photos of the Seagrave-American Jet check the following links to Alden Jewell, and John Lloyd’s photo collections. An article at “Undiscovered Classics” covers the discovery of one of the two surviving Seagrave-American Jet concept cars.

Share with us what you find of interest or can add to this article.

Update: I sincerely appreciate John Lloyd’s interest in some of America’s most obscure little cars. Frankly there just aren’t that many of us with that passion! My research into the Seagrave indicates they were not built by the companies mentioned in this story, but I don’t want to stand firm on a correction if I don’t have all the facts. I would love to see some additional details in this story posting, such as the documents or first-hand recollections that indicate the cars were actually built by Continental and France Jet. I love to be proved wrong. It’s how I grow my knowledge bank!

  • Text from “The Seagrave Car – Who Put Out The Fire” published in 1961 by “Car Life” magazine.

11 responses to “Updated: Seagrave-American Jet: Rare Period Photos of a Surviving Prototype

  1. Interesting. In January of last year I photographed both of the fiberglass bodied Seagraves during a visit to the Sarasota Classic Car Museum on Florida.

    The placard read:

    1961 Seagrave

    Manufactured by: Seagrave
    Production: 2 Fiberglass Bodied Seagrave prototype cars made
    Chassis: Fiberglass, 1700 lbs. Styled from the thunderbird
    Engine: 162 cubic inch four-cylinder engine, 65hp
    Transmission: 4-speed manual

  2. Dave, thanks again for a great article! Fascinated, I did a web search “Sarasota Classic Car Museum Seagrave” and found a web site with many excellent pics (some in color). I know that you say “Please note: links to other sites are not allowed.” so I will not include it. If you care to go to www dot forgottenfiberglass dot com and put Seagrave in the search field, I think that you will be glad you did. Thanks for a great blog and best to you!

  3. David, thanks for publishing the information about the Seagrave car. Unfortunately much misinformation has been published and repeated over the years, and your content includes some of the misinformation. For example, the France Jet was not associated in any way with this car…it was a much smaller roadster with a tiny engine and rounded body lines. Also, Continental was not the manufacturer. They simply provided the engines.

    When Geoff Hacker first published information on Forgotten Fiberglass about the Seagrave back in 2013, he asked me if my research into America’s early economy cars might provide any additional information about the cars and how they came to be. I did. The story is similar to those of Tucker, Playboy, Crosley, Kaiser-Frazer and a handful of similar post-WWII ventures. The car pictured here, incorrectly identified as a Seagrave, was actually the product of an underfunded entrepreneur who had attempted and failed to enter the highly competitive field of automobile manufacturing.

    In 1958, Henry J. Freud commuted daily from his home in Windsor, Ontario, Canada, to the Detroit law offices of Porritt, Freud, Toppin & Louisell. The lawyer and his partner, Charles S. Porritt, dreamed of developing an economical personal sports car. With the help of Detroit tool and die maker Merredity Kettlewell, they concocted a plan to design and develop the idea, embodied in a prototype, and sell it to a manufacturer. The pair collaborated with a retired mechanical engineer and relative of one of the law partners to design and build the car. (The gentleman’s last name was Porritt; I haven’t uncovered his first name.) The car was to be called the Floridian.

    To finance development, Freud and Kettlewell formed Floridian Motors Corporation in Detroit and sold shares to some of their wealthy investor friends. Three Floridian bodies – one of aluminum and two of fiberglass – were assembled on special box-section frames. They carried conventional A-arms and coil springs in front and semi-elliptic leaf springs at the rear on a 93.5-inch wheelbase, which was similar to the Volkswagen Beetle. However, at only 48 inches high, 13 feet long, and 67 inches wide, the Floridian’s stance was more like that of American Motors’ Metropolitan.

    Rolling on 5.50×12-inch tires, the car’s 58-inch tread provided a stable stance that was wide enough to fit three passengers in the front seat. Two additional passengers could ride in a pair of molded fiberglass buckets in the rear. The dashboards carried Stewart Warner instruments and Autolite electrical components. To save on production costs, windshields were standard Ford Thunderbird units.

    By 1960, Floridian Motors had been reorganized as the Detroit-National Automobile Company. Freud continued unsuccessfully to court various corporations in an effort to sell his Floridian personal sports car idea. Unimpressed with his efforts, disgruntled investors withheld funds and Freud was forced to advance nearly $14,000 from his personal bank account to make the Floridian prototypes drivable. He acquired several slightly modified four-cylinder Continental F-162 engines rated at 65 horsepower and installed them in the cars. Top speeds of 75 to 80 miles per hour were reported. The fuel tank held 11 gallons under a 19-cubic-foot trunk.

    On September 24, 1960, Leslie Roberts, chairman of the Seagrave Corporation, confirmed that his firm had purchased all Floridian drawings, prototypes and design rights from Detroit-National. His company had been manufacturing fire fighting vehicles for 75 years and was now studying the feasibility of launching a subsidiary to manufacture the compact, hand-crafted automobile under the Seagrave marque. For less than $3,000, buyers would choose from station wagons, two-door copes, and two-door sedans with their choice of four-, six-, or eight-cylinder Continental engines coupled to automatic or manual transmissions. Borrowing again from Volkswagen, Roberts said his Seagrave cars would retain the same body styling year after year to keep costs low. No more than 25,000 models would be produced annually.

    In January 1961, Sports Car Illustrated reported that three 1,700-pound Seagrave prototypes were running – a convertible, a two-door four-passenger coupe, and a two-passenger coupe. However, by the time the magazine article was published, Seagrave had already backed out of the deal. Roberts’s payment to Freud for the Floridian sports car idea and prototypes was to be in the form of shares in the Seagrave automobile subsidiary, and it would be payable only after car production was underway. That day never came.

    Having become mired in debt, Freud abandoned the Floridian project and wrote his investments off his income taxes, a decision that soon landed him in the Canadian Supreme Court fighting charges of tax evasion. Fortunately at least two Floridians (aka Seagraves) were saved by Martin Godbey and one recently came up for auction.

  4. I sincerely appreciate John Lloyd’s interest in some of America’s most obscure little cars. Frankly there just aren’t that many of us with that passion! My research into the Seagrave indicates they were not built by the companies mentioned in this story, but I don’t want to stand firm on a correction if I don’t have all the facts. I would love to see some additional details in this story posting, such as the documents or first-hand recollections that indicate the cars were actually built by Continental and France Jet. I love to be proved wrong. It’s how I grow my knowledge bank!

  5. It seems like the rakish windshield they selected ultimately did not fill the bill headroom-wise so they had to improvise a bit there. (And somewhat clumsily. “Hardtop Helper” anyone?”) The front end certainly seems a bit Fiat 1200/1500 Spider-ey.

  6. Looks like a rendition of a ‘future car’ out of eastern Europe or Soviet Russia. Pretty sure 65 hp in 1961 or 62 would not have made the cut in the US.

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