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The Great Unknown

Here we have big and little today and the big is a mystery we hope you can help out with, the little car appears to be a small 20 h.p., and is possibly a Metz or a similar make.

The big car appears to be a production car that has been modernized somewhat by the addition of a massive vee-shaped radiator and an unusual hood. It also has the oddest shelf on the sides of the top of the body, that almost appears to be an add-on or after thought along with a curved ridge below the doors. The most unusual front fender bills, which appear to be add-ons can be seen along with what appear to be electric parking lights. The feel that we get from this car (reminds us of a great white shark), is that is has been dressed up and rebuilt to look like a German Benz. The headlamps at first appeared to be Solarclipse lamps but are by some other maker and maybe of the French Bresnard type of lamp or a copy (see thumbnail below).

We have been studying what chassis details are visible (wheels, hubcaps and front frame horns) on this car and match has not been found with any domestic maker yet. From the length of the hood, it appears to possibly be a six-cylinder and it is right hand drive, so there are two more clues to go by. We believe that Locomobile, Lozier, Winton and Thomas have been ruled out so far in the checking that we have done.

Another possibility is that it is an import, as the cowl shape is similar to what has been used on Rolls-Royce (chassis details do not match) and also has been seen on some German makes. The odd hinges on the doors are also quite unusual for this country, which may also indicate it is from a foreign land.

So readers, its time for you to put on you’re thinking caps and figure out exactly what we have here. Hopefully the license plate experts can id the state the plates are from. Please send us a comment if you can help. Photos courtesy of Barry Wolk.

This car has understandably been quite interesting to readers, one, Binney Beale whose families cars we featured photos of this past summer had Fiats. This enlargement of the wheel on one of the Fiats looks very close to the mystery car, both the hub and the hub-cap. This was a 1911 which is around the same vintage but was a 4-cyl. What we need to come up next is a good photo of an early teens Fiat six that hopefully also shows the frame horns to see if we may have a match. Thank you Binney.

29 responses to “The Great Unknown

  1. These shots were taken in Jackson, Michigan. Note the Vernor’s Ginger Ale sign, a Detroit-based company.

    Many people are thinking that it is truck based. Daimler and Mercedes were using grill shells like that in their cars and cars that they partnered on.

    • Barry, Thanks for the details, I did notice the ginger ale sign. I don’t believe it is based on a truck as some others are thinking. I think this was a one off custom on a large car chassis or a remodeled existing car. The radiator is very Benz and Mercedes like but appears to be like a caricature of the real thing. The hood is also quite odd.

    • The wedge shape radiator shell was used by several makes of the period. I think a spill over from racing. Hispano Suiza and Isotta Fraschini used them on occasion and built heavy duty vehicles. The wheels are heavy duty. The 1914 Isotta Fraschini in this link has the radiator shell and heavy duty wheels. It also has a very tall hood like this car.

    • Barry could very well be so….I am just guessing what I think may have been done with this car, like I mentioned in the last reply I thought
      it could also have been a custom body on a manufactured chassis ?

      Regardless it is really neat and we are happy you are sharing the photos…..Thanks

  2. The radiator surround appears to be that for high cooling capacity Mercedes (and Daimler) from 1913 on….First on the Model 37/90 I believe…

  3. The body looks foreign(Renault?).The wheels look American.The steering
    column isn’t a good match.The inspiration was foreign.The lights in the forward
    part of the fenders are typical of ’13-’14 sidelamps.The wheels lead me to believe
    the chassis wasn’t too old before it received its body.
    It was an early attempt at an amateur custom job(no pro would do the hood
    like they did).You’d have to be 6’8″ to see over the hood, What an interesting and
    unusual car(and picture).Thanks for sharing it with us.

    Tony Costa

  4. David, The hubs look similar to FIAT . The radiator although similar to Mercedes, Benz and Isotta Fraschini in the V shaped appearance looks to be fin and tube certainly not the quality of the former marks. Binney

  5. I don’t know that you can use wheels to determine the origin of the car as wheels were something that were outsourced by manufacturers all over the world.

    I would say it was a purpose built car. I don’t believe it was cobbled at all. It was built from a functional standpoint, not aesthetics. I think one of the keys will be the actual manufacturer of the smaller car.

    From my observation, I don’t think it’s a Mercedes as they were always all about their three-point star. It is emblazoned, twice, on every pointy-grilled car they made. Daimler, as well as a host of others used the prominent V grille and radiator, so it could be any of them.

    Even if that is a 90-inch wheelbase Metz, which I don’t think it is, the beast is half again as tall and appears nearly twice as long. It does look very truck-like and looks as though it has a pretty good-sized engine under the hood. The side hatch on the driver’s side of the hood intrigues me as the hood was probably too heavy to be opened unassisted so access was provided for oil inspection or other functions.

    At 6’5″ I would probably appear normal size in it.

    • (I don’t know that you can use wheels to determine the origin of the car as wheels were something that were outsourced by manufacturers all over the world.)
      Barry, If we can find a good clear photo of the front frame horns and wheels on a Fiat and they match, we may have found that the coach work it is on a big six Fiat chassis?

    • Barry, I think you indeed are correct, in looking at several photos of the time it appears that the Metz had a tubular front axle and the smaller car appears to have a forged i-beam axle. The bottom of the radiator tank on the Metz is also curved and not flat as this car is. So it indeed does not appear to be a Metz. The ID of this car may be an avenue as they may in fact be related in some way.

  6. David, I’m going to hazard a guess and say the big car in question may be an Austrian-built Puch. I cannot find an actual picture of one but the book “Cars of the World” published in the early ’60’s has a line drawing a car similar to this one. Besides motorcycles I think Puch also built trucks so the large dimensions of the car wouldn’t be surprising.

  7. David, I have checked Fiat and Isotta references and have found front hubs with 16
    bolts and similar hub caps ; however both those makes used 2 not 3 horizontal rivets
    to attach the dumb irons to the front frame members. The Puch mentioned as a
    possibility appears to have only had a 3,560cc engine hardly needing the long crank
    at the front of this mystery car.

    • Binny, Thanks so much for taking the time to check that out…..The hunt goes on, I have been checking out 1912 and later six-cylinder Fiats which even have the same type of crank handle but I have not found a good side view of the frame horns yet.

  8. Some Locomobiles of the era have similar character lines under the doors, and some have engine service doors on the side of the hood. Locos before 1914 had both left and right hand steering, gradually moving to left. Locos have front wheels all over the map, some without lugs and some with 6 or 8.

    I don’t think the steering wheel is mounted high enough for it to have been done by a car maker of the time. The body may be off a wrecked Loco with custom body work, the hood and radiator look fabricated and heaven knows where the chassis (pieces?) may have come from.

  9. Kate asked me about this, but didn’t say where it came from. I told her I thought it was a manipulated photo.

    In the first one: I can accept that someone would make a touring car out of a Seagrave or something, but would all the hardware be scaled up to match? I don’t think so. And what the hell is going on with the spare? I can’t figure out where it’s supposed to be mounted. Then there’s the top. A; compare it to picture two, and it sure looks sliced off; and B; is there any mounting hardware for it? I also don’t particularly like the way the two cars interact.

    In the second photo with driver and passenger, the scale doesn’t seem to match. When compared to the smaller car in photo one, those (Italian-looking, to me) people should be dwarfed by this thing, shouldn’t they?

    I call (period) fake.

    • David, They are in fact real period photos that do not appear to be manipulated.

      As to the spare we, have seen them mounted in this position before, if fact I seem recall seeing an Olds Limited with a spare in that position.

      Many people back in that period were in fact shorter than today, that and the vertical riser may make them look small.

      We think it is a remodeled car on a big six-cylinder chassis.

  10. I cannot really help with the identification of either car, but I think you are wrong with the scale. The smaller car looks to have very similar proportions to my Saxon, which would indicate the larger car is, perhaps, something like a 40hp. The size of the Michigan licence plates would support my suggestion, too.
    I would suggest the larger car is circa 1910-12, European (probably German or Austrian) and not heavily modified, apart from the extended front fenders carrying the sidelights. It was quite common to put the spare wheel in the rear compartment like this after a puncture – that may well not be the normal location!
    I don’t see anything unusal about the top; there are side location irons between the doors where I would expect them, and a good chauffeur should manage that without too much trouble!

  11. The smaller roadster could be a Fuller. If the identification of the photos being taken in Jackson Michigan is significant, that is where the Fuller Buggy Co was making high-wheeler buggies as well as conventional four-cylinder powered roadster between 1909 and 1911.

    As for the big one, do the fairings in front of the rear mudguards indicate chain-drive?
    It certainly looks like a Puch Alpenwagen, but then there were many others using similar designs. The Austrian Steyr and German Fadag were using that V radiator shape in the1920s, but neither was producing cars before WW1 and would not have had those lamps, so we can probably rule those out.
    Bianchi of Milan made an 8 litre chain-drive model looking similar as did Bergmann making Metalurgiques under licence in Germany, but I have been unable to find clear enough photos to compare.
    I will follow this saga with interest.

  12. As for the roadster on the right, another car maker in Jackson was, surprisingly, called Jackson. I found a photo of their 1911 30 hp Tourer which although a much larger car has a similar design radiator, and they did list a smaller 20hp model.
    I am still digging.
    Chris M.

  13. This 1923 Steyr is very similar:


  14. Did Hollywood make up cars to frighten people in horror movies in
    1914? No self-respecting wealthy person would be caught dead in this
    assault on the senses. Dr. Snodgrass once gave me a ride in his 1914
    American Fiat Type 56(I believe 572 cubic inches).It was smooth and powerful with a ride superior to most ’20’s luxury cars. To end up with
    such a loss of dignity,the car must have had a terrible wreck before being rebodied by the local blacksmith.

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