Ex-General John "Black Jack" Pershing",1918 Locomobile
Lot 516
The ex-General of the Armies John Joseph "Black Jack" Pershing, part of the Larz Anderson Auto Museum collection for over 30 years,1918 Locomobile Model 48-2 Sportif Touring Car Chassis no. 14760
Sold for US$ 161,000 inc. premium
Lot Details
The ex-General of the Armies John Joseph "Black Jack" Pershing, part of the Larz Anderson Auto Museum collection for over 30 years
1918 Locomobile Model 48-2 Sportif Touring Car
Chassis no. 14760
Begun as a manufacturer of steam-powered carriages designed by the Stanley brothers, Locomobile was acquired in 1899 by Amzi Lorenzo Barber, “the asphalt king of America,” who installed his son-in-law, Samuel T. Davis, Jr., as its treasurer. Davis eventually became President and ably guided Locomobile’s transition from steam to gasoline automobiles, hiring Andrew L. Riker in 1901 to design the first gasoline Locomobile. Riker would remain as Locomobile’s chief engineer until 1920, designing the finest quality automobiles in America. For a time Bridgeport, Connecticut, where Locomobiles were built, was the destination of choice for Vanderbilts, Carnegies, Wrigleys and Armours when seeking automobiles of the highest quality in design, materials and construction.

Riker’s masterpiece was the Model 48. Introduced in 1911 with the designation Model M, at its heart was a giant 6-cylinder engine, a massive affair of square bore and stroke (4½” x 4½”, 429 cubic inches.) The iron T-head cylinders were cast in pairs and bolted to a bronze crankcase which contained a drop-forged alloy steel crankshaft that was both statically and dynamically balanced and rode in seven main bearings. An aluminum intake manifold mated up with a bronze-bodied carburetor while the gearbox casing was cast in manganese bronze. The exhaust valves were chrome-cobalt steel.

Rated at 48 horsepower under the ALAM formula, the Locomobile Model 48 was reputed to develop 90 or more horsepower on the brake. A later increase in the Model 48’s stroke to 5½” brought the displacement to 525 cubic inches and although the ALAM rating remained 48hp the actual horsepower must have been even greater than the first 429 cubic inch Model 48s.

The chassis was equal to the engine, with chassis members pressed from chrome-nickel steel, then heat treated and hot-riveted together. It rode on chrome-nickel-tungsten steel leaf springs, had electric starting and a four-speed gearbox. The company’s literature noted that the “price [$5,000 for a 6-7 passenger touring car] includes top, top hood, windshield, speedometer, voltmeter, clock, tire pump, electric horn and demountable rims.” There were no shortcuts taken in the Model 48’s materials, construction methods or finishes and it was without doubt the best performing and most robust American luxury car of its day.

In keeping with its emphasis on quality Locomobile maintained its own coachworks design department headed by former Kellner designer J. Frank de Causse. De Causse’s style was simple, individual and distinctive but also has stood the test of time to be recognized as some of the best designs of the period, elegant in their understatement and simplicity. De Causse’s fenders, simple curves that followed the wheels’ radius and equally simple straight extensions into the running boards, balanced the bodies’ flat panels. His designs avoided compound bends, but picked out the edges of important elements with raised beads.

The Locomobile 48’s quality and performance are abundantly obvious from its production life. Following its introduction in 1911 it remained in production, essentially unchanged with only evolutionary improvements, until 1929, an unparalleled span of nineteen years through a period of some of the most rapid changes in the automobile’s history.

One who appreciated the Locomobile’s attributes was the commander of the American Expeditionary Force in Europe following America’s entry into World War I, General John J. Pershing, better known by his nickname, “Black Jack.” Pershing had experienced the value of automobile transportation during fluid military campaigns while pursuing Pancho Villa in Mexico and when named to head the A.E.F. looked for quality automobiles to serve him and his senior officers. Familiar with the British use of Rolls-Royce automobiles he looked for similar characteristics of power, reliability, comfort and size among American manufacturers. He found what he was looking for in the Locomobile Model 48 and had them supplied for his personal use as Commander of the A.E.F.

This 1918 Locomobile Model 48 was built specifically for him by Locomobile in 1917 and was used after General Pershing returned to the United States following the Armistice.

Its history with General Pershing was substantiated in the early 1980s by Pershing scholar L.J. Andrew Villalon. It has a one-off body that resembles the basic Sportif shape but has thicker rear doors that have only external door handles, reflecting its use with a chauffeur. The fenders have a more formal rounded top shape to them and it is fitted with mounts for a cape style top, although one is not now installed. The front windscreen is marked Healey & Co. New York and Healey was well known for producing a variety of cape top coachwork. It has all original Locomobile branded lights and instruments.

Following Pershing’s ownership it was sold or given to a personal friend from whom it was acquired by Kansas City based collector Stanford Block. Mr. Block had only a little cosmetic work done, mainly a repaint and some plating, to the sound, largely original and carefully preserved Locomobile. An unusual feature is the combination of leather front upholstery and khaki bedford cord in the rear, said to be special request for General Pershing who preferred the cloth for its resemblance to his military uniform. While in Mr. Block’s hands the car toured extensively and was used to transport honored guests in Kansas City parades, including carrying former President Harry S. Truman in a 1961 Kansas City parade.

It has been little used by the current owner over the last 5 years but runs strongly and starts easily. The restoration work done by Stanford Block is of high quality and has held up remarkably well. The upholstery is original and has some moth damage but is presentable and usable. There is some paint loss on the passenger side of the car.

The connection with General Pershing preserved this Locomobile Model 48 much better than many of its contemporaries. It has always been treated with respect and carefully preserved in recognition of its connection with one of American’s greatest fighting Generals. Today it is remarkably well preserved. Aside from some cosmetic attention and regular upkeep and maintenance on the driveline and chassis it has not been altered at all from the way it was delivered to General Pershing over 90 years ago. It is a striking car and would be truly unique with its cape top reproduced and installed.

It is not often that an automobile with the highest standards of quality construction, coachwork, power and performance also is directly connected with a legendary public figure like Black Jack Pershing. Combined with the remarkable preservation of this Locomobile and the exceptional rarity of the marque and model General Pershing’s 1918 Locomobile Model 48 is a remarkable opportunity for collectors to add a truly unique vehicle that will be an important addition to the most exceptional collections. It is important not only to the history of the automobile but also to the history of the United States, and its originality and history commend it as a particularly appropriate participant in the increasingly important Preservation classes.

Without reserve

Footnotes

  • General John Joseph “Black Jack” Pershing

    Born to a general store owner in Laclede, Missouri in 1860, John J. Pershing grew-up in the ashes of the Civil War. Initially pursuing a career as teacher educating local African-American children, he entered West Point in 1882 and began to demonstrate phenomenal leadership skills throughout his tenure at the Academy. Following his graduation in 1886, Pershing went on to serve in various Cavalry appointments across the American West, including his 1895-6 leadership of the 10th Cavalry Regiment, composed of African-American soldiers serving under white officers. His service in the 10th Cavalry later helped form his famous nickname, “Black Jack”.

    Pershing’s place in history was secured by his actions as a general in World War I. Exercising significant control over his command with the blessing of President Woodrow Wilson, Pershing created an army of two million soldiers from an initial base of just 27,000 inexperienced men, all in a span of less than two years. Working continually to operate as a separate, allied force with the French and British, rather than as a force of American soldiers under foreign command, Pershing built the strength necessary for the United States to promote itself to a global superpower following the German armistice in 1918.

    Pershing’s great success in WWI was rewarded in 1919 when the US Congress authorized the President to promote Pershing to the General of Armies of the United States, the highest possible rank for any member of the armed forces. He remained active in military affairs, but left the true leadership of WWII to the leaders he had helped create during his command 25 years prior. Pershing died in 1948 and is buried today in Arlington National Cemetery near the graves of the soldiers he commanded in Europe.
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