This magnificently opulent automobile is one of the finest statements of luxury of its day, that it survives virtually as it was new is all the more remarkable and impressive. The car’s stately proportions would not be possible without the underpinning of a substantial mechanical aspect, the origins of which belong with the Simplex Automobile Company and with Henry Middlebrook Crane.
Crane graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1896, with degrees in mechanical and electrical engineering. He then joined the Bell Telephone Company, and later worked for their manufacturing subsidiary, the Western Electric Company. His Crane and Whitman Company of Bayonne, New Jersey, formed in 1906, evolved into the Crane Motor Car Company by 1910. In 1912, his design for the Crane Model 3 automobile was ready for production. It was a large, refined luxury car, but "production" it barely achieved, with some 37 cars built in three years.
Around this time, the Simplex Automobile Company acquired his business. Simplex, a name inextricably linked to one of the finest of all early cars, the Daimler-built Mercedes Simplex, had made its market owing to the punitive tax that had been placed imported automobiles. Instead they built cars under license in the U.S. thereby obviating these fees and providing the high end market with more competitively priced FIAT, Panhard, Renault and Mercedes cars. In 1914, it had recently changed hands following the death of the patriarch Herman Broesel Sr. after a 5-6 year period in which his sons business had enjoyed formidable success with their gargantuan 50hp T head four cylinder chain drive cars, one even finishing 6th at the first Indianapolis 500, despite the fact that they were more orientated toward the luxury rather than sporting end of the market.
In this era six-cylinderism was all the rage, led by Rolls-Royce with their famed Silver Ghost, and with others such as Napier and Delaunay Belleville in the running. The fashion seemed to be moving toward a powerful, but quieter, less intimidating, and more refined motor car and the new owners of Simplex clearly felt the need for a six cylinder engine, which Henry Crane could provide. His services were included in the transaction, and in short order the Simplex Crane Model 5 was introduced, with Crane's refined 564 cubic inch six-cylinder engine in a 144-inch wheelbase chassis. Bodies were supplied by several well-known bespoke coachbuilders, including Locke, Derham and Holbrook, but most were, like this car, by Brewster. Production continued into 1917. The cars are sometimes incorrectly called "Crane-Simplex," perhaps confused with a short-lived 1922 attempt by Henry Crane to resurrect the business at Long Island City, after the Simplex company had been brought down by the Hare's Motors debacle.
It is frequently said that there is ‘no substitute for power’, which of course the magnificent Model 5 had in abundance, and that allowed the coachbuilders to build imposing bodies that befitted the chassis and the stature of their owner’s bank balances and at the same time provided them with some of the appointments that they might have been more used to in a Pullman Railway carriage rather than a motor car. This stately Sport Berline took things to the next level, by adding some aerodynamic styling with its raked windshield. It may be difficult to believe today, but sitting on the New York Auto Show Stand in 1915, which it is understood that this car did, the Simplex Crane would have looked both luxurious and modern. The story goes that it was purchased promptly from that stand, setting its owner back some $13,800 in the transaction.
Simplex-Crane historian Bill Bell believes that the buyer was serial customer Harris Whittemore who was known to have bought between 9 and 11 examples. This conflicts with Brewsters own records which suggest that they sold the car to a Mr. Agassiz. Regardless, it is thought that they retained the car into the 1930s and its first post-war owner is known to have been Edwin H. Arnold of Rhode Island. From Arnold onwards the car has had but a handful of custodians, who have all cherished and preserved it. For more than 2 decades it lived in Italy, where it was the property of Veniero Molari of Turin not returning to the U.S. until the mid-2000s.
The present owner, a fastidious West Coast collector acquired the Simplex-Crane from Bonhams 2007 Larz Anderson Automobile Museum Auction. Over the course of the last five years, he has methodically had the car worked through to provide a usable and long distance car. For the most part, the work has been carried out by famed restorer Bob Mosier of Inglewood, CA and it represents expenditure of more than $60,000. Also accumulated in this ownership is an original sales brochure, parts book and manual, which accompany the car, together with a solid file of old title paperwork documenting its history.
As the car stands today, it remains highly original and complete in its detail. Back in Arnold’s ownership it received some paintwork and detail attention, but aside from this very little has been done to the car cosmetically and yet it is in very fine order and presents well. The mileage reading of a little over 22,000 is uncontested by all who have inspected the patinated but unworn interior.
Over the course of the last ten years the Sport Berline has been shown at both the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance and here at the Greenwich Concours d’Elegance, where it rather appropriately won an award as the Most Distinguished Formal American Automobile, it certainly draws a crowd wherever it goes. Importantly also it is considered as being of 1915 manufacture, allowing it eligibility for events held by the Horseless Carriage Club of America.
Be it performance, presence or patina this car is copiously rewarding in every regard and deserving of close inspection.