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1915 Brewster Town Car

James Brewster began building carriages in New Haven in 1810; his son Henry succeeded to the business, passing the company, now based in New York City, on to his son William, who had spent two years in Europe studying coachbuilding techniques and designs. Brewster was renowned for the quality of its workmanship, trimming, finishes and perhaps most importantly its assiduous courting of clients and customer service. William Brewster soon recognized the automobile's effect on the carriage business, built his first automobile body in 1905 and only six years later exited the carriage business. Some of the finest coachwork designers of the early 20th century honed their craft at Brewster, Ray Dietrich, Tom Hibbard, Henry Crecelius, E.T. Gregorie and George Snyder among them. Formal town cars were Brewster's most popular designs and in 1915 Brewster took up a license to build its own engines using the Knight sleeve valve design known for its near silence in low speed operation. Generally built on a short wheelbase chassis with tight turning radius for use in constricted urban situations, the Brewster-Knights, as they have become known, were the vehicle of choice for the industrialists and financiers of the post-WWI period. Vanderbilt, J.P. Morgan, Astor, Woolworth and others were frequent names in Brewster's order lists. Distinguished by their unusual oval radiators and elegant, but subtle, design few Brewster-Knights survive, a quantity that is believed to number barely over a dozen today. Brewster had been the U.S. agent for Rolls-Royce from 1914 until WWI started and many chassis details of the Brewster-Knight built from 1915 to 1925 (when Brewster was acquired by Rolls-Royce) reflected the influence of the Silver Ghost. The 277 cubic inch Knight patent sleeve valve engine developed 40 brake horsepower transmitted through a cone clutch to a 3-speed gearbox and rear wheel drive. Electric starting through a flywheel driven 12 volt starter-generator was standard. This 1915 Brewster-Knight Model 41 Special Landaulet with body #1826 was delivered February 6, 1917 to Mrs. Elmina Dows Brewster. She was no relation to the coachbuilder but rather the widow of Benjamin Brewster, a merchant and financier who had made his fortune with a general merchandise store in San Francisco during the Gold Rush then joined with John D. Rockefeller at the formation of the Standard Oil Company. A prominent member of New York society, Mrs. Brewster was a patron of the Metropolitan Opera and Metropolitan Museum of Art. She resided at 695 Fifth Avenue in New York, between 54th and 55th Streets. Its Special Landaulet coachwork abounds in the thoughtful, elegant details for which Brewster is appropriately famed. Built in the formal style appropriate to Mrs. Brewster's status and New York residence it has a open driver's compartment with soft tendelet for weather protection and the patent leather front, or 'fore' in Brewster parlance, doors matching the black patent leather mudguards. The mudguards themselves are exceptionally shaped with small curved mud deflectors in the middle and a hinged plate below the rear doors that covers the rear step plate then retracts automatically when the rear door is opened so the passengers' step is protected from being splashed or dirtied with the mud and filth that covered New York's streets in the Teens. It rides on 35x5 inch  tires, has a single left side spare and rollup division. The rear compartment is as comfortable as a lady's drawing room with bud vases and pull down shades on all its windows for privacy. A speaking tube communicates with the chauffeur. At the rear an 'Auto Indicator 4-in-1 Safety Signal' flashes 'Go' or 'Stop' to alert followers to Mrs. Brewster's automobile's intentions. The car is well known, having been acquired many years ago by the father of the prior owner, restored to very good standards and carefully maintained. It, perhaps even more than Brewster's justly famed coachwork for Rolls-Royce, exemplifies the refinement and exceptional quality that came from the shops of Brewster & Company, and it has a wonderful history from a golden age of American society.


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