The Overland Auto Company was born of the Standard Wheel Company of Terre Haute, Indiana in the early 20th century. Standard Wheel had long been a supplier to a number of carriage and wagon builders, and in 1903 decided to have a go at engineering their own motor car. A young engineer named Claude Cox was sent around the country to see how others were building their cars. Upon his return, he set to work designing a 2-seat runabout of his own. He took a slightly different approach from the likes of Oldsmobile, Cadillac and other light cars who had their engines mounted under the floor. Cox put his 5-hp vertical single under the bonnet in what is now the conventional layout. Cars began to trickle out of Standard Wheel Company works, but with limited space, operations were moved to Indianapolis. Buggy builder David M. Parry invested heavily in the project, taking over from Standard Wheel Company and incorporating the firm as Overland Auto Company in 1905. An Elmira, New York based dealer by the name of John North Willys was suitably impressed with the 1907 models to place a $10,000 deposit on 500 cars. When no cars arrived, he went to Indianapolis only to find Parry completely bankrupt with no factory and a handful of leftover parts. But Willys believed in the car enough to take over the entire operation, and finally, Overland had found stability. By 1908, 465 cars were produced… in a temporary circus tent!
Willys purchased a former Pope-Toledo factory in Toledo, Ohio where the company would remain for the rest of its existence. The model range was expanded to four models on two different wheelbases. Overland cars gained a reputation for their outstanding quality, and despite Claude Cox leaving the firm, Overland had earned a second place standing in sales behind Ford; a position they would hold from 1912 until 1919.
The Overland featured here is a lovely 1912 Model 61T Touring. The Model 61 was Overland’s flagship model and the largest Brass-Era Overland up to that time, powered by a 270 cubic inch 45 horsepower L-head four cylinder. This is one of just seven examples known to survive and it has lovingly cared for and thoughtfully upgraded for safe and reliable touring. First restored in the 1960s, it was acquired by the well-known Brass Era enthusiasts Wendell “Ohlly” and Marilyn Ohlendorf, who had seen and admired it on a Glidden Tour. It was then sold in 1979 to Don and Nancy Sonicsen of Illinois, who continued to enjoy the Overland on tours for the next 25 years. Purchased from Mrs. Sonicsen in 2008, it was subsequently treated to some restoration work and mechanical freshening, continuing to provide thousands of miles of enjoyment.
The Overland received a high quality re-paint by John Sanders of Antique Autos of Rockford, Illinois. The handsome gray and dark red combo suits the car wonderfully, and the quality is excellent. Red highlights around the door openings, gold coachlines and two-tone red and gray wheels add a delightful charm. The bodywork is in excellent order, and the extensive brass brightwork is glossy and attractive, having been polished and coated by Rick Britten. The headlamps, made by Castle Lamp Company of Elmira, New York, feature unusual blue-colored lenses and are possibly a nod to John North Willys’ home town. The body also features interesting built-in toolboxes on the running boards as well as dual rear-mounted spares, brass cowl lamps and the proud Overland script emblem on the radiator.
The interior is trimmed in black button-tufted leather as is period correct. The upholstery presents in good condition, showing some patina, and is most likely from the first restoration in the 1960s. Regardless, it has been very nicely preserved and offers a warm, period charm that is still in keeping with the rest of the cosmetics. A large canvas top provides a degree of protection from the elements, while a leather top boot keeps things tidy during open air motoring. Brass Stewart speedo and a brass clock adorn the polished wood dash panel.
This Overland truly shines on the road. It has been lovingly cared-for mechanically, having received a full engine rebuild by longtime VMCCA and HCCA member Keith Kruse of Fort Wayne, Indiana. A new clutch from Bob Knaak of California was installed, and the rear differential rebuilt, along with remanufacturing both axle shafts. An overdrive has been added to the transmission, the car now cruises nicely at 50 mph with four passengers aboard. Sensible upgrades such as a 12V electric starter, alternator, and upgraded ignition with Henschel twin-spark distributor have been carefully incorporated to allow for easy and reliable touring. The tires are relatively fresh and the twin spares have yet to be used. This charming, rare and attractive Overland 61T is one of the finest of its kind from this important early American marque, and thanks to the care of its enthusiastic keepers, it remains a proven and fine choice for HCCA, AACA and VMCCA touring or for simple enjoyment with family and friends.
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