1917 American LaFrance Torpedo Speedster

Founded in 1873 by a group of investors led by Truckson LaFrance and established in Elmira, New York, American LaFrance remains one of the oldest and most respected names in American fire apparatus manufacturing. Company origins are rooted in the manufacture of hand-powered firefighting equipment during the horse-drawn era, progressing to the merger of LaFrance Manufacturing with the American Fire Engine Company to become American LaFrance in 1903. Notably, American LaFrance was among the first fire-apparatus companies to embrace horseless propulsion using steam engines, which proved overly cumbersome and were replaced by internal-combustion power by 1907.

Throughout its history, American La France (alternatively refereed to as “ALF”) held multiple patents for efficient, high-volume pumps, and its product line grew to include pumpers, ladder trucks and tankers. Quickly, the company dominated the American fire apparatus market and fielded equipment capable of supporting fire departments from the smallest communities to the largest metropolitan areas. A Canadian branch plant operated in Toronto from Despite its excellence and success, American LaFrance eventually ceased operations as a in 2014.

Unknown to many enthusiasts, American La France also produced a small run of large and powerful passenger cars from about 1907 to 1914, based upon Crane-Simplex automobile chassis. According to the Standard Catalog of American Cars: 1805-1942, these few American LaFrance motorcars were commonly known around the company’s workshops as “chiefs cars,” quite likely internal slang for vehicles manufactured for the use of American LaFrance senior management. As few as two ALF automobiles remain today. Total production is believed to have reached about 22 examples, plus several so-called Speedsters, that inspired a number of retroactive builds, including this highly compelling example.

Retaining its Identification Tag numbered 1551, this 1917 American LaFrance Speedster is documented by the American LaFrance & LaFrance Register as having left the Elmira, New York factory on June 16, 1917, followed by shipment by rail to the Dunn, North Carolina fire department. Subsequent history remains unknown until it was exported to the UK, where it was restored by Richard Skinner and his father and reconfigured with a shortened and judiciously lightened chassis. To some enthusiasts, the adventurous four-seater Touring-style coachwork could very well be considered a Torpedo Speedster, depending upon one’s interpretation of Vintage and Veteran automobile body styles.

Formerly UK-registered as ‘1551,’ the vehicle’s massive T-head inline six-cylinder engine displaces a mammoth 14.5 liters, bearing Casting Number 12E-3400 and 3740 number stamping. According to information posted online by Richard Skinner’s father, who participated extensively in the vehicle’s restoration and build, he designed a replacement radiator, based on the original article. The father-and-son team designed and machined larger drive sprockets to unlock improved speed potential, which the duo carefully tested to about 60 mph following completion of the restoration and build. Additional improvements included fitment of a set of Dunlop hubs and

During the latter 2010s, this unique vehicle was sold to a new owner in the United States, who had the car refinished. The current black paint finish remains simply gorgeous throughout and confers a powerful and decidedly menacing persona, complemented by the luxurious green leather upholstery and new nickel-plated bright accents. Other desirable cues include a tonneau cover, mounted rear spare wheel and tire, and eye-catching “fishtail” exhaust tip. Crowning the vehicle, the massive 14.4-liter, T-head, inline engine has been impressively detailed. A unique vintage touring car with incomparable presence, this unique fire engine-based vehicle celebrates the rich American LaFrance legacy and evokes rich images of adventure with every drive.


Offers welcome and trades considered 




Stock number 7302

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