While best-known as one of America’s longest-running manufacturers of firefighting apparatus from inception during the 1800s, American LaFrance (ALF) produced a small run of large and powerful passenger cars from about 1907 to 1914, based upon chassis supplied by the nearby Crane-Simplex automobile factory. According to the Standard Catalog of American Cars: 1805-1942, these mighty American LaFrance-built 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 of these original ALF automobiles are known remaining in existence today. Total production is believed to have reached about 22 examples, plus several so-called Speedsters, that inspired a number of retroactive builds over the intervening decades, based on original American LaFrance fire-engine chassis and mechanical components.
Among the builders of such vehicles, the choice of American LaFrance chassis produced during the 1900s-1910s is entirely logical, given their robust – perhaps more accurately overbuilt – mechanicals, heavy-duty chain-type drivetrains, and visually awesome T-head engines displacing up to 14 liters. Elemental bodywork and period accessories enhance their commanding presence, conjuring vivid images of early racers at fearsome speeds on treacherous early dirt tracks, behind the wheel of early sports and racing cars including the Chadwick Great Six, Mercer Type 35 Raceabout, Stutz Bearcat, and 75hp 1915 Simplex – one of the last chain-driven cars produced in America.
Closely replicating a Mercer Type 35 Raceabout with its great proportions, adventurous bodywork and yellow-and-black livery, this captivating 1916 American LaFrance-based Speedster carries Chassis Number 1221 with power delivered by a 9.4 liter 6 cylinder T-head engine, numbered 206. Chassis 1221 was delivered new on July 15, 1916 to the Omaha, Nebraska fire department. After it had completed its fire service, the car was reimagined as the fabulous Speedster you see today. An older restoration and build that continues to present handsomely, this Speedster’s paint remains in very good condition, complemented by the body-color frame and suspension, bold black accents, and very good leather upholstery. Desirable period accents are many, including the large Gray & Davis-scripted nickel headlamps, a rare American LaFrance Moto-Meter atop the radiator, yellow large-diameter spoked wheels, twin spare tires to the rear, and single rear light with Saxon Mfg. Co. scripting. Other highlights include the wood-rimmed steering wheel, polished nickel steering column, shift and brake levers, body-color rear brakes, and large-capacity drum-type fuel tank with twin fillers.
Over the years, enthusiasts have created numerous interpretations of the American LaFrance Speedster, yet few are as well-constructed and detailed as this. Guaranteed to draw admirers and onlookers wherever it goes, this fabulous 1916 American LaFrance Speedster celebrates the enduring legacy of one of the longest-running and most-respected manufacturers of fire apparatus and America’s glorious sporting tradition of the early 20th Century. Powerful, imposing, and impressively crafted, this magnificent American LaFrance is certain to thrill its next keepers for years to come.
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Stock number 7587
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