Pratt and Elcar:
Transitioned from a successful buggy builder
to a respected manufacturer of automobiles
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The company eventually known as both The Elkhart Carriage and Motor Car Company and the Elcar Motor Company serves as an excellent example of the typical firm that made the transition from a successful buggy builder to a respected manufacturer of quality-assembled automobiles. After 25 years in the direct-sale buggy and harness business, the Elkhart-based company introduced its first motorized buggy in 1908.
The story begins with the Elkhart Carriage and Harness Manufacturing Company, whose predecessor was started in 1873 to produce buggies and carriages. In 1906, Elkhart Carriage founders William B. and George B. Pratt, developed their first experimental model. In 1908, they began manufacturing the Pratt-Elkhart, described as "A standard automobile along modern lines."
The company’s first motor buggy reflected its roots. It was typical of many other highwheelers of the day offering a high-ground clearance to clear obstructions encountered while driving in the country.
By early summer 1909, the brothers recognized that providing a more conventional shaft-driven automobile was the market’s direction. This new medium-sized Pratt-Elkhart Model 30-35 automobile was offered as a 1910 model with only a five-passenger touring car available. The price was $1,600. By 1911, the line included five- and seven-passenger touring cars, five-passenger vestibule touring car, and two-passenger roadster. Pratt-Elkharts were sold in all 46 states by the end of 1911.
New models soon followed:
- The 1912 Pratt-Forty at the end of 1911
- The Pratt-Thirty by mid-1912
- The Pratt-Fifty at the end of 1912
- The Pratt-Sixth at the end of 1913
- The 1915 Pratt Six-Fifty
- The 1915 Pratt Four-Forty
- The 1915 Eight-Fifty series.
In August 1915, William and George Pratt invited a number of individuals to invest in their company. The brothers made 40 percent of the shares available for sale to generate additional cash to fund capital inprovements. The corporate name was changed to Elkhart Carriage and Motor Car Company and the trade name of the Pratt to Elcar.
The new executives realized that the firm's wealth lay with producing a popular sized car versus a mid- to high-priced car like the predecessor Pratt, which was priced around $2000. They designed the new 1916 four-cylinder Elcar for the low price of $795, and advertised it as "The Car for the Many." Additional models in the 1917 line-up were a two-passenger roadster and a five-passenger all-weather sedan with removeable glass frames that were priced at $995. As a result of World War I, the company contracted to produce military ambulance bodies for the army in May, 1918.
1916 Elcar Model B
Photo courtesy of William S. Locke
Automobile production resumed in 1919 with a carry over of the 1918 models. The line-up consisted of four four-cylinder models and four six-cylinder models. Elcar, like most other manufacturers, enjoyed the immediate post-war boom in 1919 with record production. The company, however, was restrained by material shortages from their suppliers just as the demand for automobiles increased in the immediate post-war boom. This rising demand and supplier shortage forced dramatically increasing prices. At the end of 1919, the Federal Reserve implemented a tightening of credit. Thousands of cars across the nation were held in storage because banks would not finance dealer inventories.
The recession of 1920 quickly followed. In the last quarter of 1920, the company began offering sales incentives to dealers. By the end of the year, the company had reported its first loss during one of its greatest sales years. The 1921 line-up consisted of 11 standard models in six body styles. By 1922, 16 models were being produced ranging from $1,195 to $2,495.
On June 29, 1922, the Pratts retired and sold their operating control of the company to a group of executives from the Auburn Automobile Company. At the same time, the corporate name changed to Elcar Motor Company. In late 1922, Elcar also entered the taxicab market. The company produced cabs under many names including: ElFay, Martel, Paragon, and Royal Martel.
Elcar's new line-up debuted at the January 1923 auto shows. Popular options for the 1924 model year were balloon tires and four-wheel brakes. Elcar's eight-in-line offering debuted as the 8-80 in summer 1924. In 1925, Lycoming engines powered Elcars across the line-up in fours, sixes, and eights.
Beginning in 1926, Elcar executives began to concentrate on its six and eight-cylinder offerings, because of a larger profit margin in this range versus the highly competitive four-cylinder market. By the end of the year, they ceased offering four-cylinder models.
The model line-up started with the Model 6-70 Brougham at $1,295 in 1927. In 1927, hydraulic brakes were available across the entire line. The announcements for 1928 showed 28 models, with the emphasis on the eight-cylinder lines for a total of 22 of the models. Elcar continued to pride itself in its adaptability in essentially custom building various body styles. For 1929, Elcar introduced the Model 75 Club Sedan, a six-cylinder offering that started below $1,000. At the other end was the Model 96 seven-passenger Fleetwing Sedan at $1,695.
By mid-summer 1929, Elcar -- as well as most auto manufacturers across America -- saw a drastic slow down. The stock market crash of October 1929 hit simultaneously with Elcar's introduction of its 1930 models. The company had so much material on hand that some of it was not worked through production until 1931.
For 1930, Elcar announced 36 models across six different series. The models ranged from $995 for a Series 75A two-passenger roadster to $2,750 for a Series 140 five-passenger convertible sedan. Severe reduction across the model line-up manifested itself in 1931. Elcar offered two model series, the 86 and 100 on their 117- and 123-inch chassis respectfully. The company struggled to hold-on, but entered receivership in October 1931. Elcar Motor Company ceased operations in 1932. A few more cars and taxicabs were built from parts on-hand until late 1933.
Elcar's last model, the Model 140 offered the third most powerful standard American production car for 1930, trailing only Cadillac's V-16 and the Duesenberg Straight 8. Elcar's offerings could match the best-built American autos of the day, but quality-assembled automobiles could not match economically the cars built by mass producers.
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