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Second Chance Garage

For the Classic Car Restoration Enthusiast

Second Chance Garage


Second Chance Garage

For the Classic Car Restoration Enthusiast

Second Chance Garage

Second Chance Garage

For the Classic Car Restoration Enthusiast

Second Chance Garage

AUTO-BIOGRAPHY

Roamer: America's Smartest Car - Page 3

Martin

Let's return, though, and take a look at how designer Karl Martin first got involved with the Roamer. Once Kenworthy made Barley's acquaintance and learned that he was interested in producing a new line of Halladay automobile, he thought immediately of a young talent he knew. Karl Hamlen Martin, an automotive designer and custom car builder Kenworthy had met in 1915, was one of a handful working in New York at that time. While Martin's designs with graceful, flowing lines were not appropriate for the boxy Rauch and Lang car, Kenworthy thought they might be just the thing for a new, classy car — like the Roamer.

Martin, born in 1888, hailed from Buffalo and learned to drive on his dad's Columbia electric at age nine. By age twenty, he had settled in Ohio and become involved in several oil production companies. Four years later, however, he decided he'd had enough of that and relocated to Manhattan where his father had recently retired. With his father's blessing and financial support, Karl set his cap on auto design, quickly noticing that European companies were ahead of American builders when it came to design, strength, and precision. So, he concentrated his efforts on designing for European chassis. Once a client selected the chassis, Martin and the client would decide on a body style and go over client requirements. The next step was for Martin to produce a detailed sketch and watercolor rendering. Once approved, those were turned over to draftsmen to complete full construction drawings that could be sent to various body builders.

At any rate, Kenworthy introduced Martin to Barley. Barley was sufficiently impressed to offer the designer the then-princely salary of $50 a day, an amount sufficient to get Martin on a train to Chicago where styling work on the Roamer could begin in earnest. After devoting his attentions to the new car for months, in 1916 Martin had the Roamer ready to meet its public. Barley was exceptionally pleased with the final design, one that closely resembled that of a Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost touring car, though in a smaller version.

During WWI, Martin served in the U.S. Navy where he taught mechanical drawing at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center in Chicago and, later, at Curtiss Aviation Corp. on Long Island. At war's end, he returned to Chicago where he again took up automotive design. One of his projects was designing the radiator shell and bodywork for the Deering-Magnetic automobile. By 1919, however, he'd moved to Bennington, Vermont, home place for his maternal grandparents. The automotive trade hadn't yet reached the Vermont woods, so Martin ended up distributing St. Christopher (fittingly, the patron saint of drivers) medals and selling hard woods to car body builders and manufacturers.

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It was also in 1919 that Kenworthy prepared to launch his car, which Martin designed. By then, Martin had caught the car bug and took a notion to design his own — in Vermont, where labor was plentiful and costs were low. By June, in association with two of the town's attorneys, the Martin-Wasp Corporation was formed. Martin gathered a crew quickly and a 4-cylinder Wasp prototype was readied. Because he had missed the show deadline, the Wasp could not be shown at the Grand Central Palace for the 1920 New York Automobile Show but appeared instead in leased lobby space at the Hotel Commodore. That first assembled car appealed to actor Douglas Fairbanks who bought it and had it shipped to California.

That sale may have over-inflated Martin's sense that his over-the-top design spoke for itself. The Kimes-Clark Catalogue of American Cars described the Wasp: "The word flamboyance found all-new meaning in the Wasp, with its sharply pointed, stylized fenders, its fully-nickeled German radiator, its large step-plates, the natural wood bows on its top of many curves, the bullet lights in the windshield, the sheen of its black lacquer body contrasting with the high polish of its natural aluminum hood." Inside, its dashboard even featured a Martin-designed St. Christopher's medal. With all that going for the car, Martin decided there was no need to advertise. It was months after the Wasp's introduction, for instance, that photos of the car first appeared. Nonetheless, the first six cars sold to well-to-do customers, and another six cars were produced.

By 1922, the company needed more space and, late that year, came out with a six-cylinder model. While the Fours at $5000-$6000 were not proving profitable, the company hoped the Six at $10,000 would be. Still with no advertising, sales were practically non-existent and investment money dried up quickly. Fewer than fifteen Wasps were ever built.

Martin beside his Wasp.

Martin beside his Wasp.


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