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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 4

A Car Is Born

A number of interests joined in creating the Roamer. Barley wanted to build a "special", mid-sized car. Kenworthy wanted to market a distinctive gasoline-powered car. Martin wanted to design a car that would appeal to a middle-class buyer. And the Everts-Adams Co., New York distributor for the Italian-made Lancia, wanted to market an American car with European panache. Once Kenworthy heard of their interest in 1915, he contacted Barley, put him together with Martin, and, voila, the new "Halladay Special" (later to be known as the Roamer) was created.

There are several tales as to how the car got its name but there's no doubt that its progenitor was Roamer, a famed thoroughbred racehorse, 1914's leading earner and horse of the year. One story has it that Kenworthy's chauffeur suggested the name, not unusual in a day when chauffeurs were part and parcel of the automotive design process. Another account has to do with lunch at New York's Savoy Hotel where Andrew Miller, who owned the famed racehorse, was boasting about his champion. The Barley principals were there, as well, and thought they'd like to name their new product after a proven winner. So, with scant capitalization (only $50,000), the Barley Motor Car Co. was incorporated in New York in September 1916 for the purpose of building motor trucks, cars, autos and accessories.

1916 ad for America's Rolls-Royce.

1916 ad for America's Rolls-Royce.


While a few sample cars had been produced and sent to Paris and London for inspection as early as 1915, the first Streator-produced Roamer model, announced in 1916, was the Roamer Six, an elegant four-door convertible sedan tourer with a six-cylinder 24 horsepower engine that sold for $1,850. The Roamer line later added a $2,150 roadster and a $2,650 hardtop town car. All three models featured the latest equipment such as wire wheels and electric clocks — and would be painted and upholstered at the factory any color the customer chose.

Early Roamers were equipped with Rutenber six-cylinder engines or, alternatively, a more powerful and more expensive line of four-cylinder Rochester-Duesenberg engines. They also all featured a distinctive grill modeled after the one on Rolls Royce automobiles. The grill was made of German silver, a metal alloy with no silver, but customers likely presumed them to be "real silver", just what they'd expect to find in the classy Roamer. The company's ads featured the Roamer in cosmopolitan settings and the vehicle was promoted as "America's smartest car" — smart in the sense of being stylish.

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This was an assembled car with a style resembling a boat body, i.e., wide in the middle and tapering toward the cowl and rear. It had sporty, long, low lines; a slanted, vee'd windshield; dome fenders joined by a running board; and wide, comfortable divided front seats.

Its primary style feature, though, was that flashy nickel-plated grill which made customers think of Rolls Royce. A 1916 ad reminded customers they'd have to turn to European makes, like Rolls-Royce, Fiat, Isotta Fraschini, Lancia or De Dion Bouton to find distinctive style like the Roamer's. The resemblance to the Rolls, in fact, may have been a little too close. In time, Rolls-Royce, displeased with the similarity, successfully sued and was granted a 40-cent per car royalty.

On January 7, 1917, the Roamer was shown at the New York Auto Show. An ad at that time explained its importance: "Just as there are companies which build many more pianos than Steinway, so there are motor car manufacturers whose output dwarfs that of the ROAMER. The ROAMER will never be a motor car of that class of hastily produced, hurriedly finished cars which rapidly become the 'great unwashed' of motordom." So, there.

One of the Roamers featured at the New York show was a six-passenger open touring car with a six-cylinder Herschell-Spillman engine. In keeping with what was expected in the luxury market, there were vertical compartments at the side of each rear seat, one for a lunch set and Thermos bottle, the other for a smoking set. Even as the car attracted admirers, though, the company faced manufacturing problems. In 1917, there was a labor strike at the Streator factory. In reaction, Barley simply relocated manufacturing to the former Kalamazoo Buggy Company factory in Kalamazoo, Michigan. The move was made easier by a grant of $5000 from Kalamazoo's Chamber of Commerce. Once there, Barley began ordering sedan bodies for new Roamers from Limousine Top Company, an ancillary company of Kalamazoo Buggy.

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