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All About Car Restoration


The Westcott

Westcott: Midwestern Aristocrat

The Westcott car, now a rare find, was manufactured in Richmond, Indiana from 1909 to 1916 and in Springfield, Ohio from 1916 to 1925. Variously advertised as looking like an “Aristocrat” (1910), “Built to Endure” (1915), and “The Car with a Longer Life” (1920), the Westcott was a luxury car built by hand utilizing component parts from a number of well-known companies: Continental engines; Timken bearings,axles, and brakes; Rayfield carburetors; Delco wiring; Warner transmissions and instruments; etc. The company claimed that, on average, the car was good for ten years of driving, an incredible longevity for early makes and more than three years longer than most cars of the day.

At the heart of the concern was Burton John Westcott, careful businessman and dutiful son of John McMahon Westcott. John Westcott began in dry goods, then shifted to grain and feed, over time buying a controlling interest in Hoosier Drill Works that manufactured farm implements and seeding machines in Richmond, Indiana. By 1878, he was president of that concern with middle sons Burton acting as treasurer and Harry as secretary. In 1896, John and the same two sons founded the Westcott Carriage Company, makers of quality high-wheeled carriages. His businesses, farms, hotel interests, etc. made the Westcotts the richest family in town. Burton, intrigued by the newfangled horseless carriage, was able in 1899 to buy the first car in town, a Winton, while his father may have seen the car instead as a passing fancy or, worse yet, a threat to his carriage business.

Burton John Westcott

Burton John Westcott

1903 saw the merger of John’s seeding machine business with several other concerns to become the American Seeding Machine Company of Springfield, Ohio, a precursor to International Harvester. Burton moved to Springfield to incorporate the new business and act as its treasurer. For years thereafter he shuttled back and forth between Richmond and Springfield, engaging in both the seeding and carriage businesses.

John’s death in 1907 left an estate valued at a staggering two million dollars. Two years following his death, Burton reorganized the carriage concern into the Westcott Motor Car Company, intending to build both carriages and cars. His twin aims were to build quality products and to look after his employees. All the while he continued as treasurer of the seeding machine business. His brother Harry served as secretary of the car company and engaged in sales of the Westcott in Hot Springs, Arkansas.

Indiana Years

The first 1909 car was actually a Westcott carriage with an added single cylinder, air-cooled, 14 hp engine able to go to 35 mph. By 1910, a more conventional 40 hp, 4-cylinder car that could achieve a speed of 75 mph was being built. Production numbers increased to three cars a day, and the company was soon six months behind in orders. Though hardly scintillating copy, a 1910 advertisement extolled the car’s capability: “It Takes You There and Back — Without Fuss — Year in — Year Out”. The next year another advertisement heralded the car that was “Rising Higher and Higher in Public Esteem”, a given in that “The Westcott word has been good in the manufacturing world for more than fifty years.” A 1912 testimonial from a Midwest owner of a Westcott car noted its reliability — mechanically and financially — claiming the car had been driven more than 7000 miles with a total of only $10 in repairs. And a 1912 advertisement crowed about the car’s “simple, clean construction” and “great power”.

The Westcott was appearing at national car shows, as well, and in 1913, the first Six was introduced, a Model 6-50, with electric starter. The car sold for $2475 and was said to have “ready reserve”, enough extra power to take steep hills and rocky roads with ease. “Powerful, vibrationless, flexible, and efficient”, as one advertisement had it, the car offered mechanical efficiency as well as comfort.

Sales of 4-cylinder cars, however, may not have been exactly stellar. In 1914, a headline in the Richmond Palladium of 15 January 1914 announced, “Westcott Abandons High Priced Field”. New, smaller cars (4-cylinders), available in the Spring, were to be priced at $1385. When May rolled around, however, the price was reduced even further to $1285. 1915 was the last year the 4-cylinder car was produced; for every year thereafter only the Sixes left the Westcott plant. The price of 1915 4-cylinder cars was reduced further to $1185 while the Sixes sold at $1585.

Among the features of the 1915 car, according to the Springfield Daily News of February 7, 1915, were a newly designed cam shaft, automatic spark advance, non-skid rear tires, solid walnut instrument board, specially-designed “disappearing” auxiliary seats, a rear gas tank, and high-quality leather. Advertising the 1915 model, the company touted a car “honestly made; mechanically perfect, distinctively beautiful”, the “greatest automobile value in the world”.

Making Its Mark

Throughout its Indiana years, the Westcott was busily making its mark within a field of hundreds of brands of cars being built throughout the country. Entering races; attracting dealers throughout the nation and even internationally; and engaging in civic efforts were all avenues to greater name recognition and increased car sales for the company.

The inaugural year for Westcott racing was 1910, a year in which Fred “Jap” Clemens, Harry Knight, and “Farmer” Bill Endicott drove Westcotts in a number of races. In both 1910 and 1911, the Westcott was also entered in the Glidden Reliability Tour, a scored, multi-day event that gave many spectators their very first glimpse of a horseless carriage.

Westcotts had raced in numerous Indianapolis races in 1910, often placing in the top three. But the highlight of Westcott’s early showings came with the inaugural Indy 500 on Memorial Day in 1911. 21-year old driver Harry Knight, in third place and gaining, had to make a split-second decision in the face of an unexpected accident. When the Case car in front of him, experiencing mechanical difficulty, hit the wall in front of the grandstand and lurched to the middle of the track, the onboard mechanic stumbled out of the car and onto the track. Knight, going 80 mph, swerved to avoid hitting the mechanic and crashed into two cars being serviced in the pits. Due to his quick thinking, all drivers and mechanics avoided serious injury. Eventhough he was no longer in contention, Knight was hailed as “The Hero of the Indianapolis Speedway”, making a name for himself and stamping the name of the Westcott car onto the minds of some 80,000 racing fans. In September, on the same track, Knight came back and drove a gray Westcott racer to victory in the 100-, 150-, and 200-mile races.

In this 1911 ad, Westcott bragged about racing at 75 mph for a whole 100 miles without stopping. Imagine that!

In this 1911 ad, Westcott bragged about racing at 75 mph for a whole 100 miles without stopping. Imagine that!

Since 1911, Westcotts had been advertised as having no superior in hill-climbing. Years thereafter, in February 1918, a Westcott Six won the Alexander Mount Diablo high-gear trophy in a craggy hill climb contest. Mount Diablo, visible from the San Francisco Bay area, offered drivers an opportunity to test their cars in high-altitude, rocky terrain.

Customers were beginning to notice the Westcott, and dealers were popping up to offer the luxury car. In time there were dealerships in Arkansas, California, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, and, very probably, other states, as well. Overseas agents handled sales in Cuba and New Zealand, and they didn’t need to worry that they were shortchanging customers. As a 1910 ad in The Motor World for the Westcott 4-cylinder car had expressed, the Westcott was the “kind of a car you [could] sell to your personal friends — and still retain their friendship.”

A devastating weather-related event also enabled Westcott to showcase its reliability. In March 1913, the Dayton, Ohio area experienced high winds and rainfall of 8-11 inches daily for three days. The Great Miami River flooded, leading to 467 reported deaths. The first cars to arrive in the area following the flood were a fleet of Westcotts carrying critically-needed donations of food and clothing.

Consolidation in Ohio

Burton must have found himself stretched thin as he provided leadership to significant concerns in two different states. He decided he could at least have the grain and car businesses operate from the same state. While Cincinnati tried to lure the car business there, it was the Springfield location that made life easier for him. He, his wife Orpha, and their family were already living in a 4000- square foot, Frank Lloyd Wright-designed home constructed in 1908. So, in 1916, he moved the car business into the former building of P.P. Mast and Company (agricultural equipment), one that had already been purchased by the American Seeding Machine Co. The plan was to continue to build more than a thousand cars a year. Burton’s choice of Springfield as the car’s hub went a long way to securing for him a seat on the Town Council, a seat he would hold from 1916 to 1922.

Westcott House, Springfield, OH.

Westcott House, Springfield, OH

Westcott House.
Nowadays, Burton Westcott may be better known as the man who brought Frank Lloyd Wright to Ohio than as the originator of the Westcott Motor Car. The only Prairie-Style, Wright-designed house in Ohio, Wright came to Springfield, Ohio, to visit the Westcotts and watch how they used their residence before he designed a new house for them in 1906, a house situated in a posh part of town.

The house was built in 1908, has a long, low look, and two enormous urns on either side of the front of the house. Its gradually sloping rooflines; wide overhangs; and bands of windows establish its horizontality. In what is now known as “open concept” interior space, Wright designed a home with fewer rooms than usual. Portions of a single main room, for instance, covering the sixty-foot width of the house, act as living room, dining room, and library.

In 1944, the second owner after Westcott, divided the house into five apartments. The house was misused and ravaged by time. In 2000, it was facing demolition. But the Wright House Foundation and the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy purchased the house and began herculean preservation and restoration efforts lasting more than four years. The house has now reclaimed much of its former grandeur, and visitors to Springfield have the opportunity to see a house meant to match the prominence of its original owner.

A new cloverleaf roadster appeared in the Westcott line-up in 1916, so named because that’s what it looked like in an overhead view: two separate front seats and a third rear set accessed via the gap between the two front seats. There was no rear door opening to the rear seat.

By 1917, the Westcott car continued to be a head-turner. As one ad asserted, it had proven itself for its low upkeep, endurance, beauty, and comfort. Two different advertisements appearing in The Saturday Evening Post that year promoted Westcott features: “Power without vibration. Speed without strain. Instantaneous acceleration.” Careful attention to the car’s fit and finish meant rain and snow wouldn’t seep into the car through its windshield or doors. In fact, because it was comfortable and could be used in all seasons, it was seen as a solid family car.

Ad touting the superiorities of the Westcott

Ad touting many of the "Superiorities" of the Westcott

On the large Westcott Arrowline Seven in 1918, the company was advertising plenty of appealing features, including seats pitched at an angle for comfort, a solid walnut instrument board, an electric cigar lighter with extension cord, helically-cut timing gears, 4-wheel brakes, “disappearing” auxiliary seats, etc. There was even a large center gear made of compressed silk fiber, eliminating metal-to-metal contact and insuring noiseless operation. (from an advertisement appearing in Motor Age on August 22, 1918).

The early twenties were good to Westcott cars. Manufacturing numbers exceeded 1500 in 1920 and 1700 in 1921, marking the high point of the company’s output. In 1920, a smart “new dress” appeared for the cars, i.e., a two-tone color scheme (a lighter-colored belt around the body, at the top, and over the hood, as well as lighter-colored wheels), and a 4-passenger coupe was introduced for the Larger Six. The Larger Six was built on a 125” wheelbase, the Lighter Six on a 118” wheelbase. And in a sign that the car might have been outpricing its market, the Light Six touring car was reduced from $2690 to $2290 and the Light Six sedan/coupe reduced $500, as well. The factory was humming. An extension was built onto it in 1920, and in 1921 a new warehouse was constructed.

Westcott in front of the Lincoln Memorial in 1920.

Westcott in front of the Lincoln Memorial in 1920.

But Burton Westcott faced other challenges. In 1921, he had been elected as president of the Town Council, a mayoral-equivalent. In March, he dealt with the shock of a race riot breaking out and leaving fourteen blacks shot and wounded. By calling in the National Guard and placing the city under martial law, he managed to disperse the white mob and convince blacks to return to their homes. Throughout his mayoral term, he also did his best to set Springfield on a solid financial footing.

With 1922 came the Closure, a car that Westcott promised would never be confused with “the old-fashioned, heavy cumbersome, seven-passenger road locomotive.” While most buyers preferred a closed car to an open one, this style offered both at a cost only a little more than that of the touring car. It came with a “California-type” all-weather top with sliding side windows, and the entire windowed top half of the car fastened with locks to the main body. With summer came the option of removing the top and breezing through the countryside. Customers didn’t take to the concept, though, and a year later the style was discontinued and replaced by the “Special Touring Car”.

Burton’s wife died in 1923 and his own health began to decline. The following year he retired from the seeding company but continued his engagement with the car concern. In 1924, 4-wheel brakes and balloon tires were made standard on Westcotts. That year, too, a company advertisement noted that “100,000 miles [was] not too much to ask of the Westcott car.” Such a claim is astonishing since drivers could not routinely count on that kind of longevity for cars until the last thirty years or so.

By 1925, however, the company was failing. It owed $825,000 to suppliers and was unable to find sufficient funding to pay those debts. Burton’s personal wealth had declined to a point that he had to sign his grand house over to the bank. In January the company was in receivership. In April, the company’s buildings were sold at auction to a syndicate of local business owners. Possession of the premises, however, was delayed to September so Westcott employees could continue to build as many cars as possible to meet on-hand orders.

While larger companies like Ford built many of their own component parts and concentrated on continual assembly improvements, Westcott continued to make hand-built vehicles with bodies and parts from outside manufacturers. The result was that Ford could sell its Model T for hundreds of dollars while the average Westcott sold for $2000. The price difference and the ready availability of basic cars left customers clamoring for cars that suited the doctor as well as the farmer and the family as well as the sporting bachelor. Westcott and other makes like it were some of the hundreds of American makes that fell to automotive giants like Ford and GM.

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