Monday, January 30, 2017

The King automobile  
America's second production V-8 engine

The Western Antique Aeroplane and Automobile Museum (WAAAM) has an extremely rare and highly significant car, a 1917 King Model EE ‘Foursome’ on display.  This car is historically significant because King Motor Car Company was the second manufacturer to introduce a production V-8 engine, only a month after the introduction of the Cadillac Model 51 which used the first production V-8 engine.

Charles Brady King finished building his first automobile on March 6, 1896, and legend has it this King drove the first gasoline-powered “horseless carriage” on the streets of Detroit, reportedly followed on a bicycle by his friend Henry Ford. After he worked for several auto manufacturers, Charles formed the King Motor Car Company in February 1911 to sell a new car the “Silent 36” which was powered by a four-cylinder engine rated at 36 horsepower.

The King Motor Car Company outgrew its first factory location and moved into the original Hupp Motor Car Company plant located at the corner of Jefferson Avenue and Concord Street in Detroit. However the King company grew too quickly, got into financial troubles and King lost control of the company the assets of which were purchased by Artemas Ward who installed his son Artemas Ward Junior as the King Motor Car Company’s new  President and General Manager.

Artemas Ward the great-grandson and namesake of the famous Revolutionary War General was born May 20, 1848 in New York City. After the Civil War Ward moved to Philadelphia and entered import/export business and later became renowned as an advertising genius. In 1899 Ward gained control of the platform advertising and vending machine rights on the New York Elevated Railroad and later in 1904 the Subway lines.

Ward Senior held the patent for a “coin-controlled vending machine” that released a gum ball after a person deposited a penny in the slot and pulled the operating handle.  The value of Ward's exclusive contracts skyrocketed with the fortunes of the subway system and Ward bought both chocolate and chewing gum factories to fill his vending machines.  Ward’s gross earnings for the decade from 1904 to 1914 were reportedly $11.4 million which is equivalent to $270 million in 2016.

Under the control of Ward Junior, the “King Eight” powered by the new V-8 engine that displaced 283 cubic inches and developed 60 horsepower was introduced in October 26, 1914 priced at $1,350. By the 1916 model year, the King “Silent Six” line was phased out and all King cars were 8-cylinder models.  

The 1917 Model EE Foursome on display at WAAAM was one of four body styles offered for 1917. In addition to the Foursome, King offered a 7-passenger Touring car, and a Roadster, which each sold for $1,585 as well as a 7-passenger Sedan that sold for $2,150. After more than 3000 V-8 cars were sold the first year, sales dropped rapidly and by October 1923, Ward voluntarily let the company enter receivership.  The King Motor Car Company’s assets were sold again and the new owner moved to the factory to Buffalo New York but King went bankrupt again quickly and was out of business for good in early 1924.

All photos by the author