Vintage Motor Cars at Hershey
12 October 2007
1911 Oldsmobile Limited 7-Passenger Touring
Sold for $1,650,000
- Chassis no. 64128
Specifications: 60hp, 707 cu. in. T-head six-cylinder engine, cast in pairs, 5x6 bore and stroke, four-speed manual transmission with reverse, front semi-elliptic leaf springs with rear three quarter-elliptic leaf springs and front and rear Hartford Shock absorbers, internal expanding rear-wheel hand brake and external contracting on rear wheels. Wheelbase: 138"
Although Ransom E. Olds was the father of Oldsmobile and creator of the famed curved-dash model, the early success of the marque was more a credit to Samuel Latta Smith. Smith, a baron of copper mining, railroads and canals in upper Michigan, was an initial investor in the Olds Motor Vehicle Company. In 1899, Smith advanced another $200,000 toward the formation of Olds Motor Works and the construction of a new factory at Detroit.
As majority stockholder, Smith was named president and his sons, Frederic and Angus, similarly acquired shares. Frederic became secretary-treasurer, and soon aggressively plunged into management, including the construction of a large new plant in Lansing following a disastrous 1901 fire at the Detroit factory, and establishment of an experimental engineering shop.
Ransom Olds came increasingly into conflict with Fred Smith; he viewed the engineering shop as an encroachment on his turf, and it proved to be the last straw. Olds departed from his namesake company in 1904 to form Reo. Although the curved-dash model continued to sell well, leading the market until eclipsed by Ford in 1906, the Smiths favored larger, more expensive cars. The two-cylinder Heavy Touring of 1905 sold for nearly twice the curved-dash car’s $750. A four-cylinder Model S in 1906 pushed Olds prices over $2,000, and a six-cylinder Model Z for 1908 more than doubled the levy.
The Smith era, however, had not been good for business. Once riding high above 6,000, Olds sales had dropped precipitously in 1906. Two years later they hovered around 1,000, dropping the company from the list of top ten manufacturers. One suspects that Ransom Olds, enjoying Reo sales of four times that volume, probably had the last laugh. So when William C. Durant came calling in September 1908, the Smiths were eager to talk. A stock swap transferred control to Durant’s new General Motors Company on November 12th, and the Smiths resigned the following year. Departure of the Smiths, however, did not markedly change the direction of Olds Motor Works. In fact, the most prestigious Oldsmobile was yet to appear: the Limited.
The 1910 catalog broke the news: “…such a car cannot be produced rapidly, therefore a limited quantity can be built.” Based on the Model Z, the Limited rode the same 130-inch wheelbase, but with a more impressive stature due to immense 42-inch wheels. Its engine, initially the Z’s 505 cubic inch, 60 hp six, grew to 707 cubic inches the following year when the wheelbase was stretched to 138 inches. A roadster and touring car were offered, as well as a top-of-the-line limousine, at prices from $4,600 to $5,800, territory previously the province of the prestigious “Three Ps,” Packard, Peerless and Pierce-Arrow. Artist William Harnden Foster immortalized the Limited in his painting “Setting the Pace,” in which the Olds leads the New York Central’s Twentieth Century Limited, speeding on a trackside country road. Olds Motor Works used the painting, commissioned from railroad artist Foster, in several versions over a number of years, the last showing a left-hand drive 1914 model, well after the Limited’s limited production had ceased.
Curiously, the 1911 engine, forty percent larger than its predecessor, was rated at the same 60 bhp. Prices, however, had not been limited, now ranging from $5,000 for open models to $7,000 for the limousine. A new four-passenger “Tourabout” joined the open cars. The Limited returned for one final season in 1912, but Olds management had realized that success probably lay in less expensive cars. A new, smaller four-cylinder car, the Defender, had replaced the previous Special entry-level model, while the Autocrat, a flagship four-cylinder car introduced in 1911, continued to lead Oldsmobile production.
In 1912, sales of the Limited fell to fewer than 140, despite a lower price on the limousine. For 1913, it was replaced by a new Model 53, three inches shorter but with an engine barely half the size of the Limited’s, yet producing an energetic 50 bhp. It sold for $3,200 to $3,350, and helped establish Olds as a mainstream manufacturer of medium-priced automobiles. Within three years, sales had rebounded above 10,000 cars.
Oldsmobile built only 159 seven-passenger touring cars in the Limited series during 1911, so finding one in any condition is unlikely. To discover one so remarkably preserved is earthshaking. Originally purchased for the president of the Brewyn-White Coal Company in Cambria County, Pennsylvania, it is one of three known to survive and the only one never restored.
When deemed no longer useful or practical for the time, it was stored away in a barn, until discovered by William Swigart in the 1950s. Recognizing its value as an artifact, he resisted any temptation to commence restoration, instead preserving it in an extended time warp. At one point there was indeed talk of restoring the Limited but it never came to fruition. Instead, this example became the car that every 1910 – 1912 Limited used as the measure from which to restore a Limited correctly.
Recently taken out of 50 year storage and museum display, it is wonderfully patinated and complete, except for top and top irons, which, like a speedometer, were optional in 1911. The exterior finish is much deteriorated, but, aside from a few fender dents and tears, the sheet metal wears its complex contours without blemish. The leather upholstery, including armchair-style jump seats in the rear, is worn and shows tears in some areas. Amazingly, upon exhumation the car was found to have its original tires, further adding to the allure and originality of the stunning Limited. While currently fitted with a pair of unrestored and incorrectly sized headlamps, the proper original set on the Limited would have been Solarclipse 950 headlamps with either green or clear magnified lenses. These would have been matched with comparable Solarclipse side lamps and a single tail light. While these are rare, they are available with a bit of hunting. The most impressive accoutrement that accompanies the Oldsmobile in its sale is the set of five, original tires that are in excellent condition. It is thought that William Swigart sourced the tires when contemplating a previous restoration. These additional tires are virtually priceless, or at least worth the cost of having a complete set of new molds and tires constructed.
When examining the Limited closely, one cannot help but simply be in awe of its size, originality and character. Few cars in history have the ability to simply impress its onlookers, regardless of condition. This Limited is indeed one such motor car. Measuring more than 16 feet in overall length, it is an imposing example from the peak of Oldsmobile prestige and will present a new owner with enviable choices for preservation and presentation of a rare period in history.
The beauty of the Swigart Limited involves the concept of preservation. As its current condition simply cannot be duplicated, it begs the question of whether or not to restore. This author would also propose the potential of restoring the Limited only to driving and showing condition. This could entail the restoration of the chassis, engine, drivetrain, wheels, windshield, instrumentation and brass, top and implantation of summer covers for the original interior. Leaving the original coachwork and interior entirely intact will allow the future owner the opportunity to restore at a later date should it be elected. Naturally, leaving the car entirely as it stands remains a curious alternative as well; needless to say, these considerations are all wonderful thoughts that are rarely offered on such a significant motor car.
When originally debuted, the factory catalog boasted, In the Limited we offer a car which leaves nothing to be desired in design, construction, finish, power or equipment. It stands in the front rank of high grade cars; the greatest of a line universally recognized and ranked among leaders. There is nothing but truth to their advertising, the Limited truly did and still does define the magnificence of what Oldsmobile set out to accomplish.
The Oldsmobile Limited offered on behalf of the Estate of Helen F. Swigart is easily one of the most singular, important and peerless Brass Era motor cars in existence. There is no substitute for originality and there is simply no comparison to this mighty motor car.
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