Rare Rides: The 1927 Locomobile Model 90 Sportif, American East Coast Luxury

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis

Today’s Rare Ride hails from a brand your author hadn’t heard of before this writing. A preeminent luxury car firm in its day, Locomobiles were built for power, longevity, and reliability.

Let’s check out a very rare 90 Sportif.

Locomobile Company of America was founded in 1899 as one of the earliest car manufacturers. Located in Watertown, Connecticut, the firm moved house and produced cars in nearby Bridgeport almost immediately thereafter. The founder of the company was John B. Walker, editor and publisher of Cosmopolitan magazine at the time. He purchased a car design from twin brothers by the last name of Stanley. Walker formed a partnership with paving contractor Amzi Barber to run Locomobile, but it was short-lived. Parting ways, Walker formed his own car company – Mobile Company of America – to build steam cars. It was out of business four years later. Barber moved Locomobile to Bridgeport and hired the twin brothers who’d created the Locomobile as his managers. Brothers Francis and Freelan Stanley were none too happy to continue working for Locomobile and started the Stanley Motor Carriage Company by 1902 to compete against the Locomobile they’d designed.

Initially a builder of affordable steam cars, Locomobile was committed to quality and precision manufacture in the days before Ford’s assembly line. The steam car idea never really took off and ended up fairly unreliable, so in 1903 Locomobile switched tack started to produce expensive luxury cars of internal combustion variety. Their first ICE car was the Touring Car of 1904, which had a base price of $2,000 (as opposed to $600 for their steam cars). They introduced an inline-six powered Model 48 in 1911, which proved the most popular car Locomobile ever offered.

The company continued to build expensive large cars which erred on the conservative side, powered by straight-six engines. The Locomobiles were considered among the best in the world for quality, which showed in their pricing. But expensive cars didn’t mean finances were healthy at Locomobile. The company’s value was quite low due to its financial situation, and in 1922 Locomobile was purchased by the ousted founder of General Motors, William Durant. His brand, Durant Motors, kept the Locomobile name intact for its most expensive cars as he aimed to take on Packard and Lincoln.

Durant allowed the 48 to continue as Locomobile’s main offering and added the new 8-66 Junior Eight in 1925, That car was more modern than the old 48, and had a straight-eight engine. It was also cheaper than the 48. The company’s final few years saw the single year 1926 Junior Six (the brand’s cheapest car) and the straight-six Model 90 which ran from 1926 to 1929. Locomobile offered another take on the straight-eight in the late Twenties, in the more expensive 8-70 which replaced the 8-66. Throughout the company’s history, it developed its cars entirely in-house and did not use parts or technology from other manufacturers.

But it was Great Depression times, and things were bad. Durant closed Locomobile in 1929, and folded itself by 1931, as William Durant didn’t find success in his second big car venture. He went on to open a bowling alley and restaurant in Flint, Michigan.

Today’s Model 90 is an excellent example of a touring phaeton. The dual split windshield is what makes it a Sportif, and is believed one of two in existence. In the past 93 years, it’s had three owners. Notably, its first owner was Russel Durant, son of William, who specially ordered the car and worked at Durant Motors. It sold recently for around $89,500.

[Images: Locomobile]

Corey Lewis
Corey Lewis

Interested in lots of cars and their various historical contexts. Started writing articles for TTAC in late 2016, when my first posts were QOTDs. From there I started a few new series like Rare Rides, Buy/Drive/Burn, Abandoned History, and most recently Rare Rides Icons. Operating from a home base in Cincinnati, Ohio, a relative auto journalist dead zone. Many of my articles are prompted by something I'll see on social media that sparks my interest and causes me to research. Finding articles and information from the early days of the internet and beyond that covers the little details lost to time: trim packages, color and wheel choices, interior fabrics. Beyond those, I'm fascinated by automotive industry experiments, both failures and successes. Lately I've taken an interest in AI, and generating "what if" type images for car models long dead. Reincarnating a modern Toyota Paseo, Lincoln Mark IX, or Isuzu Trooper through a text prompt is fun. Fun to post them on Twitter too, and watch people overreact. To that end, the social media I use most is Twitter, @CoreyLewis86. I also contribute pieces for Forbes Wheels and Forbes Home.

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  • Pig_Iron Pig_Iron on Apr 07, 2021

    Walter Chrysler on the 1908 Chicago Automobile Show: "That is where it happened. I saw this Locomobile touring car; it was painted ivory white and the cushions and trim were red. The top was khaki, supported on wood bows. Straps ran from that top to anchorages on either side of the hood. On the running board there was a handsome tool box that my fingers itched to open. Beside it was a tank of gas to feed the head lamps; just behind the hood on either side of the cowling was an oil lamp, shaped quite like those on horse drawn carriages. I spent four days hanging around the show, held by that automobile as by a siren’s song."

    • Pig_Iron Pig_Iron on Apr 07, 2021

      Chrysler had no idea how to operate the vehicle when he bought it. Even if he had, given the primitive condition of the roads, he would not have been able to drive it back to Oelwein. He had the automobile shipped home by rail and then pulled out to his house by a team of horses. Della was waiting, wild with enthusiasm, but Walter refused to take her for a ride. Instead, he moved the Locomobile into the barn behind the family home and spent the next three months taking it apart, studying its mechanical systems and reassembling it. He scoured automobile catalogues and technical literature to help him better understand his expensive new toy. He worked every evening and every weekend studying the sleek machine. When he finally took the car out for a spin, he drove it off the road and into a neighbor’s garden and had to have a team of horses pull it out of the mud. Walter and Della Chrysler then headed for town, where he nearly ran over a cow on the main street. By the end of that day, sweaty and exhausted, Walter Chrysler had learned to drive a car. - Walter P. Chrysler Museum 2009

  • Schmitt trigger Schmitt trigger on Apr 07, 2021

    Good ol’ Walter didn’t require that nonsense of knowing how to drive a vehicle before purchasing one. All he had was a bottomless amount of love for those machines.

  • Alan Like all testing and analysis work you need a good set of requirements. If you don't you'll find or end up with gaps.
  • Alan In aviation there is more vigourous testing, well, until Boeing changed things.
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  • Lorenzo It looks like the curves are out and the boxy look is back. There's an upright windscreen, a decided lack of view obstructing swoop in the rear side panels, and you can even see out of the back window. Is Lexus borrowing from the G-Class Mercedes, or the Range Rover?