The first decade of America’s automobile industry has a fascinating and complicated history, with hundreds of players jockeying for position as the public came to terms with newfangled machines that replaced horses with the promise of speed, style, and, ultimately, freedom. By the turn of the second decade, the automobile had advanced, and it was then, in 1912, that William P. Snyder Jr., of Sewickley, Pa., acquired a brand-new Simplex 50 HP Toy-Tonneau. Remarkable is that his family still owns it today, 111 years after its purchase, and that it comes to Gooding & Company’s Pebble Beach sale, being held on August 18 and19, as a star lot among the entire Monterey Car Week auction schedule.
The possibility of acquiring a 111-year-old automobile that has had only one owner (unless he was Methuselah), or descendants of that owner, is fairly remarkable. With great certainty, this Simplex is an exceptional treasure for that reason alone. But regardless of this car’s provenance, the Simplex was a groundbreaking automobile of its age.
In 1907, wealthy textile importer Herman Broesel established the Simplex Automobile Company when he bought out S & M Simplex. The acquisition included the factory and assets in Manhattan, N.Y., along with chief engineer Edward Franquist’s designs for a 597 cc T-head engine that developed 50 hp. The subsequent Simplex 50 HP automobile, which was fit with the aforementioned mill, ran a four-speed transaxle with final chain drive. The model performed impressively from the start, placing first at the Brighton Beach 24-hour endurance race and the 1909 National Stock Chassis Race.
In road-car form, the Simplex 50 HP could top 80 mph, and with its combination of speed, reliability, and comfort, became a favorite of America’s most elite motorists. Customers commissioned bodies from coachbuilders like Brewster, Quinby, Healey, and Holbrook. But by 1914, the company was sold to a Wall Street investment group that included the heirs of B.F. Goodrich. While replacing the original 50 HP engine with a long-stroke design, the Simplex factory moved from Manhattan to New Brunswick, N.J.
As the U.S. became more involved in World War I, the factory changed hands again to focus on aircraft engines and Simplex was shuttered after building a total of approximately 1,460 chassis.
The noted automobile collector Henry Austin Clark Jr. owned several Simplex cars. According to Gooding & Company’s lot description, Clark made the following observation based on his first drive in a 50 HP: “With the cutout open, the sound of the engine being started is something like a minor disaster in an ammunition factory. The sound of the engine idling is enough to terminate all conversation for some distance. The clutch action was smooth but heavy, and the steering gear responded only to a solid pull. The engine was entirely capable and had an enormous feeling of power. As I reached second gear and accelerated, the entire car shook itself like a wet dog and took off down the road. By the time we reached fourth we were making considerable speed and I had just begun to realize why people used to pay over $5,000 for one of these cars in 1910.”
In 1911, William P. Snyder Jr. ordered his 50 HP from J.M. Quinby & Co., the New Jersey–based coachbuilder and body maker for Simplex automobiles. Replying to his inquiry on June 26, the coachbuilder wrote, “We propose to furnish you with the latest model 129 inch wheel base, 50 H.P. Simplex Chassis, equipped with a Bosch dual system and four volt battery, Solar Eclipse headlights, oil side and tail lamps, Presto Lite tank and Chassis work, less the rear fenders for the sum of Forty-nine Hundred and Sixty ($4,960.00) Dollars and to be delivered three weeks or as much sooner as possible.”
Snyder specified a shorter 124-inch, 50 HP chassis with a Runabout, two-seat body and folding canvas top, painted in Munich Lake with a medium red chassis, and maroon leather. He also added his monogram to the coachwork. Soon after Chassis No. 799 was delivered, it was crashed by its young owner, and, at his father’s insistence, returned to Quinby to be fitted with more conservative bodywork that might encourage more disciplined driving.
The car on offer still wears body No. 3038, the Toy-Tonneau coachwork fitted in 1912. The Simplex was passed down to Snyder’s son in 1940, and eventually passed down to the latest generation in 2011. It later went on to win a second-in-class trophy at the 2013 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. This heirloom motorcar is accompanied by an archive of original documentation, photos, and correspondence dating back to 1911, and carries a high-end estimate of $4 million.
Click here for more photos of this 1912 Simplex 50 HP Toy-Tonneau.