The name of Brunn is surrounded by confusion for a number of reasons. The first is that there were two men named Hermann Brunn. Hermann A. (1874-1941) was the father and founder of Brunn & Company; Hermann C. (1908-1989) was his son, who not only worked for his father’s concern, but later worked at the Ford Motor Company after Brunn & Co closed its doors in 1941.
The second is that there were two different Brunn concerns building custom bodies concurrently in Buffalo. Brunn & Company is the more famous of the two, but Hermann A’s uncle Henry had a competing firm called Brunn Carriage Mfg Co. where young Hermann A. worked prior to branching off on his own in 1908.
Henry Brunn’s Brunn Carriage Mfg Co. is covered elsewhere on this site. This page concerns the history of Brunn & Company.
At the age of sixteen, Hermann A. Brunn started working as an apprentice at his uncle's carriage works, Brunn Carriage Mfg. Co. in 1890. He was sent to Andrew F. Johnson’s carriage design and drafting course in New York City, and interned at the H.H. Babcock Co., of Watertown, New York, and the Andrew J. Joyce Carriage Company in Washington, D.C. He eventually made his way to the New Haven Carriage Co., New Haven Connecticut, where he worked alongside William Hooker Attwood, an old school carriage maker who was well known for his exceptionally comfortable and tasteful closed coaches. While in New Haven he also helped design and assemble bodies for the Columbia Electric Car which were built at the New Haven Carriage Co.
At the request of his uncle, Herman A. Brunn, now 30, left his promising job with New Haven Carriage Company in 1905 and returned to Buffalo to assume the position of superintendent of his uncle's carriage shop.
His previous work on the Columbia Electric was essential to the design and execution of his uncle’s debut of the 1906 Brunn Electric, but he soon found that he and his uncle did not see eye to eye regarding the great future of the automobile - he being enthusiastic about automobiles and his Uncle Henry not. “Uncle Henry said this noisy, greasy, smelly thing would never last” recalled Bunn in a 1933 speech. Consequently he left with a few other workers in 1908 and established Brunn & Company.
A few years previously Hermann had a brush with greatness that would influence his entire career. Early in 1901 a prominent Buffalo resident and Brunn customer named Harry Hamlin suggested to the firm that it would be advantageous to have President McKinley ride in a Brunn carriage while he visited Buffalo to attend the Pan-American Exposition in September.
A special Brunn-built and designed landau carriage painted a dark maroon with a shiny black landau leather top and upholstered in rich maroon broadcloth was sitting in the Brunn showroom at the time. Hamlin arranged to have the carriage brought to his home and offered it along with four of his prized horses plus a footman and a coachman for use by the President during his September 1901 Buffalo visit.
On September 5 the President left the John G. Milburn residence where the President and Mrs. McKinley were guests. Hermann, who was also an excellent photographer, went there with his camera intent on getting a picture of the chief executive riding in a carriage his uncle, Henry, had built. With the glistening carriage standing at the curb; President and Mrs. McKinley came out and got in. The President, standing up, doffed his silk top hat to the waiting crowd. At this second Hermann Brunn's shutter clicked, getting one of the last pictures ever taken of William McKinley. Brunn rushed home, developed the picture, and sold a print of it to the Buffalo Express for publication later that week. Unbeknownst to Brunn at the time, anarchist Leon Czolgosz, was to mortally wound the head of state while in line at the public reception for the President at the Exposition’s Temple of Music the following day. During the two weeks that McKinley hovered between life and death, Brunn printed and sold 1400 contact prints of the historic picture and made a small fortune.
The Hamlin/McKinley landau was the first of many Brunn-built vehicles to be used by heads of state throughout the world over. Although the rest were built by Brunn & Co., Riza Kahn, the Shah of Persia; King Carol and Queen Marie of Romania; King George of Greece; Manuel Quezon, President of the Commonwealth of the Philippines, and Franklin D. Roosevelt, President of the United States all owned vehicles with a Brunn builder’s plate affixed to the body.
Other famous Brunn owners included actors Mrs. Leslie Carter, John Barrymore, Katharine Cornell and Katherine Hepburn, composer Irving Berlin, soprano Kirsten Flagstad, mystery writer Mary Roberts Reinhart, publishers Walter H. Annenberg, Henry R. Luce, Ralph Pulitzer and Edward H. Butler (Buffalo Evening News), millionaire horse breeder Joseph E. Widener, Richard K. Mellon, ALCOA’s Arthur Vining Davis, pharmaceutical manufacturer Eli Lilly, Carl Lomb of Bosch and Lomb, Edsel Ford, General John J. Pershing, retailer J.C. Penney, banker J.P. Morgan, sugar heir Adolph Spreckles Jr., violinist Fritz Kreisler, Sterling Drug Company’s Walter Weiss, Indianapolis banker Alfred Fortune, W.E. Schraft, Mrs. L.H. Stetson and the wife of shipbuilder/automaker Henry J. Kaiser.
Mr. Brunn, in his new venture, was a stylist-engineer well aware of the needs of motorists. His son recalled him saying: “Remember, you cannot cut a piece off a passenger. He wants to get into the car with all hi anatomy, such as arms, and legs with him.”
The first high profile bodies produced by the fledgling coachbuilder were for a prominent New York actress of the day, Mrs. Leslie Carter. While visiting the Buffalo Motorcar Show during a local engagement she ordered a car from the E.R.Thomas Co. As a Thomas was competing in the 1908 New York to Paris race, it was a fashionable car to own at the time. She ordered two bodies from Brunn, the first, a Victoria, allowed Mrs. Carter, to display herself in style as she was driven through Central Park or shopped on Fifth Avenue. It was painted a brilliant chrome yellow (her favorite color) with white appliqué canework, brass hardware and sported a huge brass spotlight mounted to its windshield pillar. Her chauffeur and footman were dressed in matching yellow livery, so here adoring fans could easily spot the red haired occupant who was crowding Sarah Bernhardt for public affection at the time. The second was a closed town car (although the chauffeur sat in the open) to be used for touring, and was also painted in her favorite color, (chrome yellow) and included oval quarter windows, white canework, brass luggage racks and another bras spotlight. Having two custom bodies for one chassis was fashionable at the time. The open body would be hoisted off the chassis every fall and replaced by the closed one, which would be swapped back in the spring.
The majority of Brunn’s work at this time were one of a kind creations built for single customers on expensive foreign and domestic chassis, although Brunn built a striking aerodynamic body for aircraft manufacturer Glenn Curtiss on a Pierce-Arrow chassis that Curtiss had designed himself.
From 1912-1921 the Buffalo company laid the foundations for its pre-eminence in the “golden age of automobile coachwork”.
An early Brunn innovation was called the sheltered phaeton. At the time, many affluent car owners had two bodies for each chassis, an open tourer for warm weather motoring and a closed limousine for the winter. About 1910, Brunn designed a body on a Reo chassis that could be easily converted from an open body to a closed body in less than 15 minutes. The Selden Company in nearby Rochester, New York, loved the idea and ordered a bunch of them. As Brunn was trying to drum up new business and Selden was an established local manufacturer, Brunn hadn’t demanded a deposit for the bodies. The Selden bubble burst soon after and Brunn was left holding the bag with quite a bunch of unsold and unpaid-for bodies on hand. Brunn was forced to sell half of the business to William J. Weppner, who became Secretary-Treasurer of the reorganized company. Thereafter Mr. Weppner handled the financial and administrative end of the business which left Brunn to devote full time to the designing and engineering of the product.
Victor A. Lang joined the company in 1912 as a woodworker and must be credited for the quality and engineering innovation that was the backbone of Brunn’s coachwork. Brunn bodies were also known for their extra-sturdy bodies whose screwed and glued laminated ash frames were reinforced by dozens of custom-made manganese bronze castings in place of the cheap iron braces found on most other automobile bodies. An outstanding feature of Brunn’s interiors were their comfortable seats and removable armrests, even the chauffeur’s comfort was considered. Their upholstery was typically conservative in design and usually featured simple, un-tufted seating surfaces with wide pleats. Woodwork and interior appointments was also equally restrained. Brunn & Co never owned their own plant and had a sympathetic landlord who would build them additional buildings when needed. One of the buildings was reserved for hanging the doors. After each body was framed and shod with aluminum, the body was sent to the door-hangers in a separate building. Door hanging was a time consuming and highly specialized process that could only be done by a select few. Once the doors were aligned, the bodies returned to the main plant and were metal finished and painted. Brunn was always a smaller firm with a steady workforce that rarely had more than 150 employees, even during the lucrative pre-Depression contracts with Lincoln.
Aside from Brunn’s talented staff their early success was also due to their ability to cater to their moneyed clients, and from 1915 through the late 1920s many of them lived in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. They had made money in the steel business and they weren't afraid to spend it if they found something they liked. And they particularly liked Brunn’s smart looking town cars. Much of the Pittsburgh work was done on Cadillac chassis and included custom-made German Silver or nickel radiator shells which featured the owner’s coat of arms or monogram that disguised the real identity of the chassis.
Their chauffeurs liked them as well, and Brunn’s Victor A. Lang reciprocated by designing the first folding canopy, or 'tendelet', over the driver's compartment. When not in use, the canopy rolled up and stowed inside a hollow header above and just behind the chauffeur. Later town cars even had roll-up windows for the chauffeur's compartment. Although Brunn offered cabriolets, convertible coupes, convertible victorias, convertible sedans, and semi-collapsible convertible cabriolets, through the late twenties, an amazing 15 to 20 town car bodies a month were built with a workforce that never exceeded 150 hands. Stearns-Knight, Reo, & Cadillac were some of the high-end domestic chassis that Brunn was building bodies for at this time.
When Henry Leland's sophisticated, yet homely Lincoln finally arrived in September 1920, its antiquated coachwork – designed by Angus Woodbridge, Leland’s milliner son-in-law - was widely ridiculed by both dealers and customers alike. Like Henry Ford, Leland failed to appreciate the importance that styling played in the evolving 1920s marketplace, and a sudden downturn in the economy also contributed to the Lincoln’s dismal initial sales.
William R. Laidlaw of Laidlaw & Co., the New York City-based distributor of Burbank top material and upholstery, and close friend of Brunn’s suggested to the Lelands that Brunn & Company might be able to help him out. Lincoln’s sales manager, Ralph Getsinger called Brunn on the phone and asked if he would come out to Detroit and give Lincoln a consultation on how their bodies could be improved.
Brunn and his talented body engineer Victor Lang took the train to Detroit and arrived at the garages of Lincoln’s Warren Avenue plant at 9:30 AM to evaluate twelve 1920-21 production Lincoln bodies that had been built by three Detroit firms: the Towson Body Co., the J.W. Murray Mfg. Co., and the Anderson Electric Car Company (Murray and Towson merged in 1924 to become the Murray Body Corporation). Waiting for them were Henry and Wilfred Leland, Ralph Getsinger, and a couple of Lincoln body engineers. One by one they reviewed each body, noting every fault with suggestions on how to correct them. After a short conference with his son, the elder Leland left to go back to his office. About 4:00 PM Wilfred asked Herman A. Brunn if he would consider redesigning the whole line.
A subsequent meeting was held at which Leland offered Brunn a $50,000 retainer based on 12 designs that Brunn had completed after returning home. The Lelands approved 12 different Brunn body styles for the upcoming 1923 models and Brunn’s Victor Lang produced the full-size drafts that were sent off to Lincoln’s production body builders, the American Body Co. located across town and Detroit’s Anderson Body Co. Herman C. Brunn claims that Brunn built the 12 sample bodies, but Lincoln historians disagree.
Soon after that eventful meeting two major Lincoln stockholders and board members - Fred and William H. Murphy demanded that steps be taken to salvage the firm and plotted to undermine the Leland management, hoping to take over the firm. His actions, combined with a 4.5 million dollar federal tax debt, forced the fledgling firm into receivership by November 1921. (FYI William H. Murphy was also Los Angeles coachbuilder Walter M. Murphy’s uncle) Even though Lincoln had originally approached Ford as early as July, 1921 to bail out the firm, Henry Ford elected to let the firm go under on its own and subsequently purchased Lincoln at the receiver’s auction held in February of 1922 for 8 million dollars.
When Ford, took over Lincoln in 1922, Brunn, who was already acquainted with Henry Ford, met Edsel Ford, and the two of them hit it off. As a result Brunn was able to keep their lucrative contract for supplying body designs for Lincoln. Ford’s takeover of Lincoln turned out to be a good thing for everybody. All the current Ford dealers got a Lincoln franchise, Lincoln’s creditors and suppliers got paid, and Brunn got a contract that would keep them in business through the late 1930s.
Under the new Lincoln contracts, short-run customs would be built in Brunn's Buffalo shops, but the longer series were farmed out to American, and Anderson. Regular Lincoln bodies were built by Towson and Murray in Detroit, and the Lang Body Co. of Cleveland, Ohio.
LeBaron, Brunn and Judkins were already supplying designs and semi-custom bodies to Lincoln when Ford took control. As LeBaron was strictly a design house at this time, Brunn built many of the LeBaron designs. Fleetwood came on board in 1922, Dietrich and Holbrook in 1925, Locke and Willoughby in 1926 and Derham in 1930. Standard Lincoln bodies in the early to-mid-1920s were built mostly by Murray, with smaller firm such as Lang, H.H. Babcock, and American filling in the holes. Brunn, Fleetwood, Judkins and Guider-Sweetland all built some striking one-off customs during the same time period and Lincoln instituted a program where they sent body engineers to all of their many body suppliers to ensure that Lincoln’s strict quality control standards were adhered to.
Edsel Ford eventually assigned to Brunn the task of designing and building Lincoln’s town car and convertible body styles: soft-top broughams, cabriolets, victorias and dual-cowl phaetons. Lincoln town cars, in particular, spread the Brunn name. During the Lincoln contract, the firm produced about 20 bodies per month, most of which were shipped directly to the Lincoln plant for mounting. Brunn was also proud of the fact that Edsel Ford chose Brunn to body his new Hispano-Suiza with a beaver-tailed dual cowl phaeton in 1924.
Brunn’s All-Weather Broughams and Cabriolets of the mid twenties were early and very successful attempts to provide adequate protection for the chauffeur during inclement weather. Brunn’s Victor Lang developed a fold away frame that emerged from the rear compartment roof just behind and above the driver's seat when needed. Metal edged window glass pulled up out of the doors, and the leather cover was snapped in place providing a totally-enclosed compartment for the chauffeur. When either warm weather or the sun returned, the top could be unsnapped, the windows dropped, and the side rails folded and returned to their hidden compartment that was covered by a body-colored cast aluminum door.
Brunn continued to supply custom bodies to Lincoln throughout the late 1930s although the numbers were significantly down from the heyday of the late Twenties. Dealers for Packard, Pierce-Arrow, Reo and Cadillac occasionally ordered Brunn bodies as well, but through the Depression, 80% of Brunn’s output went to Lincoln. They also designed production bodies for Dodge and Jordan and built bodies for the occasional prestigious client such as Duesenberg and Stearns-Knight, but the bulk of their output after 1922 was on Lincoln and Pierce-Arrow chassis.
Young Hermann C. wanted to apprentice with Kellner & Cie, in Paris and was sent overseas in 1925/1926. After his return from Paris in 1927, Hermann C. began to assist Victor Lang and his dad with the rendering of new designs for prospective customers. As with most other builders, they usually put whitewall tires on their drawings. The reasons were two-fold, first they were much easier to draw than blackwalls, and second they produced a tidy profit for the coachbuilders as a set of Vogues - which went for about $100 apiece – could add a few hundred dollars to their income.
Brunn frequently built show cars for Cadillac and at the 1927 New York Automobile Salon, Brunn displayed a yellow and brown Convertible Victoria on a LaSalle chassis. This famous design has been frequently attributed to other coachbuilders, namely Waterhouse and LeBaron, even though Brunn’s clearly predated their versions by more than a year. At the 1929 Paris Salon, Brunn showed a semi-collapsible cabriolet, mounted on a Lincoln chassis with polished wheel discs that featured a slanting vee windshield, a wide body with body sills outside the chassis and a rounded rear deck extending over the fuel tank and rear springs.
Soon after the Paris Salon, prospective clients were sent an elegant sales folder illustrated by a tipped-in plate of the Paris Salon car. In the brochure Brunn noted that fourteen weeks would be required to build the body and that Triplex safety glass was used throughout.
During the mid-1920s Cadillac hired Brunn to build occasional one-off show cars and an early LaSalle chassis was sent to Buffalo. Brunn built a striking close-coupled four-passenger, two window convertible coupe.
Brunn's most notorious creation was a white Pierce-Arrow town car commissioned by the Riza Khan, the Shah of Persia in 1929. This had 18-carat gold-plated interior fixtures plus gold brocade upholstery. All exterior trim was also gold-plated: the grille shell, hubcaps, headlight rims, windshield frame, door handles and bumpers.
All exposed metal work and trim was heavily plated with gold. Gem-studded golden bas-reliefs of the royal crown were affixed on the rear doors. The champagne colored brocade was accented by laurel leaf accents and surrounded by inlaid satinwood trim. A carpet of Russian wolf hound covered the floor of the tonneau which was further embellished by a diamond studded cigarette case and gold plated smoking accessories and hardware. The car also included non-shatterable, Duplate windows furnished by the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company (PPG).
While Brunn was not a participant in the Rolls-Royce Custom Coachwork project, they did build a phaeton body for a Buffalo customer on a 1921 Springfield Silver Ghost chassis. Delivered in 1922, the car still exists and the current owner reports that it retains its original Brunn builders plate and sleek appearance.
Three older Rolls-Royce chassis were re-bodied by the firm, the most notable one for Rochester, New York optics manufacturer Carl Lomb of Bausch & Lomb fame.
A number of Duesenbergs were equipped with Brunn bodies, the first, a formal town car designed by Duesenberg’s Gordon Buehrig for the 1930 auto show circuit. An unusual second cowl in front of the close-coupled passenger compartment gave rear passengers some much needed foot room.
Brunn’s second body for a Duesenberg was a one-off custom built in 1932 for a young Washington, D.C. sportsman named Marcus J. Lawrence. Once again ace Duesenberg designer Gordon Buehrig designed the torpedo phaeton body which was based on Lawrence’s desire for a convertible sedan that looked like a phaeton. The striking car was painted black, with an interior trimmed in chrome and patent leather moldings surrounding its red leather upholstery. Chrome plated sidemounts matched the cars chromed window flaps and channels that helped to keep the rain out.
Brunn took elements of Buehrig’s design to make the Brunn Riviera Phaeton, the major attraction at the Duesenberg stand during the 1934 New York Auto Show. Advertising claimed that the Riviera was the first four-door phaeton to completely conceal the top when it was lowered. The curved back panel was hinged at the bottom and opened up like a clam to allow the top to be stowed away, much like the 1957-59 Ford Skyliner. Critics point out that since its windows reside within the doors, the car is actually a convertible sedan, but the design attracted some fans and a total of three were built for Duesenberg owners.
A possible sixth Brunn bodied Duesenberg is pictured on page 140 in Fred Roe’s “Duesenberg: the Pursuit of Perfection”, and was a limousine thought to be used by E.L. Cord himself. The Brunn Torpedo Phaeton built for Lawrence is not mentioned in Roe’s book although there are a few chassis that remain un-accounted for.
After seeing a “Portiere Doublentree” (Doublentree door) exhibited on a Pinin Farina bodied Lancia Dilambda at 1930’s Paris Salon, Brunn was determined to produce his own body using the unique system.
Brunn asked his friend Jacques Kellner of Kellner et Cie., in Paris, if he had tried using the new system, and was told that no French builder had implemented the design successfully because the light-weight hinges and latching mechanism was insufficient to support a heavy composite door.
Similar double entry doors had been used successfully on refrigerators, but the weight the hinges had to sustain was not comparable to that of a larger automobile door. Unless the door could be wide enough to allow access to the rear seat of a coupe, the use of the "Doublentree" feature was of no purpose.
Brunn ordered some examples and obtained a license from Pinin Farina to use the design and commissioned his body engineer, Victor Lang to beef up the latches and hinges to support the extra weight of an extra-wide composite door. Once it was determined the hinges and mechanism were staunch enough to meet requirements, Brunn designed several different body styles with Doublentree doors, including four-place, close-coupled sedans and convertible victorias.
The next step was to find someone to pay for it. Dr. C. S. Hornbeck of Rochester, N.Y., already a loyal Lincoln Brunn owner, was contacted and ordered the car through his Lincoln dealer.
Once Lincoln had caught wind of the revolutionary door, they insisted that a sample be readied in time for the 1932 New York Auto Salon. As time was insufficient for another example to be made, the Hornbeck car was exhibited with the promise that he could get it when the Salon was over.
Herman C. Brunn spent many hours demonstrating it to throngs of interested visitors at the New York Salon. The 64” wide door was operated from either handle which controlled a bolt that moved up and down through two horizontal eyes cast into a heavy plate which attached to the door pillar. There were two bolt and plates on the left side of the door and two bolts and plates on the right side. The doors on Hornbeck’s terracotta and beige 145-inch wheelbase Lincoln "K" Convertible Victoria were so wide that back seat passengers could enter and exit without having to tilt the backs of the front seats.
As Hornbeck had been promised the car immediately after the end of the Salon, and Lincoln now wanted a Doublentree for display at the upcoming Los Angeles Salon as well, a duplicate “Doublentree” was built in just under six weeks and sent to the Hotel Biltmore where it was quickly snapped up by sugar magnate Adolph Spreckles Jr.
Surprisingly, no other Doublentree’s were built or ordered, and the two cars vanished without a trace, probably victims of the crusher or a WWII metal drive.
Some of Brunn's custom Lincoln and Pierce-Arrow bodies of the early 1930s featured a distinctive swept molding that followed the angle of the windshield forward to the fenders across the cowl. The line was typically highlighted by a raised molding that served to separate contrasting paint schemes.
A total of ten Metropolitan Town Broughams were built for Pierce-Arrow from 1934-1936. Brunn introduced the “sweepspear” found on these cars after returning from a trip to Paris where he saw a Bugatti with a similar treatment. Brunn related “If you are going to copy something, copy something good.”
Originally intended for their own use, the Brunns designed and built an unusual touring car body on a 1936 Lincoln K chassis. Two unique features attracted Edsel Ford’s attention upon first seeing the car. The first was the two light green “neutralite” skylights installed in the roof directly above the windshield header. The second was the collapsible rear roof with exposed landau bars. Common in the teens and twenties, it was an unusual feature on an American car made in the late 1930s, although Mercedes-Benz and Horch still offered similar models in Europe. Brunn called his creation the Brunn Touring Cabriolet and an enthusiastic Edsel Ford requested that it be added to Lincoln’s custom coachwork line for 1937. The skylights stem from Herman A. Brunn’s annoyance at not being able to see signal lights when approaching an intersection. With the lights placed above the windshield, objects directly above and in front of the driver were now visible. If the sun was too bright, larger visors were provided that covered the openings. The English source of light green (“neutralite”) glass dried up, so later versions were built using a much darker green skylight.
Packard liked the Touring Cabriolet as well and awarded Brunn a contract to build a few Touring Cabriolets and All-Weather Cabriolets (Town Cars) for their twelve-cylinder Model 1608 and 1708 chassis (1938-39). Normally 95 per cent of series-built production bodies would be shipped to the chassis manufacturer’s plant for mounting, but Packard requested that Brunn mount the Cabriolet bodies. Packard shipped the running chassis to Buffalo with a soapbox driver’s seat in place and gave Brunn $150 for mounting the bodies. Most of the Brunn Touring Cabriolets were sold by California Packard distributor Earl C. Anthony. Packard demanded that Brunn use Packard factory door stampings to save money. The factory stampings were so poor that Brunn spent hours refinishing and leading them and the once promising Packard program produced little monetary rewards. A total of ten Brunn Touring Cabriolets were built in 1937, nine in 1938, and two in 1939, for a total of 22.
Late in 1937, Ford was commissioned to build a Lincoln parade car for President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Pierce-Arrow started the tradition of leasing cars to the oval office in the teens and Edsel Ford desired to have a Lincoln in to the President’s garage. Although the car cost Lincoln almost $10,000 to build, they leased it to the Whitehouse for only $500 per year, as that was the traditional fee.
Brunn built the four-door convertible sedan on a heavy-duty 160” 1939 Lincoln Model K commercial car chassis. Painted Presidential Blue, the car included forward-facing jump seats, reinforced extra-depth runningboards and a couple of step-plates at the rear of the car. Another stipulation was that the roof be extra-high so the crippled president could enter and exit the car without difficulty. Although Brunn thought the car looked terrible, it was finished and sent to Washington as ordered in late 1939.
Herman C. Brunn claims that within a week, the car returned to Buffalo to get the ugly convertible top replaced. A regular height Brunn convertible top was installed on the car and the now-attractive automobile was returned to the President.
The car was rebuilt with new armor plating, bullet-proof glass, and bulletproof Firestone tubes and tires. Ford also gave the aging Lincoln a face-lift by grafting on a 1942 Lincoln front end. While the White House staff referred to the car as “old 99” (its plate number) the press assigned it the name of the “Sunshine Special” and the 9,300 lb. car continued to serve the White house for another 8 years, accompanying the Presidents on many overseas and domestic journeys. It was finally replaced by a Dietrich-built Lincoln limousine in 1950 and was subsequently acquired by then Henry Ford Museum at Greenfield Village, Michigan.
Edsel Ford was an enthusiastic Town Car owner and owned a number of Brunn-built Lincolns. When the Zephyr was introduced, Brunn tried, unsuccessfully, to build a town car using a two-door convertible Zephyr. The Zephyr’s unitary construction forced Brunn to re-think the process and it was decided that a long wheelbase sedan must be used. Designed by Ford’s Ross Cousins, the rear of the standard 7-passenger sedan was cut away behind the B-pillar and new doors and sheetmetal fabricated to be installed behind it. An initial order of five was produced with one going to Edsel Ford and another to his dad. The remaining three went to other members of the Ford family. They proved so popular that the Fords soon placed another order for five more cars, with a couple of limousines included. The attractive cars were individually customized for each owner, although they all had forward facing jump seats and luxurious interiors. A number of them enjoyed years of service to the Fords, and a couple were updated with 1948 Lincoln Continental front ends. Mrs. Edsel Ford kept hers until 1952.
The Zephyr project marked an important change for Brunn. Up until then they had built composite bodies from scratch, using the time-honored methods of the old world carriage builders. Now they were increasingly asked to modify existing bodies into convertibles, town cars, and limousines. Most of their work consisted of installing partitions into 5 and 7-passenger sedans and transforming the same into town cars by chopping off the roofs over the front seat. Like Derham in Rosemount, PA, they also transformed all-steel sedans into faux convertibles and landaus by the installation of padded roofs.
In 1939 a ray of hope appeared in the form of a phone call from Ed Ragsdale, a former Pierce-Arrow body engineer who now worked for Buick. Brunn was summoned to Detroit for a meeting with Ragsdale and Buick General Manager, Harlow Curtice about doing some custom work on their existing Roadmaster and upcoming Limited 90 chassis. Brunn was commissioned to build one show car on the Roadmaster chassis, a close coupled Town Car for the upcoming Grand Central Palace Auto Show in New York.
The town car was given the name, Townmaster (Town car body - Roadmaster chassis) and slated for a very limited production as a semi-custom model. The Townmaster attracted a lot of interest at its 1940 show debut and was promoted through a 1-page color ad in National Geographic Magazine.
The Townmaster conversion was typical of Brunn’s (and Derham’s) work at the time. A sliding division was built just behind the front seat, the roof was cut off from the division forward and the windshield and cowl assembly of a Roadmaster phaeton was with the stock sedan cowl and screen and Brunn’s disappearing chauffeur’s canopy was installed over the front compartment. To make the rear window appear smaller a faux frame was placed on top of the Roadmaster’s stock rear window and the entire rear compartment’s exterior padded and covered with leather.
The interior was fitted with wood garnish moldings and Brunn’s always excellent upholstery was installed in place of the stock textiles. The chauffeur’s compartment was covered in leather surfaces and the phaeton’s chrome-edged side windows grafted on to the otherwise stock Roadmaster front doors. The lone Townmaster was displayed at Flint, Michigan’s Buick outlet through the spring of 1940 and was subsequently purchased by Art Kudner, a Buick ad executive. Of the five Custom Brunn built for Curtice, the Townmaster is the only one known to exist today.
Curtice asked Brunn to design a Cabriolet, a three-window Town Car, a limousine and a four-door convertible, the four designs that can be seen in the 1941 Limited 90 catalog. But before Brunn had a chance to build the actual Limited-based prototypes, Cadillac caught wind of Curtice’s custom-body program and GM brass killed the program. As recompense for the lost work, Buick had Brunn build two Roadmaster convertibles for the 1941 auto shows.
Brunn eventually built two of the Limited catalog custom. The first, a town car, went to Palm Beach, Florida and the second, a semi-collapsible touring cabriolet went to Chicago.
Hermann A. Brunn passed away after a long illness, just weeks before the attack on Pearl Harbor, his obituary appeared in the September 23, 1941 issue of the New York Times:
As the surviving Brunn lacked the space finances needed to adapt the shop for war work he asked his friend Edsel Ford for a job. He had hoped to work on Lincoln’s exterior styling, but as low man on the totem pole, he was assigned various war-related duties, and after the war joined the interior design department as a color and textile specialist. He was responsible for the colorful interiors of the 1956-57 Lincoln Premieres and among his final assignments was the interior of the gorgeous Continental Mark III. He retired to California in 1968 after 26 years with Ford and passed away in 1989.
Buffalo native Norm Richardson purchased the Brunn factory after the war and turned it into a body shop to serve the burgeoning local market for re-spraying and restoration caused by the unavailability of new iron from Detroit. Along with Louis Horowitz, a former Packard dealer and ex-Pontiac engineer Charles D. Thomas, Richardson formed the Midget Motor Car Company after the war. They soon reorganized as the Playboy Motor Corporation and introduced their affordable lightweight convertible in late 1947. It seated three, had a manually activated retractable metal top that stowed behind the seat and was powered by a 48-hp inline four-cylinder Continental (originally Hercules) L-head engine mated to an automatic transmission.
All of the prototypes and a few early production cars were built at the former Brunn plant before the firm moved to the former Chevrolet Plant No. 1 on Kenmore Avenue in North Tonawanda where the balance of the 97 Playboys were built. Unfortunately the company was soon forced into a bankruptcy caused by the firm’s inability to raise additional capital through stock sales or bank loans. The memory of Preston Tucker's then recent failure was still fresh in the minds of Buffalo brokers and investors and the firm folded in 1951. Richardson explained years later: "The Buffalo fathers weren't ready for us. There were too many fuddy-duddies in this town."
© 2004 Mark Theobald - Coachbuilt.com