Gardner Motor Co. - 1920-1932 - St. Louis, Missouri
|The Gardner Motor Company and their St. Louis neighbor, St. Louis Coffin
Company, entered the field in 1927 with a series of attractive coaches using a Lycoming 84hp inline-8-cylinder
engine mounted on a purpose-built Gardner chassis. For 1928 the re-styled Gardner coaches offered a number of new
features, including the availability of Lycoming's new 115hp straight-8-cylinder engine, disc wheels, Gordon spare
tire covers, miniature coach lamps and cowl-mounted spot-lights. Both engines were available in any one of four
Gardner coaches, a popular funeral coach, a combination funeral and invalid coach, a stylish service car, and a
full-time ambulance. Gardner was an early adopter of the new chrome plating process pioneered by the Udylite Company
of Detroit, Michigan. Up until the late 1920s, all silver-colored surfaces were nickel plated, a surface that
required constant maintenance.
During the summer of 1929, Gardner announced two "very important" automobile contracts. Sears, Roebuck, and Company wanted Gardner to develop a new car to be sold by mail order. The other venture was with New Era Motors to manufacture the front wheel drive Ruxton. With the stock market crash in late 1929 both deals were off, auto sales were at a standstill and Gardner slashed prices on their leftover 1929 and new 1930 six-cylinder coaches by $1000 or more. Their advertisements focused on economy and their personal belief that unlike their competition, Gardner coaches were "Ten Year Cars".
1931 Gardners were priced as low as $1500, the price of their well-appointed six-cylinder service car. $1750 bought you their new Light Hearse, a six-cylinder 4-speed funeral car that equipped with all the essentials. 1932 Gardner coaches were equipped wiht an 85hp V8 mated to a free-wheeling 4-speed synchromesh transmission. The firm had operated at a loss since 1927 and closed its doors later in the year.
Like Kissel and Auburn, Gardner sought to recoup the falling sales of their private cars with a line of ambulances and hearses, produced in association with the St. Louis Coffin Co. These were based on their Lycoming-engined straight-8s with all expanding hydraulic brakes; some had 4-speed gearboxes. Gardner's fortunes, however, continued to decline and by 1930 their cheaper professional cars were largely Chevrolet-based. In spite of this, the hearses outlived the cars by a year, though 1932 models were little more than modified V8 Pontiacs. Gardner was still making a profit when they decided to close their doors. They chose to close up shop before the Depression wiped out their assets.
Without a dollar in his pocket, Russell E. Gardner left his home state Tennessee for St. Louis in 1879. Three and a half decades later he was millionaire several times over. Russell Gardner had made it big in St. Louis by manufacturing Banner buggies before the turn of the century and unlike many wagon builders, was well aware of what the automobile age meant to his business. He got started by building new Chevrolet bodies and along side, his company was building wagons. By 1915 this had led to the complete assembly of Chevrolets in St. Louis and Russell Gardner was controlling all Chevrolet trade west of the Mississippi River states. The Russell Gardner sold his Chevrolet business to General Motors after his sons enter the Navy during World War I. after the war the three decided to build their own automobiles. The Gardner Motor Company was established with Russell E. Gardner, Sr. as chairman of the board, Russell E. Gardner, Jr. as president, and Fred Gardner as vice-president. Their previous experience had been in the assembling of cars, so it was not surprising that the Gardner was assembled. A very good, Lycoming engines were used throughout the years of production. A 4 cylinder medium sized with a 112-inch wheelbase and medium priced was introduced late 1919 as a 1920 model. Sales in 1921 were 3800 cars, increased in 1922 to 9000. In early 1924 Cannon Ball Baker established a new mid-winter transcontinental record from New York to Los Angeles in 7 days, 17 hours, and 8 minutes in a Gardner. They started to prepare to expand the product line and distributorship network. The Plant's capacity was 40,000 cars annually and by 1925 these included both sixes and eights. The fours were dropped in 1925 with both sixes and eights being produced in 1926 and 1927. For 1928 and 1929 the eights were the only engines used on their models. During the summer of 1929, Gardner announced two "very important" automobile contracts. The Sears, Roebuck, and Company wanted Gardner to develop a new car to be sold by mail order. The other venture was with New Era Motors to manufacture the front wheel drive Ruxton. With the stock market crash in late 1929 both deals were off. For the 1930 model Gardners they returned to the six cylinder engine only. In January of 1930 the company announced a front wheel drive six-cylinder car. An 80 hp six on a 133 wheelbase, and a Baker-Raulang body which sported a longer hood with distinctive low-slung lines. Rare in America they used Lockheed hydraulic internal expanding brakes and a two way hydraulic shock absorbers. Unfortunately it turned out that they would only produce prototypes of this model. The 1931 models were the same 1930 model but just updated. In mid 1931 Russell E. Gardner, Jr. solicited the permission of his stockholders to stop producing automobiles. The reasons he gave for his company's failure was that Gardner had been only profitable until 1927. The fierce competition of the major producer of automobiles and their control of many sources of parts supplier. The Gardner funeral car was built through 1932, but then the company ended all production.
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