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Holbrook Co.
Holbrook Company, 1908-1921; New York, New York; Holbrook Co., 1921-1929; Holbrook Co. Division of the Gordon England Co. of America, 1929-1930; Hudson, New York
Associated Builders
H.F. Holbrook, Holbrook-Singer Co., Holbrook-Brewster

Two metropolitan New York coachbuilders, Harry F. Holbrook and John (Jack) Graham, joined forces in 1908 to produce high-grade custom-built bodies for regional luxury chassis builders such as Simplex who was located nearby in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Capital came from the two partners and a group of Manhattan businessmen and garment manufacturers - D. J. Levett, Nathaniel Levi, H. J. Dentz, F. J. McKee, M.W. Brennen and Charles Harris. 

Located on Manhattan’s West Side, Holbrook’s first plant was located in a small two-story building on West 43rd St. Business was good and they took over another building, this one a 5-story factory located at the corner of West End Ave and 67th St. The basic body was framed and paneled at the W. 43rd Street plant, then trucked one mile away to the West End plant where it was painted, upholstered (trimmed) and mounted on the customer’s chassis. 

Although the firm continued to grow, in 1913, Harry F. Holbrook – an Englishman and the firm’s namesake - turned over the presidency to John (Jack) Graham and resigned. Graham had already assumed day-to-day control of the operation and remained at its helm for the balance of its existence. Holbrook had served as the firm's salesman and designer and when he left the void was filled by a succession of talent who included Paris-born coachbuilder, Leon Rubay, who worked for the firm for a couple of years between stints with Rothschild & Co., White and his own Cleveland, Ohio Company.

While at Holbrook, Rubay hired a delineator names Frederick C. Walther to help produce the numerous body drafts required at the time to produce their custom bodies. Walther had come to the United States in 1914 from his native Germany and would later join Rubay in Cleveland. Walther eventually ended up working for Harley Earl at GM’s Art & Colour and remained with General Motors Styling until his retirement in the early 1960s.

Stefan J. Kjeldson, a respected New York City-based imported car salesman joined the firm after Rubay's departure in 1914. The noted New Haven, CT based designer, William Henderson, served as the firm's chief body designer during the teens.

During the teens and twenties, Holbrook produced bodies for Cadillac, Crane-Simplex, Fergus, F.R.P.(Portercar), Isotta-Fraschini,  King, LaFayette, Locomobile, Marmon, Mercer, Owen Magnetic, Packard, Phianna, Pierce-Arrow, Porter, Rolls-Royce, Ruxton and Singer chassis. 

From 1908 to 1919, Holbrook built many of the bodies for Smith & Mabley’s luxurious Simplex and Crane-Simplex automobiles. Production of the ultra-luxurious car that many considered to be the American “Mercedes” ceased at the start of WWI in order to build Hispano-Suiza aircraft engines, but a few remaining chassis were sold after the war that featured new coachwork. Holbrook also built some magnificent town car bodies on F.R.P. and Phianna chassis in 1916. The Phianna was a beautiful example of the firm’s formal coachwork and featured unusual coach curves at the cowl and center post. 

Holbrook is though of as a strictly formal body builder, but during the teens they built a number of open bodies. A striking sports tourer was built in a small series for the 1916-1917 Owen Magnetic that featured distinctive flat-topped and angled front and rear fenders. The 1918 F.R.P. catalog listed a town car, touring car, and a speedster with bodies by Holbrook. A 1919 Marmon catalog shows two Holbrook town cars on the Model 34 chassis. 

At least three examples of Holbrook’s Manhattan-built bodies are known to exist – all on Crane-Simplex chassis. 

The first is a 1911 Simplex 50 Holbrook Toy Tonneau purchased by Otis Chandler of Oxnard, California for $512,000 at  Christie’s 2000 Pebble Beach auction. The Car took first place in Class A (Antique-1915) at 2004’s Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. Another is a 1912 Simplex Speedster, purchased new by Mr. and Mrs. John D. Adams. Upon its retirement from service in 1929, they gave it to the Smithsonian Institution where it remains today. 

The third is a 1916 Model 5 Holbrook Skiff made by Holbrook for the 1916 New York Auto Show that was purchased by J.H. Baxter after a subsequent appearance at the San Francisco Auto Show at the Palace Hotel. After Baxter’s death, it was willed to his sons who eventually gave it to the Baxter family chauffeur. One of Baxter's sons recalled that after his dad purchased it “acces­sories were soon added, such as the folding top, two spot lamps on the windshield frame, front bumper, radiator ornaments, the propeller fasten­ing for the spare tires and, I believe, the glass side fins.“ The very lucky chauffeur sold it in 1941 to Connecticut classic car artist and collector Melbourne Brindle. Bill Harrah bought it in 1960 for his legendary automobile collection. While owned by Harrah, it was the subject of a Harrah Collection postcard and was prominently featured in an issue of Automobile Quarterly (Vol. 11, No. 4). It was eventually sold by the Harrah Collection (aka National Automobile Museum) to Jay Leno who took first place in Class B (Vintage 1916-1924) with it at 2004’s Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. 

One of two skiffs known to have been built by Holbrook, it features lots of nickel and brass trim and originally cost  $10,000 according to the original owner’s son. The Crane-Simplex “Touring Skiff” includes portholes in the cowl, ships' air intake ventilators, teakwood running boards, tool boxes and dash, mahogany rub rails plus an actual propeller that holds the rear-mounted spare tires. The driver and front seat passenger enter the “ship” by going through the two rear compartment doors - one on each side – and walking between the divided front seats to get to the “helm”. The French coachbuilder Labourdette introduced the yacht-shaped style which was then popular in Europe, but Holbrook was the only American body builder to copy it. 

One 1917 Holbrook body was specially ordered for Czar Nicholas, II of Russia. The Russian Embassy ordered 6 new King Eight automobile chassis for use by the Russian government. Five featured the firm’s standard touring bodywork, but the sixth was delivered to Holbrook for a custom seven-passenger aluminum touring body. Unfortunately, the Czar and his family were executed before the finished vehicles were shipped overseas, so they were repossessed by the King Motor Car Company. 

Artimas Ward, Jr., then President of King, decided to keep the Czar’s Holbrook-bodied touring to use at his Long Island estate. Ward left the car to his chauffeur who eventually sold it to a local Shelter Island family who used as a sawmill rig to cut wood during WWII. They sold it for junk in 1949, but luckily it was eventually purchased up by an old car enthusiast who saw its potential. During the 1950s and early 1960s it passed through several hands until one owner partially restored it in 1966. In 1970 it was purchased by Kenneth Thurston King who shares his last name with the vehicle but is not related to its manufacturer. Along with his son and grandson, King lovingly restored the vehicle and continues to enjoy it today. 

The King’s touring body is of all-aluminum construction. Other unique features of this car include all solid brass trim work, including: windshield posts and frame, door handles, headlight rims, door step plates, rear seat footrest, and a brass trim line around the complete top edge of the body. The automobile also features courtesy lights on the running boards above the step plates, and brass parking lights on the cowl area. 

By 1920, Holbrook employed almost 200 hands but labor/union problems related to their Manhattan location were plaguing them. A search for a better location found a site in upstate in Hudson, New York, where a new factory could be built for a reasonable cost that was large enough to accommodate the growing concern. A substantial portion of Holbrook’s business was coming from Packard – some direct from Detroit and the rest from New York City’s Packard dealership which had a custom body department headed by Grover C. Parvis. Uppercu Cadillac’s custom body manager, J.R. MacLachlan, was another good New York City customer. The move would consolidate the two West-side operations and would give them the additional room needed to build series-built semi-custom production bodies for Packard and others. 

A beautiful maroon and black 1920 Holbrook-bodied Locomobile Model 48 Cape-Top Touring formerly owned by Detroit car collector Barney Pollard (and rumored to have been owned by Mrs. Warren Harding) sold at RM’s 2004 Meadowbrook auction. Typical of the touring bodies produced by Holbrook at the time, it features a separate windshield as well as a convertible leather top (Victoria or Cape top) for the rear passengers. 

A January 1921 issue of the Hudson (NY) Republican announced that after several months of negotiations, the Hudson Chamber of Commerce and the Holbrook Company had reached agreement for the firm’s re-location to the upstate New York city. Hol­brook’s board of directors were satisfied with the concessions made by Hudson; and a committee repre­senting both the Chamber of Commerce and some local banks, were convinced that Holbrook would make a substantial contribution to the community. A realty company was formed to develop a new industrial park out of some farmland located to the northeast of the city. The first tenant of the Union Turnpike parcel was to be the new 100’ by 260’ Holbrook factory. Groundbreaking took place on February 18, 1921 and by the first of May the Holbrook plant was in operation. The last body emerged from the firm’s New York City plant the first week in April. 

An August 1921 issue of the Hudson (NY) Republican featured a tour of the new Holbrook plant: 

"With about 80 men working on full time, nearly all of whom are skilled mechanics, the new plant of the Holbrook Company just over the city line on the Hudson Chamber of Commerce industrial site pre­sents no picture of business depression. On the contrary, there is a rush, a steady hum of machinery for these busy mechanics are turning out the famous Holbrook automobile bodies with speed and preci­sion and with that care and pains which is characteristic of Holbrook work.

"Here in this new plant every bit of work is done from the raw materials to the finished product.

“The first step in the building of an automobile body is the designing of it. This is done by a skilled force of designers, draftsmen and engineers. The design is laid out on a scaled drawing showing the car body on whatever chassis it is designed for. This drawing then goes to the drafting department where a full sized working draft is made which shows every part in detail that is used in the construction of the body.­

"From this working draft, patterns were made for each part. These patterns then go to the mill room which is equipped with a complete line of the newest and most approved woodworking machinery and all the wood parts that are used in the construction of the body are turned out ready for assembly into the framework.

"When the body is completely framed, it is taken to the sheet metal department. While the mill room has been putting out all their wood stock for the body, the sheet metal department has been busy cutting all the aluminum stock preparatory to paneling the body and as soon as the     framework of the body arrives in that department the panels are all formed and ready to be applied.

"When the body leaves the metal department it is complete with the exception of the paint and upholstery and minor details that are put in as final touches.

"The body is now ready for the painters. Twenty coats of paint are placed on, this shining body with its beautiful curves and original design. Every bit of paint is applied by hand. This process alone, in order to give ample time for drying between coats, takes about three weeks. After the body is entirely painted, with the exception of the last finishing coat, it goes to the trimming department.

"Whatever the order calls for, blue, gray, black, or some odd shade or tint for the upholstery, it is there in stock. Whether it is wanted in plush, velvet, or mohair makes no difference. The patterns are cut and the trimmer takes possession of the painted body. Some are making the backs, some the cushions, and some the silk curtains. Sewing machines and hand needles are used, and in a short time me luxur­ious interior of the car has been completed. ,

"The body then goes back to the paint depart­ment where it is carefully inspected, striped, and made ready for me final coat of lustrous finishing varnish. This is applied in a special darkened dust proof room and the body men goes to the final assembly department where it is mounted on the chassis, the mudguards, running boards, lamps, tire carrier, etc. are then assembled and the car is complete and ready for final inspection.

"After the rigid inspection has been made and the car has passed in all details, it is then ready for delivery. The door is opened and out goes the ' finished product containing in the lower forward corner a little nickel plate that tells that it is a Holbrook body the mark of distinction in the motor, world of America.

"On the floor of the plant today stands well over $100,000 worth of chassis. In one line there are ten or twelve Packards which have arrived from the Packard factory, bodies for all of which will be made by the Holbrook Company. There are new Locomobiles, Pierce Arrows, LaFayettes, Lincolns, and others all waiting for a luxurious body.

"The plant is an ideal one for this work because of its many glass windows on either side. It is light as outdoors. There is every modem convenience and it is as clean as the proverbial whistle.

"Every bit of work requires a skilled mechanic but local labor will not be excluded, in fact as soon as possible more and more will be given an opportunity to break in. There are over thirty workmen from the city and surrounding towns now at work in the plant.

"The present plant will house 100 workmen constantly and by the first of September, it is expected that this number will be on the company payroll. The company will not stop there however, as busi­ness will require both more space and more help and it is a known fact, not a prediction that double the plant space and help will be, needed before another year rolls by.

"The men work 50 hours a week made up of 5½ days, enjoying half holiday on Saturday but making a full week of six days in wages as they make up the Saturday afternoon hours during the week. Every department is under a skilled foreman. Most of these foremen are the old Holbrook craftsmen who came with them from New York.

"The Holbrook Company has long been in busi­ness in New York City. They have now closed their plant there and all business has been transferred to their new plant here. So far they have had to em­ploy chiefly the, single men because of the shortage of houses in which to care for married men with families. However it is the plan now to bring the men with families, and houses are slowly being se­cured and by the aid of the Chamber of Commerce Building program, the shortages are expected to be overcome.

"There is no labor trouble. In keeping with all lines of the automobile industry, the Holbrook Com­pany cut the price of its product and labor accepted a decrease in war wages in proportion. Everyone seems to like his work. There is harmony in the or­ganization that spells success in any business.

"The Holbrook Company is the first big industry secured by the Hudson Chamber of Commerce and it is now well on its way, the wheels are turning mer­rily. Conditions appear bright and almost every day now sees the big doors open and a shining new car passes out of the plant into the motor world."

The officers of the Holbrook Company at the time were as follows: John Graham, president and general manager; Louis J. Gouin, vice president and plant superin­tendent (formerly with Fiat, American Body and Moline Plow); D. J. Levett, treasurer; Nathaniel Levi, secretary. Board members also included F. J. McKee, a paper bag manufacturer; Charles Harris, an automotive glass distributor; H. J. Dentz, a dress manufacturer; and M. W. Brennen a retired exporter. 

In the fall of 1921 a syndi­cate was formed to raise money to double the size of the new plant. Its prospectus summarized the company's accomplishments at its new location: "The present plant is working to capacity. The company has on hand unfilled orders amounting to approximately $250,000. Over a period of eight years our gross business averaged $420,000 per year and showed an average earning on our outstanding stock of 18 % per year. With the additional money we receive from the sale of a portion of our securities, we should be able to do a gross business of $1,200,000 a year and earn approxi­mately $150,000 a year. This estimate is based on a production of seven hundred bodies a year." 

The average wholesale price of a Holbrook body in 1921 dollars was $1700, $210 of which was profit for the firm. The dealer marked up the body another 40% to 50%, making the retail cost of an average Holbrook series-produced semi-custom body $2500-$2600 – that’s about $75,000 in current dollars.

Although the firm had been in town less than a year, Holbrook was well-supported by the local business community who quickly supplied the money needed for the plant’s expansion. Doubling the plant’s capacity, it was completed by the end of 1922, putting the firm in good shape for the rest of the twenties. 

Holbrook were regular exhibitors at the Automobile Salon in New York at the Commodore Hotel, Chicago at the Drake Hotel, Los Angeles at the Biltmore, and San Francisco at the Palace starting in 1922. Their exhibit that year included two Lincolns, two Cadillacs, and one Packard. Later that year, Holbrook built a custom body for the Fergus chassis, one of only three examples known to have been built by the short-lived Newark, NJ manufacturer. 

Holbrook’s stand at the 1923 Salon included a Twin Six Packard Collapsible Cabriolet, a design that would prove to be very popular in the proceeding years. 

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. During the mid-twenties, Lincoln was buying bodies of the same type, but slightly different design, from LeBaron, Dietrich, Holbrook, Brunn and Willoughby. Holbrook's were typically a shade more formal, and could be identified by their distinctive coupe molding at the front of the rear tonneau that extended down from the belt-line to the body sill. 

Holbrook started supplying Lincoln with production bodies starting in 1923. The most popular Lincoln body style which Holbrook built was the Collapsible Cabriolet. First shown at the 1925 New York Automobile Salon, about forty were built through 1929.  It featured a removable chauffeur's top combined with a rear compartment whose top could be folded down like a Landaulet.  Its immediate predecessor was the Holbrook Brougham, which can be seen in the November 1924 issue of The Lincoln Magazine, Salon Issue. The two designs were similar, the main difference being that the Brougham lacked the all-weather driver's tarp. At least one of the Lincoln Holbrook Cabriolets is known to survive. 

From 1923-25 Packard sold a "Holbrook" doctors coupe, which was reproduced several hundred times for the Detroit automaker. A 1925 Packard coupe still exists that was built using a Brewster-style windshield and landau irons. The Brewster type windshield featured a number of oddly-angled window panes that presumably helped to deflect snow and rain, and was popular for a couple of years with many custom body builders. At the 1925 NY Salon Holbrook showed a Packard coupe and a Lincoln Collapsible Cabriolet as well as a Rolls-Royce and Cadillac limousines. 

Holbrook was part of Rolls-Royce Custom Coachworks program during the early 1920s and built a number of Town Car, Limousine, Sedan and Landaulet bodies for the Springfield Silver Ghost chassis. However, the vehicles had Rolls-Royce Custom Coach Work badging that did not betray their Hudson, NY origins, so they’re virtually impossible to identify unless you have the chassis’ serial number. No examples are known to exist and even if they did, chances are the stodgy Holbrook limousine bodies were discarded early on in favor of more flashy convertibles and tourers. 

As mentioned previously, the firm’s founder and namesake, Harry F. Holbrook, left the firm in 1913. However he did not fade in obscurity. He re-emerged in 1925-26 as the firm’s New York City sales representative. Holbrook’s Hudson, N.Y.-based sales manager, Hjalmar Holm, found it too difficult to travel back and forth to New York City every week so John (Jack) Graham made an arrangement with William R. Laidlaw of Laidlaw & Co., the New York City-based distributor of Burbank top material and upholstery to rent an office in their Manhattan showroom. As Holbrook’s Manhattan representative it was Harry’s job to take orders for Holbrook bodies from New York City car dealers and to show prospective clients photos and renderings of their products. Unfortunately a number of Laidlaw’s coachbuilder customers complained to Laidlaw about the “conflict of interest” and the office was closed a few months later. 

For 1926, Holbrook had a record six cars on display at the NY Salon. The Salon issue of Autobody magazine described the six cars in great detail: 

Packard Seven-Passenger Enclosed-drive Limousine "Painted black and pheasant green, the interior up­holstered in a finely woven cloth, partridge cream striping, with a ceiling of plain wolfing cloth to harmonize with the rest of the interior. The unit is fitted with walnut vanity and smoking cases and the hardware is of a special design in French bronze finish.” 

Packard Quarter-Window Cabriolet: "Painted Princess Louise Lake and Miami Brown. This body has a special leather roof and quarters which will be a special turtle grain. The interior is upholstered in tan cloth, the seat backs done in needlepoint medallions which have been specially woven for this car. The interior is of the Italian Renaissance period design with inlaid walnut mar­quetry panels on the doors and drivers division. The interior hardware for this car has been specially designed and made. It is of the same period and has a dull gold finish. 

Pierce-Arrow All-Weather Quarter-Window Cabriolet: "Paneled black, periscope gray, and blue. It is upholstered in a delicate heather cloth with the ex­ception of the seat backs and cushions which are done in a special imported cloth of decided contrast and distinctive design. Vanity cases are inlaid mahog­any and the interior hardware is finished to harmo­nize with the upholstery. 

Cadillac Seven-Passenger Sedan Cabriolet: "This car is painted two new shades created for it, topaz and rubra. The interior is upholstered in a combination of broadcloth specially dyed to match the calm of the paint. A very decided feature of the car is the striping by which a third color is introduced , into the painting scheme. This is a light robin's egg blue and harmonizes beautifully with the topaz and rubra. 

Lincoln Five-Passenger Sedan Cabriolet: "The interior of this car is done in the Empire period, special cloth and laces having been woven. The hardware has been specially made by Gorham Co. This car has been painted black and Bonaparte beige, hand striped with Versailles violet. The details of this car illustrate the care and thought that goes into these show jobs. The Empire period is of Napoleon and the theme throughout is the honey bee which was the Napoleonic insignia. The honey bee has been introduced into the hardware design and also woven in to the cloth and laces with which the body is upholstered. Even Napoleon's favorite colors have been reproduced and named Bonaparte beige and Versailles violet. 

Marmon Town Cabriolet: "Black and Madonna Lake with carmine striping. Interior is upholstered in pearl gray broadcloth with special broad and narrow laces to match. Hardware is platinum finish. 

From 1926-27 Holbrook built 36 fully collapsible 5-passenger cabriolets and three semi-collapsible cabriolets for the Lincoln factory. In late 1928 they built another 26 of the fully collapsible cabriolets. Although production of this series ended in March 1929, several 1930 Lincoln Holbrook fully collapsible 5-passenger cabriolets are known to have been built. They may have been special orders, but may have been built using leftover bodies. 

During 1926 two special Holbrook bodies were shipped to Wash­ington to be mounted on Packard chassis. These were for the use of Queen Marie of Rumania, whose visit to the United States was as newsworthy as Jacque­line Kennedy's vacation in Italy. 

In mid-1927, Henry Brewster - whose coachbuilding family had sold out to Rolls-Royce a couple of years earlier – and Harry F. Holbrook announced the formation of the H. F. Holbrook-Henry Brewster Corporation. The new firm would produce high-end cus­tom bodies in the former Blue Ribbon Body Co. plant located in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Holbrook served as the firm’s salesman while Brewster served as designer and body engineer. They built a striking Mercedes-Benz Town Car that appeared on the Mercedes-Benz stand at that fall’s New York Auto Salon and are also known to have bodied a Bugatti. 

Both the Holbrook Co. and Brewster & Co. strongly objected to the new firm’s presence at the Salon as they felt it created unnecessary confusion with their existing clients. An illustration of a "Holbrook-Brewster" Mercedes-Benz All Weather Cab­riolet appeared in the November 1927 issue of Spur magazine (an equestrian magazine published by Country Life). It was a beautiful vehicle was painted black and yellow and featured a buffed aluminum hood with tan broadcloth upholstery. 1927 was not the best time to be entering the coachbuilding business (see Waterhouse & Co.) and the new firm failed to attract enough orders to stay solvent. Only 8-10 custom bodies emerged from the Bridgeport plant in their first year although they had some success with their well-built funeral coaches. By the end of 1928, the H. F. Holbrook-Henry Brewster Corp. had closed it doors for good. 

Many years later coachbuilding authority Hugo Pfau asked Holbrook about the Brewster partnership and his activities during the First World War. Holbrook replied that he had gone back to England, his native country, to serve with the Royal Air Force during the war. The Brewster partnership was still fresh in his mind and he wouldn’t elaborate on the details. 

Although Holbrook specialized in conservative limousines and town cars, they also turned out an occasional phaeton. The Packard Sport Phaetons they exhibited at the 1927 and 1928 New York Salons featured extensive use of polished aluminum. The 1927 Salon car had a gleaming black body with a polished aluminum hood and belt molding that extended back to the rear of the tonneau that contrasted well with its bright red wheels and undercarriage. The 1928 vehicle was a bit more conservative, with just an extra-wide molding of polished aluminum running from the radiator back around the car, but no polished hood. In addition to the Packard phaeton, a Lincoln Collapsible Cabriolet and a Franklin Sedan appeared on the Holbrook stand at the 1927 Salons. 

The 1928 Salon exhibit also included the first appearance of the legendary Duesenberg Model J with coachwork by Holbrook, LeBaron, and Murphy. These cars were not ready for delivery when shown, the chassis were incomplete and had to be returned to the factory before they could be delivered to the customers.  (Similar premature showings were later made of the 810 Cords, and after World War 2 of the Tucker.)

The December 1928 issue of Autobody gave a description of the cars to be exhibited by the firm at the New York Salon:

"The Holbrook Co. will exhibit four bodies embracing: A 4-passenger convertible coupe on Franklin chassis; it will be finished in Pastelle Cream, with black trimming; a tan Burbank will be used for the roof covering and the seats will be trimmed with black Colonial-grain leather. A 5-passenger Duesenberg is finished in two shades of tan and trimmed with copper-striped gray broadcloth on the seats and a plain broadcloth headlining; the division glass lowers completely to permit owner or chauffeur driving. An all­weather town car on Duesenberg chassis is finished in brown and the interior is trimmed in a gray suede broadcloth with elaborate panel design worked out with broadlace. A panel brougham with all-weather front, but retaining the classic coach lines, will be exhibited on a Packard chassis, finished in a combination of black and maroon and trimmed in a plain tan deluxe broadcloth.

The Model J Town Car - pictured in the Model J’s 1928 announcement and described above by Autobody wasn’t finished in time and a Packard phaeton was exhibited in its place. The Franklin Convertible Coupe  was also featured in the Winter 1929 issue of Art and Decoration Quarterly and eventually ended up in Bill Harrah's collection. 

Duesenberg eventually ordered ten Holbrook bodies: 2 seven-passenger enclosed drive limousines, 3 transformable town cars, and the rest 5-passenger sedans that included a distinctive down-swept roof line that converged at its fashionably low windshield. A further order for 10 more limousine bodies was eventually cancelled by Duesenberg due to the onset of the Depression. 

At least three of the Holbrook-bodied Duesenbergs are still in existence. The first - chassis # 2350 - is a 5-passenger sedan that was owned for many years by Homer Fitterling, and more recently by Ed Weaver. It was purchased by the Volo Automobile Museum who later sold it through Kruse on e-Bay in March of 2004 for $260,000. It’s currently on display at the Imperial Palace Auto Collection and it’s available for $395,000. The second, another 1929 5-passenger sedan, was extensively modified by Bohman & Schwartz in 1934. Originally painted black by the California coachbuilder, it was recently painted a striking gold and can be seen at the Pebble Beach Concours. The third, a 1929 Model J Holbrook Town Sedan, is on exhibit at the Northeast Classic Car Museum in Norwich, New York. 

Many of the Holbrook-bodied Duesenbergs have had their original Holbrook bodies discarded in favor of more fashionable (and valuable) bodies. One example is chassis #2126. Originally a Holbrook 5-passenger sedan, it was re-bodied as a Rollston Convertible Victoria for Homer Fitterling by Keith Brown. It later turned up in the Ed Weaver collection (as did #2350) which was sold upon his death in 1995. It’s now painted green and was sold at a RM auction in 2004 for $475,000. Another Holbrook 5-passenger Sedan, chassis # 2152 was re-bodied as a LeBaron Convertible Sedan in the 1930s. Some of the other chassis and engines may still be around, but their original Holbrook bodies were discarded long ago. 

According to Rollson/Rollston’s Rudy Creteur, The 5-passenger sedan-bodied Model J that appeared on the Holbrook stand suffered a slight mishap on the way to the 1928 Salon. While being loaded onto a steamboat at the Hudson River Day Line pier in Hudson, NY, the driver discovered to his dismay that the car’s brakes were non-existent and almost drove it into the River.  The bodywork was damaged in the incident, but there was no time to return it to the Holbrook plant. John (Jack) Graham immediately telephoned Rollston to ask them to make the necessary repairs as soon as the car reached New York. Luckily, Rollston's shop was located a few blocks away from the Manhattan Day Line pier, and the Duesenberg was towed to their plant without further incident. A number of Rollston employees worked through the night to repair the damage, and the car made it to the Commodore Hotel the next day in time for the opening of the Salon. 

A similar incident occurred to a LeBaron Rolls-Royce Town Car owned by Sam Katz of Paramount Pictures. While being driven by his chauffeur from New York to Chicago during a bad storm, the car left the roadway and ended up in a ditch. The wreck took place near north of Manhattan and Holbrook's Hudson, NY factory was the closest repair depot capable of repairing the damaged composite body. While it was there, the Holbrook craftsmen removed the LeBaron badges and replaced them with their own – a standard practice at the time. When the car was purchased years later, (it still exists) no badges remained, however several pieces of the wood frame had the name "Holbrook" stamped into them. Consequently, its new owners thought the body was built by Holbrook and had no idea that it was a LeBaron until Hugo Pfau identified it as Katz’s Town Car. 

Even before the Depression reared its ugly head, Holbrook found its sales steadily decreasing in the late twenties and tried branching out into other related fields. Idle hands and equipment were put to use manufacturing wooden cabinets for Atwater-Kent, a large Philadelphia-based radio manufacturer. A trio of Buick-chassised delivery vans were built for John David Inc., a Manhattan garment manufacturer. A few van body prototypes were built for Durant Motors on some 1/2 ton Rugby chassis, but no further orders materialized. 

By the fall of 1928, Budd’s the all-metal body and the Fisher Brothers mass-produced composite pro­duction bodies had made serious inroads into the custom body business. Huge presses could stamp out panels smoother and more uniform than any hand-formed panels. Holbrook saw the handwriting on the wall and made a last-ditch attempt to drum up some new business. In the fall of 1928, they made a tentative arrangement with George England (Motor Bodies) Ltd. to become sole US licensee of the Gordon England patent light-weight body, hoping that the new body would give the Hudson, NY firm the same success that it had brought to Gordon England in Great Britain. 

Before and during World War I, E.C. Gordon England was employed in the aircraft industry, becoming an unusual combination of test pilot and designer, and then a factory manager. After the War he became interested in motor racing and in 1922 he persuaded Sir Herbert Austin to prepare an Austin Seven chassis for him, which he and his father, George, bodied. His success in racing encouraged him to offer his own Austin Seven-based sportscars to the public through his father’s garage, George England Ltd. 

England believed that the biggest problem with existing coachwork was its weight and therefore inertia, and he set about designing a light but very snug body. This was achieved by the use of plywood box-girders and an ash framework covered with thin plywood panels, from which the door and window openings were cut afterwards. The entire exterior was then covered in fabric; although steel paneling was later offered. Its most novel feature was a three-point mounting system that isolated the bodywork from the chassis thereby reducing the creaks and groans experienced with normal composite bodies. On the outside, it looked just like a Weymann, but its internal construction didn’t infringe on any of Charles Weymann’s patents. In fact, E.C. Gordon England applied for and received a British patent for his version of the flexible body. 

The first Gordon England model sold to the public with the new plywood-based body was the Austin Seven Brooklands 2-seater of 1924. Each Brooklands racer came with a certificate attesting that it could reach the speed of 80 miles per hour (approximately 130 km/h). E.C. Gordon England co-piloted one of his own cars in the 1925 24 Hours of LeMans, but failed to finish the grueling race. 

The firm, still named after his father, was renamed George England (Motor Bodies) Ltd. in 1925. Later that year, Austin dealerships started selling his 2-seat Cup model and Fabric Saloon. That model evolved into the Austin AD saloon of 1926 - Austin's first closed car on a Seven chassis - with England supplying all of its bodywork. In 1927, almost 20,000 Austin Sevens were built with England bodies. 

The England system was used on a Rolls-Royce chassis as early as 1925 and by 1927 it had been applied to Bentley, MG, Morris Oxford and Wolseley chassis. They exhibited a handsome aluminum-paneled Invicta at the 1927 Olympia, which was Great Britain’s version of New York’s Auto Salon. The company continued to exhibit at the London Show through 1929 when it was reorganized as Gordon England Ltd.

Before a single Holbrook-built Gordon England patent body had been built, the British concern, rife with cash from their lucrative contract with Austin, offered to bail out Holbrook’s investors. The offer was eagerly accepted by Holbrook’s board of directors and in July of 1929, a new holding company was formed called The Gordon England Company of America. The new firm was capitalized for $1,000,000 and acquired an option to purchase the Holbrook Company as a going concern for $125,000 worth of stock. $250,000 of stock was offered for sale to the public while $200,000 in stock was given to Gordon England, Ltd. for use of the Gordon England patent in the U.S. and Canada. The remaining $425,000 was un-issued in the new firm’s treasury. Holbrook's co-founder and longtime president, John (Jack) Graham, elected to leave the firm and became president of Gordon England's only American competitor, the Weymann American Body Co. of Indianapolis, Indiana.

E.C. Gordon England was elected president of The Gordon England Company of America, Ingalls Kimball, (vice-president of the Metropolitan Life Insurance Co.) its vice-president and D.J. Levett, (formerly treasurer of the Holbrook Co.) its vice-president and treasurer.

Levett was also appointed president of the Holbrook Company which was now a subsidiary of the new Gordon England Co. of America. A. Engel, (former secretary of Holbrook) became Holbrook’s vice-president and secretary, Hjalmar Holm (Holbrook’s longtime salesman) was appointed to vice-president in charge of sales, and A. Henderson (Holbrook’s former body engineer) was appointed its vice­president in charge of design and production. John (Jack) Graham exited the firm. 

The November 1929 issue of Autobody gave a description of the cars to be exhibited by the firm at the upcoming Chicago and New York Salon:

"The Holbrook Co., Inc., will exhibit at Chicago three bodies, mounted on Packard, Franklin and Ruxton chassis. These will be of the Gordon England lightweight type, with the patented 3-point suspension, and all will have the body sides carried down to the running boards in accordance with European practice. On the new Packard 745 C chassis, Holbrook will show a 7­passenger all-weather cabriolet. The body panels will be finished in Miami Brown; upperworks, fenders and chassis will be in Beaver Brown, deep. A cross-grain leather in the same shade is used for the top and the leather on the front seat is finished to match. The passenger compartment is trimmed in a De Luxe broad­cloth, the seat being done in the 2-button tufted style. On the Franklin 147 chassis is mounted a Speedster sedan, (aka Franklin "Avion") having a sloping front swept into the roof line without any projecting peak or visor. The entire car is finished in black. with a cream stripe. The top is a light-gray Haartz material. Slender corner pillars give excellent driving vision and the forward flaring of the front doors promotes easy entrance to the front com­partment. The car is upholstered throughout in a Wiese sand-finish broadcloth. Garnish moldings are of walnut and there are two walnut niches for smokers' require­ments in the front seatback. The silk curtain at the rear can be controlled from the driver's seat to eliminate headlight glare of overtaking cars. On the Ruxton front-drive chassis Holbrook will mount a 7-passenger enclosed limousine, finished in a combination of . Pine Manor Green and pastel under the personal supervision of Josef Urban. The front seat will be trimmed in plaited style, with a special tan leather harmonizing with the fabric used in the rear compartment, Schumacher's No. 33701 silver rayon; the rear seat is trimmed in plain style with a 2-cushion effect.

Both E.C. Gordon England and Hjalmar Holm were on hand. England brought along a portfolio of pictures and other material related to the bodies but they failed to impress the Salon’s attendees.

At that time Weymann-American was also experiencing similar difficulties promoting their flexible-bodies firsti ntroduced at the 1926 New York Auto Salon. It seems that American automobile buyers and manufacturers were unimpressed by the light-weight bodies, no matter how attractive they might be – Stutzes’ Weymann bodies were amongst the most beautiful bodies produced during the custom body era. 

It was apparent to anyone glancing at the near-empty Holbrook Salon display that the newly reorganized firm was in serious trouble. Many of the firm’s stockholders were New York City merchants and garment manufacturers who were among the first businessmen to be affected by that fall’s stock market crash. Early in 1930, Holbrook was forced into bankruptcy. 

The end of Holbrook came on May 15th 1930, when a public auction of all the equipment was held on the premises of the defunct company. Some of the Holbrook staff, including their sales manager, Hjalmar Holm, joined Rollston & Company in New York. For a number of years, Rollston had served as Holbrook’s New York City repair depot, and they purchased many of Holbrook’s assets at the May 15th, 1930 auction in Hudson. Rollston also acquired the North American rights to the Gordon England patents at the Holbrook auction, but no bodies of this type were forthcoming from the NYC firm. 

In September 1930, too late to be of any help to Holbrook, Motor Magazine carried an article on the Gordon England bodies. Even for the England Company, there wasn't much time left, they went into voluntary liquidation in January 1931 and held their final meeting in March 1934. However its founder, E.C. Gordon England continued to de­sign bodies for various English firms for many years, and had quite an influence on British styling throughout the Thirties. 

Many of Holbrook’s skilled craftsmen remained in the Hudson, New York area, some setting up shops of their own. Three Hudson body shops were either owned or started by former Holbrook employees. Deno’s Body Shop (Deno Gazzera), Hornell’s Body Shop (William Hornell) and H. Parker Miller were all former employees who were still in business in 1960.

© 2004 Mark Theobald -






Fred W. Soule - The Headlines In the Paper... The Story of the Holbrook Company of Hudson, New York – Upper Hudson Valley Automobilist Volume 12 Number 4 – October 1962

Fred W. Soule - The Story of the Holbrook Company of Hudson, New York - The Classic Car, March 1969

Richard M. Langworth - A Nautical Crane-Simplex by Holbrook - Automobile Quarterly Vol 11, No. 4

Hugo Pfau - Holbrook & Company - Cars & Parts August 1972

James F. Bellamy - Cars Made In Upstate New York

Beverly Rae Kimes - The Classic Car

Beverly Rae Kimes - The Classic Era

Beverly Rae Kimes - Packard: A History of the Motorcar and Company

Beverly Rae Kimes & Henry Austin Clark Jr. - Standard Catalog of American Cars 1805-1942

Richard Burns Carson - The Olympian Cars

Raymond A. Katzell - The Splendid Stutz

Marc Ralston - Pierce Arrow

Brooks T. Brierley - There Is No Mistaking a Pierce Arrow

Brooks T. Brierley - Auburn, Reo, Franklin and Pierce-Arrow Versus Cadillac, Chrysler, Lincoln and Packard

Brooks T. Brierley - Magic Motors 1930

Nick Georgano - The Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile: Coachbuilding

John Gunnell - Standard Catalog of American Cars, 1946-1975

James M. Flammang & Ron Kowalke - Standard Catalog of American Cars, 1976-1999

Daniel D. Hutchins - Wheels Across America: Carriage Art & Craftsmanship

Marian Suman-Hreblay - Dictionary of World Coachbuilders and Car Stylists

Michael Lamm and Dave Holls - A Century of Automotive Style: 100 Years of American Car Design

Thomas E. Bonsall - The Lincoln Motorcar: Sixty Years of Excellence

Fred Roe - Duesenberg: The Pursuit of Perfection

Arthur W. Soutter - The American Rolls-Royce

John Webb De Campi - Rolls-Royce in America

Hugo Pfau - The Custom Body Era

Hugo Pfau - The Coachbult Packard

Griffith Borgeson - Cord: His Empire His Motor Cars

Don Butler - Auburn Cord Duesenberg

George H. Dammann - Seventy Years of Chrysler

Walter M.P. McCall - 80 Years of Cadillac LaSalle

Maurice D. Hendry - Cadillac, Standard of the World: The complete seventy-year history

George H. Dammann & James A. Wren - Packard

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1929 Duesenberg Holbrook 5-pass sedan modified in 1934 by Bohman & Schwartz

1929 Duesenberg Holbrook 5-pass sedan modified in 1934 by Bohman & Schwartz


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