The history of J. S. Inskip Inc., Rolls-Royce, and Brewster & Co. are so intertwined, all three firm's histories are included below, starting with the period that Inskip first went to work for Rolls-Royce, in their Manhattan showroom.
John S. Inskip (1885-1961) was named after his grandfather, John S. Inskip (1816-1884), the famous evangelical Methodist preacher and founder of the National Camp Meeting Association for the Promotion of Holiness. He is one of the first evangelists associated with the “tent revival meeting” and was considered to be the Billy Graham of his time. Inskip wrote a number of books and pamphlets and has been the subject of a number of books.
Aside from that little tidbit, the younger Inskip's personal history is unknown, and remains a mystery. All that is known is that he entered the automobile business as a salesman for Locomobile's New York City distributor sometime in the late teens. From there he went to work at Rolls-Royce's posh Eighth Avenue and 58th Street showroom.
In 1925 Rolls-Royce and Brewster executives entered into negotiations which resulted in the purchase of Brewster in January of 1926. Rolls-Royce of America paid $202,000 in cash to the Brewster family, assumed a $1,400,000 in outstanding 5% bonds and further guaranteed the principle and interest on a 7% $400,000 seven-ten-year note owed by Brewster. In return, William Brewster, was given a seat on the Rolls-Royce board and was appointed a vice-president of the Springfield manufacturer. He retired two years later in 1927, but remained a director until 1930. Brewster’s Fifth Avenue showroom was closed, as Rolls-Royce already had a beautiful showroom Eighth Avenue and 58th Street which was run by John S. Inskip, a former Locomobile salesman. Robert W. Schuette’s small 236 W. 5th St. Rolls-Royce distributorship was also absorbed by Rolls-Royce of America at the same time.
Willmore returned to the plant in Long Island City, and Carl Beck became Brewster’s chief designer as Henry Crecelius Sr. had left to head Lincoln’s body division. In a marginally related matter, Crecelius told Hugo Pfau that although Stutz had advertised in their 1925 catalog that their new Stutz 8 bodies were "designed by Brewster & Company," in fact Brewster had been involved only in the engineering of the bodies, not in their basic design which had been dictated by the automaker.
Many of the craftsmen from Rolls-Royce’s Waltham Avenue bodyworks were transferred to Brewster’s Long Island City plant to get body production going as soon as possible. New Rolls-Royce chassis were fitted with a temporary driver's seat and weather enclosure and driven from the Springfield works to Long Island City where the Brewster coachwork was fitted. Quite a few Rolls-Royces were sold through the 8th Avenue showroom, so many of the firm’s drivers returned to Springfield on the train.
With the integration of coachbuilding with chassis operations, Rolls-Royce of America, Inc. was able to add its own innovation in marketing. Twenty-eight standardized body styles were offered to the public at prices substantially less than custom body costs. Delivery time was reduced and some of these models could be purchased off the showroom floor.
An undated Rolls-Royce brochure lists eight of Brewster's "Coachwork Innovations":
In 1929, John S. Inskip, head of Rolls-Royce New York sales office, was appointed vice-president in charge of sales and became the guiding force of the firm’s coachbuilding activities for the next few years. Along with Brewster’s designer, Carl Beck, the pair created some of the best looking Rolls-Royce’s ever built. The service department at Rolls-Royce’s Manhattan showroom was closed and the Long Island City plant became the sole New York City service depot for Rolls-Royce.
The December, 1928 issue of Autobody reported on Brewster’s 1929 New York Salon exhibit:
During this period, Brewster designed a series of bodies for the 1930 model 745 Packard chassis. Original built in series of 5 for Packard’s New York City distributor, they became quite popular and were eventually added to the Packard Custom body catalog. Over 300 examples are though to have been built and Inskip obtained a Packard dealership so he could sell the cars in his 8th Ave showroom. There were five models, a convertible sedan, 2 sedan-limousines, an all-weather cabriolet and an all-weather landaulet.
When Rolls-Royce’s Phantom II was introduced in 1929, it was assumed that the Springfield plant would be retooled to produce it in the United States. However, the Depression changed the economic situation in the United States, and by 1930 it became apparent that retooling the Springfield plant was no longer a possibility.
The November 1929 issue of Autobody described the Brewster-bodied Rolls-Royces that were scheduled to appear at the 1930 Chicago Salon:
Sales of the remaining Phantom I chassis floundered and only 100 Springfield Phantom I’s were sold during 1931, and they had been assembled from spares. 73 new Derby-built left-hand-drive Phantom II’s made their way to the US market that year and most were fitted with Brewster bodies. Designated the AJS and AMS Series, (the “A” prefix denoting their final destination, America), they were offered for sale at Rolls-Royce’s posh Manhattan showroom as well as the remaining factory outlets in Boston, Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Detroit, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, Montreal, Palm Beach, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, St. Petersburg and Washington.
Brewster's exhibit at the 1931 Chicago Salon was described in the November, 1930 issue of Autobody:
The caption below accompanied an illustration of the convertible coupe in the same issue:
A striking Super-Sport body was introduced by Brewster at the 1931 New York Salon that became known in the press as the Wind-Blown Coupe. It was featured in two issues of the New York Times - November 30, and December 7, 1930 - as well as in the 1931 Salon issues of Automobile Topics, Country Life, Autobody and Motor World.
Built on a Springfield Phantom I chassis, the car was built for Tommy Manville, an oft-married (13 times!) heir to the Johns-Manville asbestos empire who was the subject of Ernst Lubitsch's "Bluebird's Eighth Wife" a 1938 comedy starring Gary Cooper and Claudette Colbert. Manville was also lampooned in Jackie Curtis 1968 play called "Lucky Wonderful".
Manville's aerodynamic coupe incorporated the following of firsts for Brewster.
The car was Brewster’s most written about creation and it’s surprising that only one example was built, but perhaps that’s why it cost $20,000. Manville may have paid Brewster a premium, ensuring it would not be replicated. The car still exists although it’s no longer painted the original seafog grey, a grayish-green color that became popular in the early thirties.
In 1932, another batch of 100 Springfield Phantom I chassis were assembled from spares while 17 Phantom II chassis were imported from Derby.
For 1933 most of the remaining parts were used up, and 50 Springfield Phantom I chassis were assembled. Only 30 Derby Phantom II chassis were imported.
Members of the Brewster family held the $1,200,000 in 5% bonds on the Long Island City property, and in 1933 with interest payments and taxes greatly in arrears, they repossessed the property, waiving any accumulated interest and property taxes owed by the combined Brewster & Co./Rolls-Royce of America Corp. This effectively ended Rolls-Royce’s North American manufacturing experiment. In order to avoid any stigma of bankruptcy having to be borne by Rolls-Royce, the corporation was reorganized as the Springfield Manufacturing Corporation in August of 1934, with Inksip installed as president. At that time, the firm major bondholders held a meeting and strongly recommended that the entire operation be liquidated. However, Inskip had an idea that might keep the firm going, at least for the short term.
During the previous year, E.T. (Bob) Gregorie, a former Brewster designer who was currently in charge of Ford’s design studios, designed an attractive V8 Ford-based roadster for Edsel Ford. With Edsel’s approval, a prototype was built and the resulting vehicle was shown to Inskip in the hopes of having Brewster put the car into limited production. Even though Inskip liked the design, Edsel Ford was unwilling to finance the venture and as Brewster wasn’t in the business of selling sports cars, the stillborn vehicle was driven back to Dearborn by Gregorie. The idea of a V-8 Ford-chassised vehicle appealed to Inskip, however, he envisioned it with a Brewster town car body, an item that might attract customers to Brewster’s empty New York showroom.
At the same time that Inskip was setting up Springfield Manufacturing Corp., he was also working on his new Ford-powered town car. Carl Beck, a former Rolls-Royce body designer who was now Brewster’s chief designer, was put in charge of the prototype’s design.
In a 1960 letter to automotive historian Keith Marvin, John S. Inskip recalled:
Although the cars had Ford drivetrains, they were registered as Brewsters, just like the Knight-engined Brewsters had been in the teens and twenties. Once completed, the cars were shipped to the Rolls-Royce showrooms in New York City and sold for a list price of $3500.
From 1934-1936, three type of vehicles were produced using the same basic Carl Beck design. 90% of them were built on the lengthened Ford V-8 chassis and featured the distinctive flared front fenders, heart-shaped grille and split front and rear fenders. Most were town cars, but a fair number of limousines and convertible sedans were built as well, all featuring Brewster’s distinctive hubcaps. The remaining 10% fall into two distinct groups. The first were special budget-priced vehicles that were built on a standard wheelbase Ford V-8 chassis that featured a stock Ford grill, fenders and bumpers. It’s estimated that 12 of these “Budget Brewsters” were built. The second group consists of the bodies that were mounted on non-Ford chassis. There are factory photos of a 1936 Buick Limited Model 91 Town Car, whose current whereabouts are unknown. However, two others are known to exist. Number one is on a 1939 Rolls-Royce Wraith chassis, and the second is on a 1940 Buick Limited Model 90 chassis. As both chassis post-date the bodies, it’s believed that both bodies were originally on Ford chassis. Inskip recalled transferring a number of the Brewsters to other chassis, so that's likely what happened.
The car was introduced at the 1934 New York Auto Show and attracted lots of attention, mainly because of its unusual styling and low price. Edsel Ford purchased the first example and Inskip marketed the car to New York celebrities through an ingenious plan. Al Jolson was the most recognizable celebrity in New York City at the time, and was an avid automobile enthusiast and collector. Inskip offered Jolson one of the new cars and Jolson jumped at the chance. A black town car with red pin striping was especially built for Jolson with a white-piped red mohair interior that included a radio and a golf bag compartment. Inskip’s gamble apparently paid off and a number of other New York celebrities ordered new Brewsters. Town car owners included Jolson, Edsel Ford, Cole Porter, Vincent Astor, Lily Pons and Gertrude Lawrence. Bandleader Fred Waring and comedian Victor Moore each owned one of the 12 Brewster convertible sedans that were built, and Al Jolson, the car's biggest fan, ordered one of the even rarer convertible coupes - only 8 were built. A one-off Brewster woodie wagon was also built but not by Brewster, it was re-bodied by a subsequent owner and started life as a town car.
Brewster historians have a hard time accounting for the 300 Brewsters that Inksip claims to have built between 1934 and1936. Ford records indicate that 135 V-8 cowl and chassis were shipped to Brewster. If you add the handful that were built on other chassis, that gives a grand total of about 140 Brewsters, slightly less than half of the 300 claimed by Inskip. According to the Brewster Car Society 39 exist today, and most of those have been lovingly restored.
According to Inskip, the Brewster venture initially proved profitable, but after continued mounting losses, the firms directors and bondholders insisted on closing down the firm, so in July of 1935, bankruptcy proceeding were instituted in the New York District Court. The receiver, Victor R. Tyler, found that reorganization would be impossible, and in June of 1936, Federal Judge H.W. Goddard ordered that the firm be liquidated. The posh East 57th St showroom was abandoned in August and the Springfield Manufacturing Corp. and its wholly-owned Brewster subsidiary were purchased by Michigan’s notorious Dallas E. Winslow. Winslow and Co. specialized in buying bankrupt manufacturing and automobile companies. He had just purchased Pierce-Arrow and had also liquidated Syracuse, New York’s Franklin a few years earlier. The sale to Winslow produced enough money to give Springfield’s bondholders 20 cents on the dollar, but owners of common stock were far less fortunate and received next to nothing.
Winslow reorganized the firm as Brewster and Company Inc., and leased the former service depot from the Brewster family. The former New York City Pierce-Arrow service depot had been located right next door, and he consolidated the Rolls-Royce and Pierce Arrow service operations in the Brewster building. However, Winslow soon realized he had bought not one, but two dinosaurs, and held an auction on August 18th, of the following year to get rid of them. At the auction, John S. Inskip was the successful high bidder on most of the remaining Rolls Royce parts inventory, and also purchased a number of Rolls-Royce chassis and Brewster bodies.
Inskip had managed to obtain the New York distributorship for Rolls-Royce and leased the former Rolls-Royce Long Island City repair depot and body shop from the Brewster family, giving a number of former Rolls-Royce and Brewster employees a much-needed job.
Most of the cars Inskip imported at that time were equipped with British or French coachwork but he did build a handful of Inskip-badged bodies on Phantom III and Wraith chassis. A small batch of Packards were also sold by Inskip prior to WWII that were fitted with a combination of leftover Brewster bodies, plus a few new ones built to order.
Cartoonist Peter S. Arno’s 1939 Albatross prototype was built in Inskip’s Long Island City body shop. The 1939 Mercury chassis was a stretched to 137” and Inskip fashioned a body to Arno’s design that looked like a 540 K Mercedes similar to those made by Erdman and Rossi.
In a 1960 letter to Keith Marvin, Inskip took credit for most of his firm’s designs, but it is much more likely they were designed by either Carl Beck or Charles H. Willmore who continued to work for him at J.S. Inskip Inc. Hugo Pfau claims that R. L. Stickney designed some of them as well, which is plausible as Stickney worked for industrial designer Henry Dreyfus and is known to have produced a number of free-lance body designs during this period. Willmore was in charge of the Inskip body shop which remained in the old Brewster building until 1942 when it was relocated to 327 East 64th St. After the war ended Inskip moved the service operation across the street to 304 East 64th St and opened a new Rolls-Royce showroom at 24 East 54th St.
G.N. Georgano, the British automotive historian wrote:
For a brief period after the war they built a few special custom bodies on the Silver Wraith chassis that were most likely designed by either Carl Beck or Willmore, both of whom worked for Inskip for a number of years. In fact, Willmore became manager of Inskip’s Manhattan showroom where he sold Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Aston-Martin, Riley and MG automobiles. Inskip opened additional sales office in Providence, Rhode Island and West Palm Beach, Florida during the 1950s. He also marketed a 4-place MG TD during the 1950s that featured a lengthened wheelbase. When Inskip passed away in 1961, Willmore went to work for a Volvo dealer near his home and continued to sell automobiles until he passed away in 1974. Inskip’s son-in-law, George Jessop, took over the New York City operation, and closed down the 54th St showroom, consolidating operations at 64th St. Inskip stopped handling Rolls-Royce cars in 1967.
Rolls-Royce historians estimate that at least 425 Rolls-Royce chassis were fitted with Brewster bodies between 1914 and 1937, and a surprising number (close to 200) remain in the hands of museums and collectors. An equally astounding number (52) of Brewster-badged automobile exist as well, 13 of the first series (1915-1925) and 39 of the second (1934-1936).
Inskip's Rhode Island dealership is still in business, although it no longer handles the marque. Currently owned by Roger Penske, Inskip's Warwick AutoMall sells Acura, Audi, Bentley, BMW, Infiniti, Lexus, Maserati, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche and Volvo. See inskip.com for more information.
© 2004 Mark Theobald - Coachbuilt.com