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Limousine Body Co.
Limousine Top Company, 1914-1920; Limousine Body Company, 1920-1933; Kalamazoo, Michigan; 1933-1936; Connersville, Indiana
Associated Builders
Kalamazoo Wagon Company, Michigan Buggy Co.. Central Manufacturing Company

The Limousine Body Company is best remembered for the beautiful convertible sedans and cabriolets they manufactured for the Cord L-29 and classic-era Auburn Automobiles.

The firm has it origins in the Kalamazoo Wagon Co which was formed in 1881 by Ira V. Hicks, F. W. Meyers and M. Henry Lane. Hicks was born in the village of Groton, Tompkins Co, New York. At the age of 16, Hicks became a carriage maker and upon completion of his apprenticeship, became a journeyman and traveled to Willoughby, Ohio where he worked in the wagon works until 1875 when he moved back to New York and found a position at the Cortland Wagon Co, of Cortland, New York. In 1881 Hicks moved to Kalamazoo to establish the Kalamazoo Wagon Co. which was capitalized with $200,000.

M. Henry Lane was a well-known Kalamazoo politician and industrialist who financed a number of local businesses in the late nineteenth century. Hicks left the firm in July 1890 to form his own firm, the Hicks Carriage Company, and Lane became the principal owner of the Wagon Co.

During its hey-day the Kalamazoo Wagon Co employed 200 hands and produced 12,000 carriages, sleighs, buggies and wagons per year with annual sales of $400,000.

In 1883, Lane is credited with setting up the first assembly line used to produce wagons, carriages and sleighs. He was also the first Kalamazoo builder to introduce automatic machinery, and within 7 years of the Wagon Co.’s establishment, the City of Kalamazoo boasted of 17 separate firms engaged in the wagon and buggy manufacturing business.

In the early 1880s the two-wheeled buggy was enjoying a period of great popularity so Lane decided to expand into the buggy market. Lane and his brother-in-law, Frank B. Lay formed the Michigan Buggy Co. in 1887 and erected a new four-story factory adjacent to Lane’s Kalamazoo Wagon Co. in the 300 block of East Willard St.

The new buggy works was capitalized at 300,000 and Lane’s vehicle operations now occupied an entire city block running on the north side of East Willard St, south of Ransom, between Porter and North Pritcher Sts. A trunk line of the Grand Rapids and Indiana Railroad ran down the middle of the property allowing for easy shipment of completed vehicles to destinations far outside of the immediate area. 

M. Henry Lane was listed as the firm’s President, Frank B. Lay, Vice-President and Treasurer. Later that year, an article in the Kalamazoo Telegraph boasted that the firm employed 240 hands who produced 18,000 carriages, sleighs, buggies and wagons per year with annual sales of $750,000. 

The firm’s four-story wooden factory burned on August 13, 1896 causing a loss of $75,000. Insurance covered $40,000 of the loss and the blaze was contained to the Buggy works. The fire originated in the firm’s paint shop and was most likely caused by spontaneous combustion. The adjoining Kalamazoo Wagon works, located at the corner of Ransom and Porter Sts. was saved through the valiant efforts of the city’s fire brigade.

Five years later a second fire broke out in the firm’s new 5-story brick structure resulting in a $200,000 loss. Insurance covered $125,000 of the January 16, 1902 loss and the cause was unknown.

Lane decided to rebuild the entire complex on a parcel of land he had purchased at the southeast corner of Reed Ave and Factory Sts. The large parcel of land ran along the main line of the Grand Rapids and Indiana Railroad on the south side of town, and he managed to get a new street located on the south side of the factory named after him.

The Michigan Buggy Company's mailing address was now Lay Blvd., although the plant was located 1 block away at 1863-1899 Lane Ave. An additional parcel was cleared at 2002 Lane Ave for construction of the Kalamazoo Blanket Mills, a new Lane-controlled firm that manufactured horse blankets, an important buggy and sleigh accessory, especially during the severe mid-west winters.

M. Henry Lane also headed a group that owned the Kalamazoo Telegraph and was an honorary vice president of the 1901 Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo. Sometime after the factory relocated, the operations of the Kalamazoo Wagon Company were absorbed into the Buggy Company, and all of the firm’s vehicles became products of the Michigan Buggy Company.

In 1903 Michigan Buggy began plans for the Kalamazoo automobile. Three or four prototypes were built and M. Henry Lane described the vehicles as being similar in appearance to the current model Cadillac. The car was to be offered in both 5- and 7-hp versions and by July, two examples were completed and undergoing testing by the firm’s engineers. Apparently the Kalamazoo did not live up to Lane’s expectations and the vehicle did not enter into production.

In 1909 Michigan Buggy produced a record 12,000 buggies and 8,000 sleighs and ripe with cash, M. Henry Lane re-entered the automotive field with the 1909 Michigan automobile. Early Michigans were produced in very small numbers but by 1911 manufacture began in earnest and the Michigan Motor Car Company was created as a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Buggy Company, with Lane as its president.

Lane became less involved in the affairs of the Buggy business and turned the reigns over to Frank Lay who became President of the Buggy Company in 1911, his son, Frank Lay Jr., became Vice-President, and Franklin A Palmer, Secretary-Treasurer. Palmer would soon play a well-publicized role in the future of the firm.

Michigan’s buggies were well distributed in the mid-Atlantic mid-west states and current dealers were encouraged to handle the new automobile as well. Large distributors in such far-reaching locales as Atlanta Georgia, Washington DC, and Lincoln Nebraska energetically advertised the new car and a redesigned 33- and 44-hp 4-cyl model debuted at the end of 1912.

John A. Campbell, a well-known British-born delineator whose clients included Sayers & Scovill, the Sultan of Turkey and the British Royal Family, was hired to design the Michigan’s coachwork. The Michigan was aimed directly at the high end of the mid-priced market and their major competitors included Cadillac, Chalmers, Locomobile, Packard, Peerless, Pierce Arrow, Pope Hartford and White.

Michigan’s main selling point was their low $1,500 price tag which was 20-30% lower than the competition. 1913 Michigan ads touted “6,125 sold…with 300 improvements, Is This Year’s Wanted Car”. “Any man that can’t sell these cars can’t sell gold dollars for eighty cents.”

The 40hp version was advertised as the Mighty Michigan 40 and its slogan, “A Mechanically Right and Right Priced Car Supreme in the Forty Field”. Of the estimated 8,200 Michigans sold between 1908-1914, only 5 are known to exist.

Although the firm continued to heavily advertise their Mighty Michigan automobiles, things were not copasetic at the plant and on Aug 1st, 1913, the Michigan Buggy Co, laid off their staff of 100 and padlocked the plant. The firm’s attorney denied rumors that the company was in financial difficulties, stating that action was taken due to a pending reorganization. Word soon reached Michigan Buggy’s largest creditor, the First National Bank of Cleveland, and on August 27, 1913, they petitioned bankruptcy protection. The US District Court in Grand Rapids, Michigan appointed Stanley D. Willis and the Detroit Trust Company as the firm’s receivers.

On September 30, 1913 a large display ad appeared announcing that the assets and real estate of the Michigan Buggy Co. was for sale. On October 30, 1913 the following headline appeared in many of the nation’s newspapers.

“Michigan Buggy Maker Fails For Huge Sum

“Kalamazoo Mich., Oct 29 – Although Victor L. Palmer, Michigan Buggy Company official, three months ago was regarded as one of the wealthiest men of Kalamazoo, he is practically penniless today according to testimony given in his personal bankruptcy hearing. While his liabilities exceed $1,656,000, he has less than $5,000 with which to pay his debts, and some of this is in wearing apparel and furniture. 

“Palmer explained to Referee in Bankruptcy W.J. Banyon that he had never kept a cashbook showing his own personal expenses, but had relied on his bank and checkbooks to show how he stood financially. He added that he transacted very little personal business.

“He declared that he made it a practice to destroy his cancelled checks drawn on local banks, and for that reason unless the cash and check books could be found it would be impossible for him to give a history of his financial transactions during the last year.

The Michigan Trust Company of Grand Rapids, was appointed trustee. While the liabilities total over $1,000,000 with assets of only a few thousand, the bond was placed at only $1,000, as attorney John A McKeever, of Chicago, counsel for the trust company, told the court that there was very little chance to secure any part of the assets, as nearly everything had been pledged with the exception of cash in banks, amounting to $103, and a few shares of stock in the Citizens State Savings Bank of Plainwell.”

On December 1, 1913, the upcoming auction of the firm’s assets and real estate was advertised in the regions largest newspapers:


"By order of the United States District Court for the Western District of Michigan we will on Tuesday, Dec. 9th, 1913 (10:30 a.m.) at Kalamazoo, Michigan start selling at public auction, all assets belonging to the estate of Michigan Buggy Co., Michigan Motor Car Co., Kalamazoo Blanket Mills, bankrupt.

"Inventory Value Over One Million Dollars

"Sale starts on the Real Estate and Good Will of the bankrupt concern and continues on Automobile Department, Iron Working Machinery, Trimming Machinery, Buggy Department, Lumber, Blanket Department, Automobiles, Wood Working Machinery, Small Tools, Sleigh Department, Paints and Oils, Fixtures.

"Circulars for all departments are being issued, and will be sent upon request made to undersigned auctioneers. These circulars enumerate all the assets.

"The entire sale is expected to take a week’s time. Inspection starts the third of December. Notwithstanding reports to the contrary all personal property will be sold in lots and parcels and not in bulk.

"Detroit Trust Company, Trustees, Michigan Buggy Co., Bankrupt

"Samuel L. Winternitz & Co., Auctioneers, 79 W. Monroe St, Chicago, Ill."

On January 28, 1914 Charles B. Hayes, the Kalamazoo real estate magnate, was indicted by a Grand Jury in Kalamazoo for fraud in connection with his sale of preferred stock in the Michigan Buggy Co. The amusing Headline read: 

“Indict Former Mayor For Juggling Buggies.

“Kalamazoo, Mich., Jan 28 – The Kalamazoo County Grand Jury returned an indictment against Charles B. Hayes, former mayor of Kalamazoo charging him with fraud in connection with the sale of preferred stock of the Michigan buggy company, which went into bankruptcy last summer with liabilities of approximately $2,000,000. Bond was fixed at $5,000.”

Although they managed to avoid prosecution, it was implied that the free-spending Lays were chiefly responsible for the failure. The bankruptcy hearings uncovered a "velvet pay roll" and a S. West St. “Harem House” where the Buggy Company’s executives entertained the firm’s directors, distributors and prospective clients.

Lay’s brother-in-law, M. Henry Lane was certainly aware of the impending failure, yet he too managed to escape prosecution. It was the firm’s treasurer, Victor L. Palmer, who was made the scapegoat, and on April 10, 1914, he was convicted on eleven counts. In what amounted to fraudulent use of the mails, the court found evidence that Palmer had sent false financial statements to a number of the region’s banks in an attempt to obtain loans for the failing carriage and automobile manufacturer. 

The evidence must have been overwhelming as the jury came to their decision in less than an hour. On April 25, 1914 Palmer was sentenced to serve two years at Fort Leavenworth Prison. a federal prison in Leavenworth, Kansas.

James Bobb (1873-1968) was a partner in one of the Michigan Buggy Company’s largest distributors, the Harms & Bobb Company of Lincoln, Nebraska. Around Lincoln they were known as “The Buggy Men” and Bobb ran the firm’s large showroom at 132-136 North 12th St. in Lincoln. Between 1909 and 1913, Harms & Bobb were one of the Michigan/Mighty Michigan automobile’s largest distributors.

When the Buggy Company failed in 1913, Bobb sensed an opportunity. He realized that the market for replacement touring car tops was strong and decided to purchase what he could at the December 9, 1913 Buggy Co, auction. The bidders were few and he was able to purchase a large amount of stock, supplies and manufacturing equipment for pennies on the dollar.

Charles B. Hayes, a Kalamazoo real estate magnate and the city’s former mayor, purchased all of the firm’s real estate at the sale. Hayes was also a major shareholder in the Buggy Company, and following the organization of Limousine Top, he was indicted by a grand jury in Kalamazoo for fraud in connection with the timing of his sale of preferred stock in the Buggy Co.

Bobb was well acquainted with many of the craftsmen who had worked in the Buggy Co.’s body and trimming departments and offered them a job. Soon after the auction, he discussed his plans with Charles B. Hayes and the pair decided the former Kalamazoo Blanket Mills building would be ideal for the enterprise, which would be called the Limousine Top Company. By the middle of 1914, Limousine Top Co. was building demountable, weather tight, canvas, leather and nitrite-coated convertible and Victoria tops for the regions automobile manufacturers and aftermarket suppliers.

In early 1920, Bobb reorganized the firm as the Limousine Body Company to better reflect the firm’s main line of business which was now building production bodies for medium-priced automobiles such as the Auburn, Gardner, Moon, and Packard. The bodies were typically designed by their clients although Limousine Body employed two very capable body engineers, Charles A. Miner and John Fleckenstein.

In 1917 the newly organized Barley Motor Car Company moved into the vacant Lane Ave. factory of the former Michigan Buggy Co. and it’s possible that Limousine Body Co. produced bodies for the firm’s Roamer and Barley automobiles.

It’s probable that no-one would remember the Limousine Body Co. today if they hadn’t been awarded a large contract to produce automobile bodies for Auburn in late 1923. By 1925 the Limousine Body Co employed 170 craftsmen and had annual sales of $1 million.

Auburn had its origins in the Eckhart Carriage Co. which was formed in 1874 by Charles Eckhart (1841–1915). In 1900 his tow sons, Frank and Morris Eckhart, began experimenting with hand-built cars and selling them around Auburn, Indiana. The pair entering the automobile business in earnest during 1903, the year in which the Auburn Automobile Company was established, and after absorbing two other local carmakers, they moved into a larger plant in 1909. 

Charles Eckhart passed away in 1915 and the his family elected to liquidate the Eckhart Carriage Co. Due to wartime shortages of materials and declining sales, Morris Eckhart, Auburn’s president and chief shareholder, wanted out of the automobile business and sold his share in the business to a Chicago investment house. 

On June 25, 1919, F. B. Hitchcock and Company, a Chicago investment-banking firm organized the Auburn Automobile Company with a capital stock consisting of 10,000 shares of preferred stock valued at $1 million and 30,000 shares of common stock valued at $750,000. The Chicago investors included chewing gum magnate William Wrigley Jr. and Ralph Austin Bard, who later worked for FDR and Harry S Truman as Under Secretary of the Navy.

By 1922, the post war depression was seriously affecting sales so the new owners hired super salesman Roy Faulkner of Cincinnati, Ohio’s Frank Santry Motor Company as Auburn’s sales manager. Despite Faulkner’s innovative advertising, the conservative Auburns stayed firmly planed on the lots of their small network of dealers. 

In a last ditch attempt to save their investment, the Hitchcock group brought Chicago’s most accomplished automobile salesman, Errett Lobban Cord to Auburn to see if the operation could be salvaged. Cord, the star salesman at John Quinlan’s Chicago Moon Auto Agency, took his first look at the Auburn plant in June of 1924 and devised a clever plan to turn the firm around. 

Cord proposed the following deal whereby he would acquire a controlling interest in Auburn if he could return the firm to profitability. He demanded complete control over the automaker, 20% of the profits and an option to buy out the Hitchcock group’s holdings once the firm became profitable. Following a board meeting in Chicago, the Hitchcock group reluctantly agreed to Cord’s proposal. 

In August, 1924, Cord became Auburn’s vice president and general manager. He had Auburn’s unsold inventory repainted in snappy colors and corresponding trim which was highlighted by the addition of a few accessories. Within a few short weeks, the firm’s 1924 inventory was gone and Cord began work overhauling its 1925 lineup. 

Cord introduced a new higher-priced line of straight-eight Auburns that would debut later in the year, but soon discovered that Auburn’s antiquated body shop couldn’t supply him with enough bodies for the 1925 model year. In March of 1925 he sent out an inquiry to Central Manufacturing’s William B. Ansted who agreed to supply Auburn with 100 bodies on credit. Although Connersville was located 145 miles to the south of Auburn, a branch line of the Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago & St. Louis Railroad connected the two factories. 

Auburn paid Central as promised, and the two firms negotiated an eighteen-month, $1.5 million dollar contract to supply sedan bodies for Auburn’s stylish new 8-88 and 6-66 which debuted in 1925. Both sedans were available with Auburn’s optional ‘Wanderer’ front and rear seats that folded flat providing comfortable accommodations for ‘overnight touring’.

Sales of the Auburns were strong and by November 1, 1925 the Auburn Automobile Company was out of debt and on February 2, 1926 Errett Lobban Cord was elected president of the Auburn Automobile Company at its annual stockholders meeting. 

Later that month Automobile Topics reported that: 

“Cord has acquired a substantial interest in the company, and is now in complete control of its affairs.”

Under Cord’s guidance, Auburn sales increased by 1,300% during the late twenties and production quickly exceeded the capacity of Auburn’s antiquated facilities in Auburn, Indiana. Cord’s business proposals had been well-received in Connersville, so on August 26, 1926, Auburn purchased the now-idle Ansted Engineering facility from the Bigger and Better Connersville committee. In November Auburn acquired the 135,000 sq.ft. plant of the Lexington Motor Car Company from the same organization. 

On October 18, 1926, Time Magazine announced Cord’s acquisition of the Duesenberg Motors Co. Cord explained the Duesenberg takeover to the Indianapolis Star: 

"The purchase of the Duesenberg factory is the culmination of my plans to be able to offer the world an automobile of undisputed rank. In fact, the finest thing on four wheels. Duesenberg cars will be strictly custom built, the owners selecting their own body styles, their own body makers and selecting their own colors. The price probably will be $18,000, no matter what model, from racer to limousine. We will give the buyer 120 mile-an-hour speed if desired. Naturally, the production of this type of automobile, which carries a warranty of fifteen years, will be limited and we are now taking orders..."

Business picked up at Central Manufacturing in direct correlation to Auburn’s increasing sales and by 1927 contracts for Auburn had the plant running at full capacity.

On September, 7, 1927 the Associated Press announced the formation of a $14 million ‘Combine Of Autos’: 

“Merger of three automobile and motor manufacturing companies involving assets of $14,000,000 was announced today by E.L. Cord, president of the Auburn Automobile Company. The concerns are the Lycoming Manufacturing Company, Williamsport, Pa.; Duesenberg Inc., Indianapolis and the Limousine Body Company, Kalamazoo, Mich.”

The article stated that the total assets of the Limousine Body Company were approximately $350,000. 

“Directors of the Auburn Company say that controlling interest will be acquired in these companies without the issuance of any preferred stock or increase in the funded debt of the Auburn concern.”

The Limousine Body Company of Kalamazoo, Michigan, had been building bodies for Auburn since 1924 and along with the Union City Body Co. of Union City Indiana, supplied Auburn with all of their open bodywork. Limousine did not abandon its business with other manufacturers following the takeover, and in November 1927 started work on a 500 body order for the Gardner Motor Car Co. of St. Louis, Missouri. 

In the middle of May, 1928, Cord acquired a controlling interest in Central Manufacturing from the Ansted family and by the end of the year two new additions totaling 110,000 sq.ft. were constructed, creating a 260,000 sq.ft. plant with a production capacity of 400 closed bodies per day.

During 1928 and 1928 Cord spent $2 million renovating Auburn’s Connersville complex and on January 15, 1929, the very first Connersville-built Auburn rolled out of the former Lexington Motor Company plant. 

Increasing Auburn sales required more room for storage and on April 1, 1929 Cord bought the vacant McFarlan Motor Co plant, which was conveniently located five blocks south of the Central-Lexington complex. The McFarlan plant was initially used to store upholstery and hardware for Central, but once Auburn manufacturing moved to Connersville, it was used as a storage facility for unsold Auburns and Cords. 

On June 14, 1929, Errett Lobban Cord formed the Cord Corporation, a holding company capitalized with $125 million. The Cord Corporation controlled the following subsidiaries: Auburn Automobile, Lycoming Engine, Duesenberg Motors, Central Manufacturing, Limousine Body Co., Saf-T-Cab, Expando and Spencer Heater.

On June 14 1929 the Cord Corporation was organized with capital of $125 million as a holding company to centralize growing activities. Two months later (August 1929), Cord’s self-titled automotive masterpiece, the Cord L-29, started rolling off Cord’s new Auburn, Indiana assembly line. 

Credit for the outstanding design of the L-29 is shared by Auburn’s body engineer, John Oswald, and the firm’s new chief designer, Alan Leamy. Oswald designed the L-29’s flowing hood and fenders and Leamy came up with the sloping Duesenberg Model J-influenced radiator housing. 

The L-29’s closed bodies were designed by Oswald while Leamy and George McQuerry Jr. of the Walter M. Murphy Co. of Pasadena, California are credited with the design and engineering of the L-29’s open vehicles. 3 closed prototypes were constructed at Central Manufacturing, a close-coupled 4-window, 2-door sedan; a 6-window, 4-door sedan and a 4-window, 4-door brougham that was based on the 6-window body with blanked-in rear quarters. Unfortunately Oswald’s 2-door sedan was axed before production began. 

The Limousine Body Co built the two Murphy & Co.-designed prototypes, a spectacular 4-door convertible sedan (phaeton-sedan or 4-door convertible) and the equally impressive convertible coupe (cabriolet or convertible). The phaeton-sedan in particular, looked very much like a Hibbard & Darrin Convertible Sedan that had been exhibited at the previous winter’s New York Auto Salon. 

When production began in the fall, only four factory L-29 styles were offered, a six-window sedan, four-window brougham, phaeton-sedan (four-door convertible) and cabriolet (convertible coupe). Oswald’s close-coupled 2-door sedan was axed before production began. Central Manufacturing produced the closed bodies and the Auburn-controlled Limousine Body Co. built the cabriolets and phaeton-sedans. 

The most famous L-29 was a one-off built by the Hayes Body Corp. of Grand Rapids, Michigan for its art director, Count Alexis de Sakhnoffsky. Following a short stint at Vanden Plas in Belgium, deSakhnoffsky emigrated to the United States and was hired by Hayes as their art director in 1929. He like the L-29, but hated the factory body styles, so he designed a striking coupe for his own personal use that won him the Gran Prix at Monaco’s 1929 Concours d'Elegance and the Grand Prix d'Hommeur at the 1929 Beaulieu Concours. 

A total of 43 L-29 chassis were bodied by custom coachbuilders. The most memorable L-29 was a beautiful Convertible Victoria that was built by Voll & Ruhrbeck, a Berlin-based coachbuilder who built mainly on Mercedes-Benz, Horch, Maybach and Bugatti chassis. Three custom L-29 Town Cars were built by Walter M. Murphy Co., and a fourth town car by Brunn & Co. of Buffalo, New York.

Murphy’s Philip O. Wright is credited with the designs of the three L-29 town cars that Murphy built for film stars Delores Del Rio, Lola Montez and John Barrymore, plus an L-29 Dual Cowl Phaeton for actress Toby Wing and a blind quarter L-29 sports sedan whose doors opened part way into the roof, as well as a number of Model J Duesenbergs. On a trip to Detroit, Wright had a chance meeting with Cord’s president, Roy Faulkner, who persuaded him to join the automaker’s design staff. The culmination of their chance meeting was Wright’s Cord L-29 speedster, the star of the 1932 auto shows. 

The following roster of custom Cord L-29 bodies was prepared for the 1987 Pebble Beach Concours de Elegance:

Auburn-Fuller - 1 LWB Town Car and 1 Coupe (2 total)
Brunn - one LWB town car
Curtis Aerocar - 1 Boattail Coupe
Freestone and Webb - 1 unk style
Herman Graber - 1 unk style
Hayes - 1 coupe (de Sakhnoffsky)
LaGrande (Central Manufacturing) - 1 unsold sedan, mounted on used Duesenberg J-189 in 1933, 1 unk type also unsold, mounted on new Duesenberg J-472 in 1933 (2 total)
La Grande (Union City Body) - 2 Town Cars, 2 Victorias, 1 Coupe, 1 Salon Sedan, 1 Boattail Speedster and 1 Sedan. (8 total)
LeBaron - 1 SWB Town Car
Murphy - 7 Dual-cowl phaetons, 3 Convertible Coupes, 3 LWB Town Cars, 1 SWB Town Car, 1 Victoria, 1 Sport Sedan, and 1 Sport Phaeton (17 total)
Proux et Cie - 1 unk style
Rollston – 1 Sport Touring Phaeton, 1 Berline and 1 Victoria (3 total)
Voll and Ruhrbeck - 1 Sport Kabriolett
Weymann-American - 1 coupe

While working at Hayes, Count Alexis de Sahknoffsky designed the original boat-tailed Auburn Model 8-88 Speedster, which debuted in 1928. Alan Leamy redesigned the body during 1931 and his Model 8-98 Speedster debuted in October, 1931. Auburn’s speedster bodies were built in-the-white by the Union City Body Co in Union City, Indiana and painted and trimmed at Auburn’s Auburn, Indiana plant. 

In 1930 Cord went on another buying spree acquiring Columbia Axle Co. of Cleveland, Ohio, Aviation Manufacturing Company of Williamsport, Pennsylvania, and the Stinson Aircraft Co. of Wayne, Michigan. 

In January 1932, Cord formed the Airplane Development Corporation in Burbank, California with Gerard F. Vultee former chief engineer of Lockheed. Following a labor contract dispute, Airplane Development was taken over by Aviation Corp. (AVCO) which was taken over by Cord late in the year. 

Despite the fact that the country was in the early days of the Depression, Auburn sales remained strong into 1931, and Central Manufacturing was forced to add a night shift to keep up with demand which increased slightly the following year with the arrival of the new 12-cylinder Auburn Model 180. 

The Ansted family sold Indiana Lamp to the Corcoran-Brown Lamp Company of Cincinnati, Ohio in 1931, and the Connersville plant was shuttered the following year. The dust hadn’t yet settled when the plant was purchased by the Steel Kitchens Corporation of Waukegan, Illinois on September 18, 1933. Steel Kitchens relocated to Connersville and manufactured stamped steel sinks, kitchen cabinets and refrigerators cases for a number of national hardware chains and appliance manufacturers. 

In the final week of 1930, Cord announced the formation of Century Air Lines, Inc. an air-mail and cargo carrier based out of Chicago. Simultaneously, Stinson Aircraft announced the $3 million sale of 100 Lycoming-powered airliners to Century.

In early 1932, Aviation Corp., (AVCO) the parent company of American Airways, launched a hostile takeover of Cord’s Century Airlines by creating a labor dispute with Century’s pilots. Cord was not amused and spent the next few months secretly purchasing large chunks of Aviation Corp. stock.

At AVCO's fall board meeting, its directors were unpleasantly surprised to learn that Cord was now Aviation Corp’s majority stockholder (34%), which effectively gave him control over Century and American. On August 3, 1933 Cord purchased the New York Shipbuilding Corp. of Camden, New Jersey, and two weeks later purchased a controlling interest in the Kalamazoo, Michigan-based Checker Cab Co. 

Although the majority of Cord L-29 bodies were built in Connersville, all L-29s were assembled in Auburn. However, the majority of Auburn production now took place in their Connersville, factory. By 1934 all Auburn production moved to Connersville except for the production of the Speedsters, which were painted, trimmed and assembled in Auburn. 

Against the wishes of Limousine Body Co.’s founder, James Bobb, in December of 1933 Cord relocated the firm’s equipment from Kalamazoo to an unused portion of the Central Manufacturing Co. plant in Connersville. The firm’s key employees were invited to move to Connersville, but most stayed behind in Kalamazoo. 

Bobb retained the Limousine Body Co. factory but lost a few key employees and a small amount of the factory’s woodworking equipment. The market for automobile bodies was nonexistent so Bobb decided to go into the furniture-making business. 

The Lane Ave Buggy Plant still exists although the Limousine Body/Kalamazoo Blanket Mill factory was destroyed by fire on October 3, 2001.

© 2004 Mark Theobald -

Appendix 1

Limousine Body Company by Stan Gilliland (ACD Newsletter)

James D. Robb Sr. President of the Limousine Body Company in Kalamazoo, Michigan was an automobile pioneer. Born in 1873 in Three Rivers, Michigan, he grew up in the horse and buggy era only to be involved with horseless carriages, and began selling them around the turn of the century. His efforts with the Michigan Buggy Company eventually led to its change over to mechanical horsepower and when it fell on tough times in the early teens, Robb had another plan. In 1914, he organized a demountable accessory canvas top for automobiles and named it the Limousine Top Company, and within a year that company reorganized into the Limousine Body Company and started producing complete automobile bodies. By 1919 'Limousine was manufacturing metal paneled, wood framed bodies for several automobile companies. Some of these included the Barley Motor Company, Handley-Knight Company, and Kalamazoo Motor Company, and within the decade they also made some limited run bodies for Ford, Chevrolet, Oldsmobile, and Packard. Now I know that one thinks of the enclosed sedan bodies when the word "Limousine" is mentioned. However, through their own design and engineering they produced some of the first Cabriolet bodies that had roll-up windows and creature comforts unknown to Roadsters. They also produced an all weather Phaeton or convertible sedan that was a rather smart, thin post design that originated with Murphy Body Company in Pasadena, California but in some arrangement E.L. Cord was allowed to use it on his Auburn line. Commencing in late 1927, this style was one of their largest orders. In 1928 Cord Corporation purchased the majority of the Limousine Body Company stock and brought this plant into the Corporate umbrella, with Limousine building the majority of his open car convertibles and Central Manufacturing in Connersville the bulk of the sedan bodies. Auburn Automobile Company was assured of a supplied quantity for its own production. A little later on would see Cord Corporation involved in another Kalamazoo Company, the Checker Taxi Cab Company.

The Limousine Body Company had the capability to not only build the body, but they were finished out complete with paint and upholstery, so they could be shipped via truck or railroad to assembly plants in Auburn and Connersville, Indiana. They could be fed into the line and installed on chassis without further parts being added.

For some reason in late July of 1929, a riff broke out between workers and the company's production boss, Superintendent R. T. Nolan. During this labor dispute several ultimatums were issued and disregarded, mass firing and threats followed. Notice was posted that anyone who did not report to work after a walk out would no longer be eligible for work in the plant. At an employees meeting after the walk out, the employees agreed that the only way they would come back to work was for the management to fire the superintendent. When the company opened the following Monday, only about 80 employees showed up and Mr. Robb announced that those that did not show were fired once and for all. By early August both sides were feeling exposure. With the demand for Auburn and Cord open bodies something had to change. The workers did not ask for an increase in wages or change in hours. The Striking Work Force only wanted an "Administrative" change. J. D. Robb announced that an investigation of charges had brought agreement that the dismissal of Superintendent Nolan would best serve the interest of the company. With this step taken, 240 workmen returned to their posts. Roy Faulkner, Vice-President and General Manager of Auburn had met with the workmen and made his recommendations to the management. With these differences ironed out the workers were satisfied and resumed operations. Well over one-fourth of all Auburns sold utilized the new convertible style bodies built by Limousine. This was a definite increase over the previous year's production. However, all was not good. This was only a couple of months prior to "Black Friday" October 29, 1929, when the Stock Market crashed.

As with most of Cord Corporation's ventures, the Stock Market effect did not impact them for some time. Profits and production continued into 1930 and improvements to the plant continued. Forecasts were that an increase of 20 to 25% greater outputs for 1930 could happen. Early in 1930, several hundred employees were added to keep up with orders. A model change and body design with improved styling was in the works for 1931. The Body Plant had to tool up and also make commitments for materials for these new bodies. The demand for Auburn and Cords popular convertible body styles were evident by past production and anticipated to be even greater for 1931. As expected, 1931 continued to see production of Auburns and Cords in respectable numbers, and open models would be well over 25% of total production. As the 1931 year went out and 1932 came in, it was obvious that the Great Depression was catching up. The 1932 models were basically the same cars as 1931 with several mechanical improvements and minor changes in appointments. Production of a new 12 cylinder Auburn and L-29 Cords continued in Auburn. Layoffs came throughout the year to all the company's factories. First, as 20 or 30, here and there until quite a number were idle. By the end of 1932, only a fraction of the production of cars were made as compared to previous halcyon years. The horse had run off without its head.

Late in 1932 it was announced that the Cord Corporation was closing the Limousine Body Plant in Kalamazoo and also most of the main plant in Auburn, Indiana. Operations would converge in Connersville, the other factory a ways south of Auburn. Mr. Robb was offered a position there but he declined and decided to retire. Other workers from Kalamazoo were offered transfers and some accepted. Up to this point in time, body builders were somewhat itinerant. They had a home base but traveled at times to employment in other factories that built car bodies, school busses, trucks, even ironing boards and theater seats. The Depression and product sales were already a way of life for them.

The Kalamazoo newspaper in late 1932 speculated that other work on products might come about at the former Limousine Plant. Also 50 workers were called back, but this was mostly to run spare parts as most of the machinery was transferred to Connersville. Clean up and shut down preparations for winter was about all the work they would see.

1933 saw the same basic Auburns and Cords as 1931 and 1932. A new Salon body style was added but was considered to be at least three-fourths of the front body section as previous models with changes in the rear section, chassis and hardware.

Automobile prices were being slashed, trying to keep up some sales. Workers at Connersville were there on a hit and miss basis. The Depression was upon everyone. Banks were closing at an alarming rate to the point the President of the United States declared a National Banking Holiday. Only factories with cash on hand could make employees' payroll. "The Auburn", as employees called it, fell to its knees. By summer 1933 most were laid off, stocks of cars on hand set idle. Little more than parts and repair service was going on. This was our nation's darkest era up to that time. Limousine Body Company had literally headed south, but would survive in name only for another three years.






David O. Lyon - The Kalamazoo Automobilist: 1891-1991

Massie and Schmidt – Kalamazoo: The Place Behind the Products

Auburn and Cord In Connersville - Cars & Parts, May 1986 issue Vol 29 No 5

David O. Lyon - A Century of Automobiling in Kalamazoo - Museography Vol. 3 No. 3 Spring 2004 Issue (Kalamazoo Valley Museum)

Mighty Michigan – The Horseless Carriage - Vol. 52, No.1, Jan-Feb 1990 issue

Beverly Rae Kimes - "E.L.: His Cord and His Empire" Automobile Quarterly, Vol 18, No 2

Dan Burger - "The Career and Creations of Alan H. Leamy" Automobile Quarterly Vol. 20, No. 2

Josh B. Malks - Cord 810/812: The Timeless Classic

Lee Beck & Josh B. Malks - Auburn & Cord

Collectible Automobile – April 1988 issue

Beverly Rae Kimes - The Classic Car

Beverly Rae Kimes - The Classic Era

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

Fred Roe - Duesenberg: The Pursuit of Perfection

Hugo Pfau - The Custom Body Era

Griffith Borgeson - Cord: His Empire His Motor Cars

Don Butler - Auburn Cord Duesenberg

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