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Meteor Motor Car Co.
Meteor Motor Car Company, 1915-1956: Piqua, Ohio
Associated Builders
Mort Motor Co., 1917-1924; Miller-Meteor

Maurice Wolfe first made a name for himself in 1903 when, as a car salesman in Minneapolis, Minnesota he sold a Cadillac to Chief Big Mouth of the Crow tribe in Billings, Montana. This was widely reported in the press as the first sale of an automobile to a "wild Indian." Three years later Wolfe joined with the Wilcox brothers - John F. and H.E. - in Minneapolis to form the H.E. Wilcox Motor Car Company for production of the Wolfe. Wolfe cars featured either water-cooled or Carrico air-cooled four-­cylinder engines and had selective sliding gear transmissions and double chain drive. "Absolutely Standard" was an ad slogan. Prices were in the $2,000 range. Production totaled 30 cars in 1907, 153 in 1908. In 1909 the marque name was changed to Wilcox. The Wilcox was built into 1911.

Maurice Wolfe turned up next in Shelbyville, Indiana, when he purchased the Clark Motor Car Company in 1912. Wolfe moved shop to Piqua, Ohio and purchased the former Sprague-Smith Furniture Company building to provide additional production capacity for another new car.  Wolfe continued to manufacture a handful of Clark Cars but he soon concentrated on manufacturing a chassis for a new line of touring cars and roadsters. He introduced the Meteor Motor Car in 1915 and offered a line of passenger cars using Continental or Model six-cylinder engines. In the meantime he had also made a deal with the A.J. Miller Body Company in nearby Bellefontaine, Ohio to build a Meteor professional car using bodies supplied by Miller. This marked the first time a purpose-built professional car chassis was produced. 

Meteor pioneered the direct sales of funeral vehicles by monthly mailings to all of the nations funeral homes and  through advertisements in the popular funeral magazines such as Casket & Sunnyside, Mortuary Management and American Funeral Director. The advertising stressed that the Meteor was not priced low because of low quality, rather by eliminating the dealer and their salesmen, they could offered substantially lower prices than their competition. In addition, Meteor was one of the first professional car dealers to offer financing for established funeral home owners wishing to enter the motor age.  Although General Motors is credited with the installment plan, Meteor's scheme pre-dated GM's by a number of years.

Wolfe had also increased sales by offering Meteor's high-quality professional car chassis to all of his competition at an inexpensive $1000 direct wholesale price.

In 1916, Meteor introduced their new twin-six engine in the new Model 85 combination pallbearers coach and ambulance, The 12-cylinder Weidley engine developed 72 horsepower and was placed on a new 148" frame which featured 35"x5" tires. Even with a 12-cylinder engine, the new $2,150 Meteor Model 85 was still cheaper than most other 8 and 6 cylinder coaches built by other manufacturers.

In addition to the twin-six their 1916 lineup consisted of the Model 75 ($1750) and a new lower priced ($1575-$1650) model 80, both of which featured a 45hp Continental six-cylinder engine on their new 148" frame. Because of their high-quality coachwork and rock-bottom prices, Meteor had become America's favorite professional car by early 1916, and by 1917 their passenger cars were only available by special order as their professional car production was sold out months in advance.

Meteor still offered only two different body styles: the traditional 8 pillar carved panel hearse or the more modern limousine-style combination hearse or ambulance. The latter featured distinctive leaded glass panels located just under the roof that started at the driver's door and continued all the way back to the rear doors. The interior of the Model 75 carved-sided hearse featured beautiful mahogany paneling combined with luxurious purple and lavender draperies. Combination coaches and ambulances included a folding stretcher, attendant seats, flower boxes and two pairs of silk draperies, one elaborate for funeral work, and the other plain for ambulance duty.

In 1917 Meteor offered the twin-six engine throughout their range as an extra-cost option and introduced a new, more elaborate carved-side model, the 82/92 series. For 1918 Meteor's 148" chassis remained, although the Weidley twin-six was dropped in favor of  the more reliable and economical Continental 45hp six-cylinder engine. Their limousine-style high-roofed coach was offered with or without the leaded window valance seen on previous year' models.

In 1917 Meteor introduced a smaller, less expensive companion to their existing funeral cars called the Mort which was built until 1924.  Meteor's body supplier, A.J. Miller, started marketing their own complete hearses in 1917 so Meteor ended the arrangement with their Ohio neighbor and started making their own bodies. (McPherson claims Mort started in 1923 p.87)

Also in 1917 Meteor's Maurice Wolfe introduced a phonograph to be sold direct, just like his professional cars. He also obtained rights to market a line of recordings drawn from several loosely affiliated sources, including the Arto Company, the Clarion Record Company, Jones Recording Laboratories, and the Lyraphone Company (Lyric). All known issues use material previously issued on their suppliers’ regular releases. Although Meteor termed itself "The Star of the Talking Machine World," the label didn't survive past the early 1920s when a Meteor-sponsored  float appeared in a Piqua civic parade bearing the slogan "Kills'em with Music and Hauls'em Away."

Following the war, Meteor and many other makers were forced to raise their prices by almost 25% to cover the high cost of materials brought about by the depression of 1920-21. With their premium models hovering near the $3,000 mark, they introduced a new glass-sided eight-column hearse in 1920 and modernized the appearance of their existing product line to help increase sales.

For 1921 Meteor introduced a new 127" wheelbase sedan ambulance to compete with similar vehicles offered by Sayers & Scovill.  Disc wheels were all the rage, and Meteor offered them on their entire range of vehicles. Side-loading coaches had caught on quickly and Meteor marketed them on two different wheelbases, the new 127" sedan and the 148" limousine-style coach. The more traditional 8-column hearses were available in a wide range of styles and colors. A director had the choice of carved-panels, glass, or a combination of the two between the columns. And three colors were available in 1921, the  traditional black, light grey and silver were available.

In 1922 Meteor introduced a stylish side-loading sedan ambulance that was to remain in style for the next ten years. Fitted with three doors on the passenger side and one at the rear, this coach was available with either frosted and leaded or plain glass rear compartment windows. This extra-long body could easily seat ten, or carry two gurneys if all the seats were removed. In 1923 the standard Meteor chassis included a 50hp Continental engine but a 70hp Continental was available for about $350 more.

The 1923 Mort Model D was a six-passenger side-loading sedan-ambulance mounted on Meteor's assembled chassis equipped with a six-cylinder 40hp Continental engine and was priced about $400 less than a comparable Meteor. A $1500 Model unique to the Mort catalog was a shorter-wheelbase side-loading 3-in-1 sedan-ambulance that was marketed to funeral homes as a pallbearer's limousine, a funeral director's car and as an ambulance. Mort's Model X 12-column carved-panel hearse used the standard Mort 40hp assembled chassis and was priced at only $1750, a full $700 less than a comparable 50hp Meteor.

The 1924 Mort chassis featured a new larger 50hp Continental engine and Lockheed 4-wheel hydraulic brakes. From 1924 Mort's were available on either Meteor's assembled chassis or on a less-expensive Dodge 4-cylinder commercial chassis that were sold as Mort-Dodge. The Mort lineup included a new 4-column coach which featured a large centrally located rectangular frosted-glass window with an arched clear leaded-glass insert. For 1924 the Mort sedan ambulance was available with an optional 70hp Continental engine for an additional $250. 

The Meteor and Mort bodies were totally re-designed in 1925. They both featured a new multi-pane front window treatment with integral visor and the rear roofline of the Mort coaches featured a distinctive razor edge and unusual rear side window not seen on the Meteor bodies.   The very popular landau or leather-back treatment appeared on Meteor's most expensive funeral coaches and included prominent nickel-plated landau bars and stylish Gordon spare tire covers. 

Meteor continued to offer coaches on their assembled 70hp Continental-engined chassis through 1926.  Standard equipment included Firestone tires, Lockheed 4-wheel hydraulic brakes, Timken axles, and heavy-duty springs equipped with Watson Stabilators. Leather-back landau styling was available for no additional cost on all of their limousine-style coaches. For $500 less, Mort coaches used identical frames and bodies as their Meteor brethren, but were powered by a smaller 50hp Continental and finished in less expensive materials.

For 1927 Meteor reduced their prices by about $500 across the board and eliminated their low-budget Mort coaches altogether.  The 50hp Continental engine from the Mort was now offered in Meteor's lower-priced coaches and more expensive models came with a Continental 70hp six or a brand-new 72hp Continental V8, an engine that enabled Meteor to compete directly with Cadillac. Their limousine-style coaches were offered with either a leather-back landau roof or a plain painted-metal roof treatment. As always, plain, frosted, leaded or combination frosted/leaded windows were available on all of Meteor's coaches.

In 1928 they adopted an even more powerful motor, Continental's 80hp Red Seal straight-8.  Meteor also introduced a new extension sill roller at the rear of their funeral coaches that facilitated easier loading and unloading of the casket. An attractive service car which featured a full padded-leather top, 48" leaded-glass window and double rear-entrance doors was priced at $2200.  

A re-designed chassis became available during 1929. Known as the 800 series it featured a wider radiator, stylish swept front fenders, integral spare-tire wells and fender mounted warning lights. The new chassis included an 80hp Continental engine, Watson Stabilators, and Lockheed four wheel hydraulic brakes.  800 models included a short-wheelbase sedan-ambulance, a service car, a combination hearse/ambulance and dedicated ambulances and hearses. The $300-$400 cheaper 600 series used their older crown-fendered chassis and was only available with a 60hp Continental.

In 1933 Meteor began using the Buick chassis in place of their own. Leather-backed landau roofs, popular just two years earlier, had been supplanted by new metal-back painted roofs but Meteor's limousine body styles lacked the streamlining of the competition and were starting to look quite dated.

Luckily Meteor introduced new streamlined bodies in 1934 that put them in the running. Mounted on a Buick chassis, they were available in 3-way, side-servicing or rear-loading ambulances and funeral coaches.

Starting in 1935 General Motors started offering a 160" extended-wheelbase professional car chassis that was available from their Buick, Cadillac, LaSalle and Oldsmobile divisions. Consequently by 1936, all Meteor coaches were built on the new Cadillac 60 & 70 Series or on Buick or LaSalle commercial chassis. Prices started at a low $1900 for a Buick or LaSalle-based coach while Cadillac-chassised versions started at $2300. A streamlined art-carved hearse was available and included the usual rear entrance plus wide side doors that were hinged at the center of the carving.

Meteor built the ultimate classic-era American ambulance in 1937 on a V-16 Cadillac Series 90 chassis. Designed and built for the Detroit Fire Department, it was a gift from Detroit Fire Commissioner, millionaire and lifelong fire buff Paxton Mendelssohn. The standard Series 90’s 154" wheelbase was stretched even further to accommodate a Meteor-built six-window limousine ambulance body Warning signals included a standard 12" fire apparatus bell and a set of whirling Buckeye Roto-Rays mounted above the extra-high windshield. In 1951 Mendelssohn had the vehicle completely rebuilt using the original Meteor body, this time attached to a brand-new 1951 Cadillac front end. It was retired in 1969 and was last seen rusting away at a Detroit junkyard in 1987. (see The Professional Car, Issue #63, First Quarter 1992)

Meteor introduced a very Gothic-looking carved-panel hearse in 1938 that featured a large central gothic arch flanked by two smaller ones. Like Meteor's more-traditional columned carved-coach it featured wide side doors that were hinged at the center of the carving. Small stained-glass windows were inserted within the detailed carvings at the center of each gothic arch. Medium-priced LaSalle coaches were very popular with the industry and LaSalle chassis were prominently featured in the 1938 and 1939 Meteor catalogs, although Buick and Cadillac chassis were also available. 

In 1939, American Airlines had Meteor build them a dozen 12-passenger Cadillac limousines for use at the airline's facilities at the New York, Chicago, and Detroit airports. Streamlined roof racks were integrated into the roofs and the interiors were built to match the colors of American's then-current airliners.

Meteor built an extended wheelbase 8-door 1940 LaSalle woody wagon for Ralph Wilson and Matilda Dodge Wilson (Dodge Bros. heiress). The Wilson's used it on their Meadowbrook estate to "transport servants into Detroit on their days off and to drive the local school football team to and from games. Since the LaSalle could carry the same number of passengers as two standard-sized cars, it was considered economical since the original owners did not have to purchase as second vehicle or go to the expense of hiring an additional driver". It's currently on display at the Peterson Automotive Museum.

Streamlined roof-mounted emergency lighting pods were beginning to appear by 1940 and Meteor showed a number of ambulances so-equipped in their mailings. Meteor's flower cars were topped by 5-window business coupe-style roofs and featured a fake folded convertible top made of aluminum mounted at the rear of the flower box. Meteor introduced a new driver's door first seen on 1939 S&S carved-panel coaches that featured an unusual A-shaped window frame. Meteor then mounted a miniature coach lamp within the triangular panel that was now part of the body. Although the new arched door looked great on their service cars, flower cars and carved Gothic hearses, it looked hideous when combined with the vertical B & C pillars found on their limousine-style coaches and ambulances. The rear door window frames as well as the B-pillars and C-pillars were still vertically oriented and clashed with the sharply sloping outline of the front door's arched window-frame.

S&S did the right thing and used vertical B-pillar front door frames on their regular limousine-style and landau-style hearses and ambulances. Although they could have used a regular door on their limousine-style coaches and ambulances (as did S&S), for some unknown reason, Meteor didn't and continued producing ugly limousine style coaches until 1950, when regular door frames returned.

Quite unfairly, LaSalle had acquired the reputation of being a "cheap" Cadillac and was eliminated by GM just as Cadillac released their new Bill Mitchell-designed models in 1941. The new Cadillac was decidedly forward-looking, side-mounted spares had been eliminated and the new Hydra-Matic automatic transmission was available for the first time having been pioneered by Oldsmobile in the previous year. The prow-nosed look seen in the Thirties was gone, replaced by massive front-end highlighted by the now-famous egg-crate grille.  Headlamps were now mounted in, rather than on top of, the front fenders. Equipped with a Cord-like coffin-nose hood the new Cadillacs were noticeably different from their predecessors and set the standard for American luxury during the 1940s. A mid-sized 29-passenger transit bus prototype called the 101 was built during 1941, but never saw production. However their experience with the vehicle helped procure a large contract to produce bodies for a post-war Reo transit coach.

The A-framed Meteor coaches continued little unchanged through 1942 although a less-expensive series of coaches appeared in 1941 mounted on Chevrolet chassis that featured normal-looking vertically-oriented B-pillars. When seen on a flower car body, Meteor's A-framed front doors looked good and their 1942 version featured a 5-window business coupe roof mounted on top of a standard Meteor coach body that had been built with no structure above the beltline. The coupe's blanked-in rear quarter-windows were covered by a landau bar and the base of the roof flowed straight back to the rear of the flower box which still had a makeshift faux folded-convertible roof. The rear doors were left intact and could be used to load chairs or other graveside necessities. Access to the casket compartment was through the tailgate which had built-in casket rollers that matched those on the compartment floor. The height of the exposed stainless steel flower deck was hydraulically adjustable so that different-sized floral tributes could be accommodated and a tonneau was included to cover the bed when not in use. 

After an illustrious career with Henney and a short stint at the Des Moines Casket Company, automotive designer Herman Earl (1878-1957) worked for Meteor up until his retirement during WWII.  Another famous wartime Meteor employee was John B. Judkins who became a consultant for the firm, when his Merrimac, MA coachbuilding firm folded in 1942. During the War, Meteor manufactured aviation equipment for the US Navy and ramped up for civilian production in early 1945.

Immediately after the war Meteor built 969 bus bodies for Reo's post-war 96-HT 'Victory' bus (1945-1947). These Reo-Meteor coaches included a Continental 427cu in 6­cylinder gasoline engine mounted under the floor and featured sectional bodies similar to those produced by Wayne Works.

1946-1948 Meteor coaches remained unchanged from the pre-war 1942 models and still included weird A-framed front doors with integral miniature coach lamps. As with other makers, post-war prices increased by about 50% and new Meteor coaches started at $5,000. All Meteor coaches were now built on Cadillac chassis and included rear fender skirts plus optional automatic transmission and air-conditioning. Ambulances could be ordered with built-in roof-top warning lights, a choice of sirens plus a clever front fender-mounted fire extinguisher. 

Cadillac's new commercial chassis was available beginning 1949, one year after the introduction of their famous P-38 Lightning-influenced rear fenders.

Economy Coach of Memphis, Tennessee was a sub-contractor to Meteor and built Meteor's budget-priced Pontiac coaches from about 1951-1953. An early 1950s Chrysler coach attributed to Meteor was likely built by Economy as well.

General Motors stopped building Pontiac sedan deliveries at the end of the 1953 model year and small professional car builders who used Pontiac chassis were forced to switch to the much more expensive Pontiac station wagons. The additional costs involved eventually forced a number of them out of business.

In 1954, Wayne Works of Richmond, Indiana - a large school bus producer - purchased the firm and on March 19, 1956 Wayne announced the acquisition of another professional car maker, the A.J. Miller Company located in Bellefontaine, Ohio, which traced its roots back to 1853. Under this new conglomerate, the company would now be called Miller-Meteor. Manufacturing operations were consolidated at the Meteor plant at 125 Clark Avenue in Piqua.

Miller-Meteor Built exclusively on the Cadillac commercial chassis and the first Miller-Meteor coaches debuted in 1957. The new firm was a success and in a few years had captured 50% of the professional car market.

The 1973 EMS Systems Act* had virtually eliminated all passenger car-based ambulance production by 1977 and Miller-Meteor only built  21 ambulances during the year. Only four were built  in 1978 and by 1979 Miller-Meteor was reduced to a single line of professional vehicles - hearses. With sales down and prospects dim, The company announced the end of operations on November 1, 1979. There would be no 1980 Miller-Meteor products. The company laid-off 252 employees and terminated the contracts of their 34 North American distributors. The rights to the Miller-Meteor name were sold to Collins Industries, Inc who resurrected it 1984 for use on a new series of funeral coaches and limousines.  In 1993, a competitor, CCE, Inc., purchased the Miller-Meteor name and moved production to their Norwalk, Ohio, facility. In 1999 Superior Holdings, a PNC Company, purchased the name and moved the firm to their Lima, Ohio facility were they continued to market hearses under the Miller-Meteor.

Unrelated to the original Meteor firm, a new Meteor Motor Car Co. (aka Caserta Professional Vehicles/Car Sales of Piqua, Ohio) was started by Thomas Caserta in 1996. Caserta, a former 18-year Miller-Meteor employee, produces a handful of new Meteor Carmelita coaches on Mercury Grand Marquis sedans each year at his West Ash St. dealership in Piqua, Ohio.  The Carmelita is made by stretching the rear quarter-panel of a standard-wheelbase Marquis by 13" which allows just enough space for a full-sized casket to fit behind the driver's compartment bulkhead.

*(The 1973 EMS Systems Act - passed in 1974, implemented four years later in 1978 - required that communities receiving federal funds for their programs had ambulances that met new federal specifications. Three chassis styles meet the criteria and are still in use today: Type I uses a small truck body with a modular compartment, Type II has a van body with a raised roof and Type III has van chassis with a modular compartment. Passenger-based vehicles were purposely excluded from legislation and the last American-made automobile-based ambulance was built in 1978. However a handful of automobile-based ambulances are still made in Europe using Mercedes E-Class and Volvo S-60/S-80 chassis.)

© 2004 Mark Theobald -





1928 Cadillac Meteor Limousine Style Coach

The Professional Car, Issue #63, First Quarter 1992

Thomas A. McPherson - Miller-Meteor: The Complete History

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

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The Professional Car (Quarterly Journal of the Professional car Society)

Gregg D. Merksamer - Professional Cars: Ambulances, Funeral Cars and Flower Cars

Thomas A. McPherson - American Funeral Cars & Ambulances Since 1900

Carriage Museum of America - Horse-Drawn Funeral Vehicles: 19th Century Funerals

Carriage Museum of America -  Horse Drawn - Military, Civilian, Veterinary - Ambulances

Walt McCall & Tom McPherson - Classic American Ambulances 1900-1979: Photo Archive

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Walter M. P. McCall - The American Ambulance 1900-2002

Walter M.P. McCall - American Funeral Vehicles 1883-2003

Michael L. Bromley & Tom Mazza - Stretching It: The Story of the Limousine

Richard J. Conjalka - Classic American Limousines: 1955 Through 2000 Photo Archive

Richard J. Conjalka - Stretch Limousines 1928-2001 Photo Archive

Hearses - Automobile Quarterly Vol 36 No 3

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1928 Cadillac Meteor Limousine Style Coach

1939 Buick Meteor Funeral Coach

1939 Buick Meteor Ambulance

1953 Cadillac Meteor Flower Car

1955 Meteor Body in Assembly Jig

1955 Meteor Landau Hearse Interior

1955 Cadillac Meteor Landau Panoramic Hearse

1956 Cadillac Meteor Panoramic Combination Coach

1956 Cadillac Meteor Crestwood Landau Panoramic Hearse


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