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Phillips Custom Body Co.
Philips Carriage Company, 1880s-1923; Philips Custom Body Company, 1923-1928; Warren, Ohio
Associated Builders
Briggs Mfg. Co., LeBaron

The early history of the Philips Carriage Co, is unknown, however they were one of the thousands of regional carriage manufacturers that built wagons, trucks and carriages in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. Under the direction of Frank W. Philips, the small Warren, Ohio manufacturer entered the twentieth century, later making the successful transition to automobile bodies during the teens.  

During the spring of 1923, the Philips Carriage Co was reorganized as the Philips Custom Body Co. to better represent the aspirations of the small Warren, Ohio coachbuilder. Frank W. Philips remained president, while Edwin P. Carter served as the firm’s body engineer and designer. A number of local investors contributed to the new venture including N.A. Wolcott, the chief executive of the Packard Electric Co., Warren’s largest manufacturer. 

An article in a March, 1924 issue of the Warren Tribune announced the formation of the new firm with the headline, “Custom Body Plant Gets Speeding Up.” The article announced that Philips was "now ready to make bodies" and had contracts from “Sterling-Knight, Willys-Knight, Studebaker and Franklin”. 

Although the firm built an occasional custom body, production bodies were their primary product. Their largest customer was the Sterling-Knight Automobile Co., a small Cleveland manufacturer with a plant in Warren, Ohio. Philips is credited as their sole body builder, and from 1923-1926, about 375 Sterling-Knights were built. 

Early on Philips specialized in convertible coupes, a style that became popular in the mid-twenties. The larger production body builders had yet to perfect the style, and most early examples were built by smaller firms whose engineers and craftsmen were more experienced with the complicated mechanisms involved. They also built a few coupes in 1924-25, and a few are known to exist on Packard and Franklin chassis. 

Philips built convertible coupes for Packard starting in 1925 and Stutz in 1926. Both featured the same distinctive Philips top mechanisms, although the coachwork below the beltline was slightly different. A similar design was produced for Wills Ste. Claire in 1925 and 1926, which was called a Cabriolet Roadster, and three are known to exist. Bodies built by Philips can be easily identified as their golf bag doors were generally larger than other builders, and sometimes ended only an inch or two below the beltline. 

The following descriptions of Philips-bodied Stutzes appeared in various 1926-1927 issues of Autobody: 

“The coupe-roadster, built by the Philips Custom Body Co., on the 131 in. wheelbase Stutz chassis. Some of these bodies are trimmed throughout with leather, while others have the driving seat upholstered with Bedford cord and the rumble seat in a Pussy Willow grain leather to harmonize with the front-seat trimming. The top is of Burbank and Mississippi Safety glass is used for windows and windshield. 

“The coupe-roadster with top collapsed. The Philips Custom Body Co., of Warren, Ohio, has specialized in custom convertible coupes and has perfected its flapper system, using a much heavier flapper than originally and providing a positive adjustment that takes care of all variances that might occur through improper shimming of the body. No frame is used around door glass, which, seals against a protruding rubber section, provid­ing a weatherproof seal and permitting the raising or lowering of the door glass without having to open the door. 

“Convertible sedan by the Philips Custom Body Co. on a 145-in. Stutz chassis. A similar body with division window, designated as a "collapsible limousine" is also being made by the same builders; interior views of both types of bodies are shown below. N ate the smooth contour of the top; sagging, common in some constructions, is prevented by the use of an intermediate bow which is almost directly over the center pillar, and is not removable, folding with the top. The center pillar is removable, but even when not in place, the top does not fall down as the side-rail construction is of the cantilever type and is in tension by reason of the top operating-fixture hinge being built off center; to lower the top, the arms must be thrown over the center to relieve the tension. 

“Interior views of the convertible sedan and "convertible limousine" which are being built by the Philips Custom Body Co. for Stutz chassis. Note the unusual trimming of the doors and the use of extra dovetails to insure silence and rigidity. In the view at the right, it will be observed that the Protex safety glass is used in the division window as well as for all other glazing. 

Philips “masterpiece” was a custom coupe-roadster body built for a Pierce-Arrow Series 36 chassis in 1927. It included individual side rumble seat doors that allowed easy access to the rumble seat compartment from either side of the vehicle, a design “borrowed” by LeBaron a few years later.  

The unique body also had an integral folding Burbank top that shielded the rear rumble seat passengers from the elements and removable side curtains with separate openings for the rumble seat doors. When installed, the rear flap of the main compartment top was integrated into the rumble seat’s top creating one long single enclosure allowing the front and rear seat passengers to communicate with ease. It sounds like a good idea, but it was both impractical and unattractive. 

Autobody devoted a whole page to the Pierce-Arrow Series 36 Coupe-Roadster:

"1927 Coupe-Roadster with Comfort Features for Emergency Passengers

"Fig. 1-Philips special coupe-roadster, on Pierce-Arrow chassis, operated as a roadster with top lowered

"Fig. 2-View of the Philips special coupe­roadster with framing of rear-seat protection erected.

"Fig. 3-The special coupe-roadster with storm curtains in place to protect emergency passengers from the weather

"Fig. 4-Philips special coupe-roadster showing: Door to tool compartment at left open, rumble seatback erected, door to rumble seat open, and right front door open. On the latter a special adjusting screw keeps the framed glass of the window snugly against the weatherstrips - flapper construction not used for these door windows. Rear of body has been stiffened by rocker plates to compensate for cutting of belt rail to provide side-door entrance to deck seat.

"Fig. 5-Blueprint for the special coupe-roadster

Although only one is known to have been built, Philips built a similar version for the new Pierce-Arrow Series 81 which was introduced later that year. Unfortunately, it was a series-built body and did not include the innovative side doors or rear rumble seat enclosure found on the original. 

Speaking of LeBaron, they designed a handsome convertible sedan body for Stutz that was built in small numbers by Philips. It was available with or without a partition and the latter could be equipped with jump seats, although it was only designed to carry five passengers.  

Frank W. Philips became ill in 1928 and his family had no interest in running the firm, so inquiries were made at a number of manufacturers and larger production body builders to see if anyone was interested in the small Warren, Ohio coachbuilder.  

At that time, body engineers who had experience with convertible tops were in high demand, as were experienced woodworkers and panel beaters. Luckily for Philips, they had an ample supply of each, and found an interested buyer in Briggs Mfg. Co. Briggs had recently purchased LeBaron and were looking for talented employees to staff the new LeBaron-Detroit body plant in Detroit.  As luck would have it, Raymond P. Birge, the manager of LeBaron’s Bridgeport plant, had just left to work for Packard, so a job was waiting for Philips’ Edwin P. Carter in Connecticut as well.  

By 1929 all operations at Philips’ Warren, Ohio plant were halted, and the idle plant became a storage facility for Briggs. When Briggs shut down the Bridgeport, Connecticut LeBaron plant in 1930, Edwin P. Carter moved to Michigan and became the plant manager for Briggs’ LeBaron-Detroit body plant. Convertibles produced by Briggs (and LeBaron) following the Philips takeover were largely based on the ones designed and engineered by Carter and Frank W. Philips in Warren Ohio, years earlier. While at Briggs/LeBaron, Carter was awarded a patent for a number of improvements he made to his original designs. 

In conversations with LeBaron’s Hugo Pfau, Edwin P. Carter recalled that bodies such as the Stutz convertible coupes, would be ordered in lots of 50 to 100 at a time and that several batches were ordered. Only a single order of 25 of the Stutz convertible sedan was received, although a handful may have been built later on. Carter recalled that an initial order of 200 was received from Pierce-Arrow for the Series 81 convertible roadsters built in 1927, and that a smaller second order was also built. As to individual bodies, Carter recalled that they rarely exceeded five or six a year. 

© 2004 Mark Theobald -






Hugo Pfau - The Philips Custom Body Company - Cars & Parts, May 1975

Raymond A. Katzell - The Splendid Stutz

Marc Ralston - Pierce Arrow

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

Hugo Pfau - The Custom Body Era

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

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