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Reim-Thompson Co.; Thompson Auto Body Co.
Reim-Thompson Company, 1919-1924; Robert Thompson Company; Robt. Thompson Co.;  Thompson Auto Body Company, 1924-1930s; Los Angeles, California
Associated Builders
George R. Bentel

George R. Bentel was an early Los Angles automobile dealer who’s mainly remembered today as the owner of the Ascot Raceway, an early West Coast dirt race track. For a number of years Bentel campaigned a successful Mercer racing team and during the mid-to-late teens created a number of custom-bodied Mercer automobiles for wealthy Southern Californians.

George Roy Bentel was born in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania on July 2, 1876 to Frank A. and Mary (Wolf) Bentel. After graduation from high school in 1892 he entered the Pittsburgh brokerage house of Henry Sproul & Co. He married the former Harriet Chaney in 1897 and in 1900 the young couple moved to Los Angeles, California where George established a brokerage house in the style of George R. Bentel & Co., Stocks & Bonds.

In 1907 Bentel entered the automobile business as the West Coast distributor of the Rainier and American Mercedes. Success in the field brought him the Pacific Coast distributorships for the Simplex and Mercer automobiles in 1910.

Coleman & Bentel Co., another Bentel-controlled firm, became the official Los Angeles Michelin tire distributor in 1912, the same year that Charles A. Mackey, joined the Bentel organization as a partner.

After hearing about the success of Conover T. Silver in Manhattan, Bentel set about disguising Mercer chassis in a similar manner starting in 1916. Regular fenders and running boards were discarded in favor cycle fenders and step plates. Shortened windshields and Victoria tops appeared on some models as did rear-mounted spare tires stacked two high. Wire wheels appeared on some vehicles while others included brass or nickel-plated disc wheel covers (aka spats).

Motor World detailed the devices in a 1918 issue of the magazine:

“The disc is not a part of the wheel, but simply a plate that is attached, one on each side. Besides keeping out dirt and grime, the highly polished finish gives a decidedly scintillating effect to the wheels, when in motion.”

The article also claimed that Bentel:

“introduced wire wheels to the Pacific Coast, was first to build Victoria tops, was first to put discs on wheels, first to make tonneau windshields, first to make a roller curtain top.”

In 1916 Bentel was appointed the West Coast distributor of the Jordan Motor Car Company, but sales were short-lived as domestic automobile manufacturers began experiencing material shortages due to the ramp up to the World War.

Bentel responded by purchasing used chassis and re-fitting them with updated coachwork and accessories. Many of these vehicles were represented as being new, and Bentel was taken to court* on more than one occasion after the owners of the vehicles discovered they had been had.

Regardless, Bentel’s creations proved popular with the stars of the silver screen, who were now flocking to Hollywood in large numbers.

Bentel’s various agencies were located at various downtown Los Angeles showrooms, his first was located in the Laughlin Bldg., Suite 607; the second  at 1238 S. Main St.; and the third, a half mile away at 1057 S. Olive St.

Most of Bentel’s custom creations were built on Jordan, Mercer and Simplex chassis, however, he built on whatever high-class chassis was available. Bentel soon discovered that building automobile coachwork could be just as profitable as selling new chassis and in 1917 he erected a 78,000 sq. ft. purpose-built 4-story body plant and showroom at 1015 S. Grand Ave.

For a number of years Bentel's body shops were located next door at 1035 S. Grand Ave. and once the new building was completed the facility was taken over by the Leach Motor Car Co., the Los Angeles distributor of the Dort, King, Premiere and Liberty automobiles. Bentel's new plant was located on the West side of South Grand Ave., between West Olympic Blvd and West 11th St (current zip code 90015) in downtown Los Angeles, only 3 blocks east of the Staples Center.

Leach would go on to manufacture his own high class automobile, called the Leach, or Leach-Biltwell, which was produced in Vernon, a Los Angeles suburb, between 1919 and 1923.

In 1915 Bentel fielded a trio of Mercer-chassised racecars on the West Coast, often entering a fourth California-badged Mercer that skirted a rule limiting a team’s entry to three vehicles. A number of famous racers drove for Bentel in the mid-to-late teens, including World War I flying ace Eddie Rickenbacher.

Encouraged by the corresponding increase in sales of Mercer chassis at his Los Angeles showroom, later that year Bentel formed a corporation to take over the management of the 5/8 mile Ascot Park Raceway, a decades-old horse racing track that had occasionally served as an early automobile speedway.

The Speedway was featured in a small item published in the July 16, 1916, New York Times:

“The Ascot Speedway is the only one of its kind in the world. Having been converted from the old horse race course of that name. This was done by eight weeks of rushed construction work last winter. The turns were banked to a height of eleven feet, and then the entire course was paved. Because of the “greenness” of this paving last winter ate up tires, But George R. Bentel, Chairman of the Contest Committee at Ascot, this Fall will resurface the track. In addition to the smoothing of the track surfacing, large bleachers are to be erected because of the immense popularity wit which the racing has been received in this section. Ascot is the widest course of its kind, also the fastest, and its popularity has been heightened by the fact that the cars are in sight all the time.”

A June 1917 issue of Motor Age included a picture of an attractive Bentel-built Mercer speedster body similar to those found on his racecars that was designed for both on and off-track motoring.

The August 15, 1917 issue of Motor West announced the grand opening of Bentel’s new factory and showroom:

“Bentel Co. Occupies Its New Quarters

“Demonstration of the point of excellence reached in the independent creation of motor car designs and remodeling on the Coast, especially as regards original ideas in automobile trimming, tops, upholstery and body painting, is seen in the occupation of its new four-story building by the George R. Bentel Co., Los Angeles. The new structure is located at 1015 S. Grand Ave. and contains a total floor area of 78,000 square feet. It is claimed to be the largest single building west of New York devoted to so many phases of the automobile industry. Not only will the mechanical departments of the company, which outgrew their recent quarters at 1035 S. Grand Ave.. be located in the new building, but the sales agency for Mercer and Jordan cars, formerly at Eleventh and Olive Sts., will occupy space in the new home. A large service department will be added to and will reinforce the sales agency department, completing the concentration of Bentel activities under one roof.

“Special machinery and facilities for motor car designing, building and remodeling have been installed on every floor of the building. So complete is the equipment that the company claims that it can assemble an entire car in its new quarters.

“Car chassis will be cleaned through the use of live steam and this method is also employed in the painting department to remove previous coats. The service department contains several ingenious devices. One of these locates the rattles in motor cars by a series of bumps, which brings out every squeak and rattle in a car with more effective ness, it is claimed, than miles of hard road driving.

“In the mechanical department the first of the new 22-140 series Mercer cars are in process of completion. These are stock cars capable of developing a speed of 100 miles an hour. The third floor is given over to the trimming department, where tops and upholstery designs are planned and carried out. In the rear are the wood shop and body departments. In the latter department an entire body may be built, which then moves into the front end to receive its upholstery and top. On the fourth floor is the painting department, which includes four steam-heated and sealed varnish rooms. Much time is saved by the drying-room process which not only eliminates dust but saves much time for the owner of the car. The big hammers and heavy machinery are located in the basement.”

Bentel Exhibited both Mercer and Jordan chassis at the winter 1917/1918 Los Angeles Auto Show.

November 15, 1917 Motor West:

“Bentel to Concentrate on Body Plant.

“George Bentel, Los Angeles, Cal., Mercer dealer, will concentrate his energies on his large automobile body building establishment and make a partial retirement from the car sales agency field. The new Bentel body body building plant on Grand Ave. has already become famous throughout the entire Coast territory for the strikingly original and artistic bodies it has turned out for Western customers. The company will continue to handle the Mercer car, with which it has been identified for several years.”

February 1, 1918 Motor West:

“New Top Factory in Los Angeles.

“The reputation of Los Angeles for distinction and originality in automobile body and top building is to be further enhanced by the opening of the Dustin & Roman Auto Top Co. in that city. The company has been organized by G. F. Dustin, formerly connected with the George R. Bentel shops. Factory quarters and showrooms have been acquired at Eleventh and Figueroa streets, and, according to Dustin, the new automobile top factory will be one of the most modern of its kind in western America.”

In late 1919 Bentel sold his S. Grand Ave, body plant to the newly organized Reim-Thompson Company (1919-1924) as reported in the February 1, 1920 issue of Motor West:

“Bentel Business in New Hands.

“The Bentel Shops in Los Angeles are now owned by a new corporation, the Reim-Thompson Co., headed, by George F. Reim, for eleven years Cadillac dealer in Omaha and a pioneer in the industry, dating back to 1899, and having been connected also with the White and Packard. Associated with Mr. Reim is R. M. Thompson, vice- president and treasurer, who for years has been a district representative of the American Car Co., manufacturing street cars. He will give all his time to the new company and will have charge of sales.

“Financial backing of the new concern is said to be unusually strong. The four-story Grand Avenue plant's facilities for fine body building will be greatly improved, and manned by specialists in refinishing, repainting and manufacture of special bodies. The special top business will be enlarged.”

The July 14, 1910 issue of The Automobile recorded Reim’s acquisition of the Omaha Cadillac franchise:

“George F. Reim, formerly with R.R. Kimball, has secured the Omaha Cadillac agency and formed a partnership with W.R. Drummond to handle the Cadillac car. The new firm will occupy the garage of C.F. Louck at 2550 Farnum Street.”

Between 1919 and 1924 Bentel devoted most of his efforts into promoting the Ascot Speedway which at the time was one of the premiere dirt racetracks in the country. In January 1924 Bentel organized a new firm, the Ascot Speedway Association to oversee the business activities of the track which was renamed the New Ascot Speedway.

Apparently Ascot was profitable, so profitable in fact that Bentel allegedly made off with the $40,000 1924 Thanksgiving Day purse. On December 7, 1924, the Los Angeles District Attorney threatened legal action against Bentel as follows:

“Ascot Speedway Board Is Accused

“Los Angeles. Dec. 6.—Officials of the Ascot Speedway Association must produce $40,000 prize money by Monday or face a felony charge of obtaining money under false pretenses. This was the ultimatum handed President George Bentel today by Deputy District Attorney Clark, following complaint of eight drivers in the Thanksgiving Day race that they were not paid amounts promised them.”

It was not Bentel’s first brush with the law. He had been in court many times during his brokerage career, and was sued numerous times while he was in the automobile sale business. However the $40,000 Ascot debacle was small change compared to the $2.5 million dollar scandal that unfolded soon afterwards.

During the late teens Bentel became involved in the business affairs of Oliver Morosco, a Los Angeles-based theater chain owner, and the founder of the Oliver Morosco Photoplay Company, an early movie production company that was merged into Famous Players-Lasky Corporation in 1916.

The pair formed the Morosco Productions Company, a California motion picture concern and in 1921 formed a real estate development company called the Morosco Holding Company. Morosco Holdings had grand plans for 100-acre Disneyland-style entertainment park called Moroscotown, its principal features consisting of villages representing places in England, France, Germany and other continental countries.

Morosco supplied the 100-acre tract and invested well over of $2.5 million of his own money in the project. Bentel spearheaded the financing and development of the project, serving as the firm’s vice-president.

During late 1924 it became apparent that the scheme was a giant stock swindle and in 1924 the partner’s were indicted for mail fraud. Although Morosco was cleared of all charges, Bentel and two partners, Benjamin Leven and C. Amos, were found guilty of using the mails to defraud investors in 1926.

Despite a decades-long career that was highlighted by his scandalous business dealings, Bentel remained in Los Angeles and continued to dabble in the picture business, serving as an outside production company for Columbia Pictures and others during the late Twenties. Bentel survived the Depression, forming George R. Bentel Associates at 6606 Sunset Blvd., maintaining a listing in the Motion Picture Almanac into the 1940s. 

The only surviving piece of Bentel’s numerous automotive achievements is a 1918 patent for an automobile windshield, US pat # 1345061, that he assigned to Reim-Thompson after it was issued on July 29, 1920.

By that time Reim-Thompson Company had built up a considerable business repainting and refinishing cars for an ever-increasing number of Los Angeles-based automobile dealers. They also installed convertible tops as well as the increasingly popular all-weather California top. Although they built an occasional custom body, they had little use for their first floor showroom which was leased out to various Los Angeles auto dealers as evidenced by an item in the January 15, 1920 Motor West:

“Pending the completion of their new building on Pico St. near Figueroa, Maxwell & Hoffman, Studebaker dealers, have located in the Bentel Bldg. at 1015 S. Grand Ave.”

Pictured to the right is an attractive National touring car that Reim-Thompson constructed for Los Angeles theater owner Sid Grauman. The firm was also the first employer of Wellington Everett Miller, a well-known Los Angeles-based automobile body designer.

W.E. Miller was born in Los Angeles, California on November 19, 1904 to William Edgar and Emma Lewis (Lyttle) Miller. He became enamored with automobile design while visiting the 1920 Los Angeles Auto Salon where he was particularly attracted to a new Lincoln on the stand of the Walter M. Murphy Co.

Miller decided to become an automobile designer and entered into a course of mathematics and mechanical drawing, taking an after school job with Reim-Thompson as a shop assistant.

In April of 1921 the 16-year-old went to work for Walter M. Murphy as a draftsman’s assistant to the firm’s two delineators, George R. Fredericks and Charles Gerry. Miller was hired full-time by Murphy after graduation and eventually became the firm’s chief designer.

Miller and another Murphy delineator named John Tjaarda moved to Rochester, New York in April, 1926 to serve as Locke & Company’s body designers, and when that firm went bankrupt, he returned to Murphy for a few short months after which he was hired as a body designer by the Packard Motor Co. in 1928.

Miller married Martha Katherine Gibson on October 10, 1936 and to the blessed union were born three sons; Wilton Everett, David Gibson and Marc Edsel Miller.

After his April 6, 1983 death as the result of a massive stroke suffered one month earlier, W.E. Miller’s extensive portfolio and automobile reference library was acquired by the Nethercutt Collection in Sylmar, California.

In 1924, Reim sold his share in the firm to his partner who reorganized it as the Robert Thompson Company. As did its predecessor, the Robert Thompson Company specialized in refinishing and repainting and eventually concentrated on building commercial bodies.

They built an occasional custom body during the late twenties and early thirties and are also known to have built a number of funeral coaches on Cadillac chassis. One attractive example featured an attractive black exterior with matching black headlights and radiator shell.

As did many commercial body builders at time, Thompson produced novelty advertising vehicles, one of which was unique enough that its designer's, Harold Reeve Darling and Harry Sigard Albertson, patented the design.

Filed on Jun 27, 1928, US design patent #78,732 (design patent for a florist's body) was granted on Jun 18, 1929 and issued to Harold Reeve Darling (b.1887-d.1953) and Harry Sigard Albertson, of Los Angeles, who assigned it to Robert Thompson Co.

Thompson was listed as a commercial body builder in that national trades through 1931 when they dropped out of sight, although the may have remained in business for a few more years.

© 2004 Mark Theobald - with special thanks to Thomas A. McPherson







Wellington Everett Miller: A Career in Automobile Design - The Classic Car, March 1980 issue

Who's who in the Pacific Southwest: a compilation of authentic biographical sketches of citizens of Southern California and Arizona. Los Angeles: Times-Mirror Print. & Binding House, 1913

John G. Printz and Ken M. McMaken - Frank S. Lockhart, Boy Wonder Of The American Speedways- CART Michigan 500 program - pub July 19, 1981

Horseless Carriage Gazette v.41-42 1979-80

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

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

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

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