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J. Frank de Causse
J. Franklin deCausse - 1879-1928
 
Associated Firms
Locke; Demarest; Healey; Schildwachter
     

Although Harley Earl is remembered today as the first corporate automobile stylist, in reality Frank deCausse (for Locomobile) and Al Leamy (for Wills St. Claire) should get the credit, as they started the trend a number of years before Earl arrived at Fisher Body. Earl deserved credit for establishing an organization (GM's Style & Color) where styling and comfort, both inside and out, were given as much importance as an automobile's performance and reliability.

DeCausse started his career at the great Parisian Carrossier, Georges Kellner et Fils and his work came to the attention of Locomobile who brought him to the US to head their custom body department in 1914.

DeCausse's first claim to fame was the dual-cowl phaeton, which first appeared on a 1916 Locomobile. The area between the front and rear seating areas was divided into two distinct compartments. Most early secondary cowls were fixed and generally included a secondary windshield that could be cranked down or folded forward, flat against the cowl.

His second milestone was the 1917 Locomobile Model 48. It marked the first time anyone had styled a whole a line of automobiles, rather than just a few individual custom jobs. 

DeCausse left Locomobile in 1921 when the company went into receivership before the Durant purchase and set up a consulting business similar to LeBaron's in 1922.

Franklin's California distributor, Ralph Hamlin had complained for years about the unconventional looks of their automobile and in 1921 he told Herbert Franklin that he would stop distributing the car unless things changed. In the summer of 1923 a group of Franklin dealers issued an ultimatum that the unusual horsecollar style grill front had to go as well.

Herbert Franklin gave Hamlin permission to get some proposals from Walter Murphy and he commissioned some designs on his own from DeCausse. Designs for the new Franklin were sought from the Walter M. Murphy Company in Pasadena and from Frank de Causse of New York City. The de Causse ideas became the Series 11 Franklin introduced in March of 1925.

DeCausse soon found that his largest customer was Franklin, and within a couple of years he had restyled their entire line, and directed the new custom body design department at Franklin's Syracuse plant. Franklin's DeCausse-designed Series 11 angered John Wilkinson, Franklin's original designer, and he departed the company in 1925.

The large catalog of DeCausse-designed bodies helped establish Franklin as a style leader during the late '20's that were sold as products of the Franklin Custom Body Division. Most of these had the very square window lines which had been typical of deCausse's styling for Locomobile earlier.

While in Europe during the fall 1926 Salons, It was discovered that deCausse had throat cancer, and his larnyx was removed in by a Paris surgeon. He was now forced to speak using a hole in his throat, which left him very susceptible to pneumonia. Unfortunately the cancer eventually spread to his lungs and he returned to the United States in 1927 to stay with his mother. While on a return trip to visit his surgeons in Paris, he developed pneumonia, and died a month later on May 10th of 1928 at the age of 48.

When deCausse first fell ill, Franklin hired Ray Dietrich to continue his fine work and to initiate a custom coachwork program. Dietrich's sensational 1928 "el Pirate" is acknowledged as the first streamlined American body design and Franklin incorporated many of it's features in their 1930 line-up.

One of the most stunning of the deCausse Series 11 Franklins was a long, low and racy boat tail speedster introduced in 1926 called the Model 11A Sport Runabout.  The lines of the 1929 Franklin 130 Convertible Coupe were downright breathtaking as well.  Released after his death, Franklin credited DeCausse with designing the aluminum body, but Ray Dietrich had supervised it construction and final design. Franklin, a firm well-known for conservative sedans was the first American firm to offer boat tail speedsters in their catalog, quite a number of years before Auburn.

2004 Mark Theobald - Coachbuilt.com

The following J. Frank deCausse biography is excerpted from "The Art of the American Automobile" by G.N. (Nick) Georgano

"One of the first stylists to break away from the anonymity of the early days was J.Frank deCausse. Born in France, he studied architecture and art history, and was apparently bitten by the horseless carriage bug early on. He combined his interests by joining the prestigious Paris house of Kellner as an apprentice draftsman. In 1904, when he was 25, he became assistant manager, a post he held until he was lured from Kellner by Locomobile in the fall of 1914. The prestigious Bridgeport company had used outside coachbuilders up to this date, but then decided that an in-house design office would be advantageous. The company never actually built the bodies, which were made by such firms as Demarest, Healy, Holbrook and Locked to the designs of de Causse.

"Within a few years, a distinct deCausse style began to appear; characteristics included flat panels for hood sides and doors, the horizontal proportions of the former becoming vertical in the latter, and a wide double parallel stripe on the sides of the hood and running along the tops of the doors through to the rear of the body. His designs encompassed most of the standard types fitted to expensive cars, limousines, landaulets and town cars, but it was among his open cars that his originality really showed. These included canoe-type four-passenger roadsters with pointed tails, and a Type Sportif four passenger with a separate tonneau cowl and windshield for the rear-seat passengers. This was built in 1916 for Rodman Wanamaker, the son of the Philadelphia Department Store's founder, and was the first of the design which came to be known as the dual-cowl phaeton. It was very popular in the 1920s, and is often considered by collectors to be the most desirable style available.

"Few people have given de Causse and Locomobile  credit for this pioneering design. We do not know how much input came from Mr. Wanamaker, for customers often discussed the work with designers at every stage. Although his first designs for Locomobile had sidemounted spare wheels, de Causse soon moved these the the rear where they gave the cars a rakish appearance. Some of his designs had military-looking, flat-topped fenders, probably inspired by World War I. Among them were tow actual military vehicles built for General John Pershing for use in Europe. They had narrow bodies, dual rear tires and sloping windshields. Pershing liked to be driven fast and found that at  80mph the vertical windshield tended to crack, hence the sloping V-shaped design which was far in advance of its time.

"De Causse's Locomobiles were among the most expensive American cars of  their day. With interior fittings designed by Tiffany and colors planned by the actress and interior decorator Elsie de Wolf, they cost up to $8,500. Customers were a cross- section of wealthy East Coast families and individuals: Vanderbilts, William Carnegie, Lolita Armour, Lawrence Copley Thaw, and two of the Wanamakers, Rodman and John. Locomobile sales were good in the years 1915 to 1920, but a lot of material was bought on credit, and when the banks began to call in their loans, the company got into difficulties. It went into receivership in March 1922, and though it was rescued by Emlen Hare and later, more successfully, by Billy Durant, the Custom Body Department was sacrificed.

"Frank de Causse set up his own office as a consultant and obtained commissions from his old partners, Demarest, Healy and Locke. He also designed some open and closed bodies for German- made Benz chassis, which were built by the little- known Schildwachter Autobody Company. Four styles were proposed, but how many were actually built is not known. Another commission came from Durant, who asked him to style the Flint, a new medium-priced car he was planning to put on the market. Durant still regarded de Causse as his associate and was therefore highly incensed when the designer was approached by H.H. Franklin to style a new line for his 1925 models. Franklin had admired de Causse's work on Locomobiles for several years, and rejected a Murphy design for the new Franklin in favor of de Causse's.

"The 1925 Franklin was a radical change for the Syracuse company; previous models with their horse-collar shaped front ends were increasingly hard to sell, and a group of major dealers threatened to switch to other makes if something was not done. The new models had virtually nothing in common with their predecessors apart from their air-cooled engines and wooden frames. De Causse had been given carte blanche by Franklin to style the car from front to rear. A wide rectangular "radiator" gave the car the appearance of a water-cooled model; the body lines, though very far from streamlined, were much cleaner and lighter than most contemporary designs. In particular, the framework surrounding the windshield and doors was lightened in appearance by the use of slim but strong metal pillars in place of wooden ones.

"The prototypes were shown at the 1924 New York Salon at the Commodore Hotel, though not without some conniving on the part of do Causse. The Salon was a very exclusive affair, open only to invited guests and to prestige car makers and coach- builders. No Ford or Chevy ever entered its portals. The organizers were happy to welcome Frank de Causse when he had Locomobiles to display, but they had never admitted Franklins, and rejected them on the grounds that they must surely have cost less than $5,000. 1)c Causse answered that they cost $10,000 each, whereupon they were admitted. It was true that the hand-built prototypes had cost at least $10,000, but the price tags on the production models started at $2,700. In fact, it was not even revealed that they were Franklins until the spring of 1925. De Causse worked mainly from his New York studio, though in close consultation with Franklin's Body Depart- ment chief, W. H. Emond. His designs were built for Franklin by Willoughby, a respected coachbuilder located conveniently at Utica, some 40 miles east of Syracuse.

"Frank de Causse did not believe in annual face-lifts; in a rare public pronouncement, he said "The dictates of good taste in automobile design cannot be observed when frequent changes in body features occur." His designs for Franklin lasted longer than he did, for he succumbed to cancer in May 1928, at the age of 48. He was succeeded by Ray Dietrich, who continued many of de Causse's ideas up to 1933."

1995 Nick Georgano - the Art of the American Automobile

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References

Sinclair Powell - The Franklin Automobile Company

Walter E. Gosden - J. Frank De Causse. The man of mystery and his motorcars - Automobile Quarterly, Vol. 19, No. 2

Biographies of Prominent Carriage Draftsmen - Carriage Monthly, April 1904

Marian Suman-Hreblay - Dictionary of World Coachbuilders and Car Stylists

Daniel D. Hutchins - Wheels Across America: Carriage Art & Craftsmanship

Marian Suman-Hreblay - Dictionary of World Coachbuilders and Car Stylists

Michael Lamm and Dave Holls - A Century of Automotive Style: 100 Years of American Car Design

Nick Georgano - The Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile: Coachbuilding

George Arthur Oliver - A History of Coachbuilding

George Arthur Oliver - Cars and Coachbuilding: One Hundred Years of Road Vehicle Development

Hugo Pfau - The Custom Body Era

Beverly Rae Kimes - The Classic Car

Beverly Rae Kimes - The Classic Era

Richard Burns Carson - The Olympian Cars

Brooks T. Brierley - Auburn, Reo, Franklin and Pierce-Arrow Versus Cadillac, Chrysler, Lincoln and Packard

Brooks T. Brierley - Magic Motors 1930

   
 
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