The Big Car Database


The Cole Motor Car Company was an early automobile maker based in Indianapolis, Indiana. Cole automobiles were built from 1908 until 1925. They were quality-built luxury cars. The make is a pioneer of the V-8 engine.

Former type

Defunct Automobile Company
Industry Manufacturing
Founded 1909
Founder Joseph J. Cole
Defunct 1925
Headquarters Indianapolis, Indiana, US

Key people

Joseph J. Cole
(Executive Chairman)
& (President)
Charles S. Crawford
(Chief Engineer)
Products Automobiles

Early years

Joseph J. Cole made his first attempt to build a car in 1903 at Rockford, Illinois. Together with his son, he owned a shop where they sold wheels, automobiles, motor bikes and even lawn mowers, as well as perform mechanical repairs. Together, they worked on a 4-cylinder touring car that was planned to be sold as the Rockford. The project went nowhere, and instead they opened a Rambler automobile dealership.

In 1904, Cole bought the Gates-Osborne Carriage Company and soon renamed it the Cole Carriage Company. There, he built his first automobile. It was a high-wheeled motor buggy with a two-cylinder engine. Legend goes that he forgot to fit brakes on this car. So, on his first trip, he had to drive until the tank was empty.

At that time, the Cole Carriage Company already built ca. 3,000 carriages and coaches per year. Production of this car started in the same year, assisted by engineer Charles S. Crawford, who later worked for Stutz. The new car was marketed as the "Cole Solid Tire Automobile". About 170 of these high wheelers were sold before Cole wisely decided that these kind of cars had no future.

In June 1909, Cole Carriage Company was reorganized as the Cole Motor Car Company and developed a conventional small car, the Cole Model 30. Initially, it had a two-cylinder engine that delivered 14 HP and rode on a 90-inch (2,300 mm) wheelbase. The only body style was a runabout that he offered with 2, 2/4 or 4 seats at $725, $750, or $775, respectively. The Solid Tire Automobile was still available. About 100 cars were built.

Four-cylinder engines

At the end of 1909 appeared a completely new car as a 1910 model. Confusingly, it was dubbed the Series 30 but, as this referred to its new 30 HP, four-cylinder engine, it nevertheless was a logical designation. The wheelbase had now grown to 108 inches (2,700 mm). There were four open body styles. Least expensive was the Tourabout at $1,400; the others, two touring cars and a runabout called the "Flyer", were $1,500 each. Cole managed to sell 783 cars until year's end.

The "Flyer" was quite successful in automobile races, too. One of them won the 1909 Brighton Beach Marathon, a 24-hour-race with 16 participants. Also, two Series 30 Flyers, driven by William "Wild Bill" Endicott and Louis Edwards, entered the Massapequa Sweepstakes within the 1910 Vanderbilt Cup Race. Endicott won that prestigious event with 126.4 miles (203.4 km), timed 138 min 4.32 sec.

The Cole Series 30 got a substantially longer chassis (with a wheelbase of 118 in.) and new bodies for 1911. Available were a roadster and a touring car for 2 or 5 passengers, respectively, at $1,600 each. There was also a new 5-passenger „Fore-door Touring“ (which means that it had rear and front doors) and a „Toy Tonneau“ for 4 passengers (this was a sporty, close-coupled body style that was quite popular at the time) at $1,650 each.

A Series 40 replaced the 30 in 1912. This car was bigger, again, with a 122-inch (3,100 mm) wheelbase. It had a more powerful 40 HP (N.A.C.C. rating; equivalent to about 60 bhp (45 kW)), four-cylinder motor with a displacement of 286.3 c.i. (c. 4.7-litre). Prices started at $1,885 for each of the four open body styles. There were also a "Colonial Coupe" for $2,500 and two limousines at $3,000 and $3,250. These prices brought Cole well into the luxury car market.

The New Six

For 1913, Cole expanded to no less than three model lines: The Series 40, now on a 116 in (2,946 mm). wheelbase, a 50 HP Series 50 that got the previous 40 chassis, and their first six-cylinder car. Although designated the Series 60, it had in fact 40 HP. Wheelbase was huge at 132 in (3,353 mm). and prices were $2,485 for one of the open body styles but went up to $3,000 for a coupe and an astronomical $4,250 for a 7-passenger Berline-Limousine. The Series 40 was cut to two open styles, a roadster and a touring car, for $1,685 each. In the Series 50, the same body styles were offered, plus a toy tonneau, at $1,985 each. Further, Coles got electric ignition and lighting for the first time.

1914 brought several changes. Series 40 and 50 were replaced by a new Model Four, a 4-cylinder car with 28.9 HP and a wheelbase of 120 inches (3,000 mm). Offered were roadster, touring car and toy tonneau at $1,925 each, plus a 3-passenger coupe for $2,350. The 6-cylinder car also was renamed the Six. It got 43.8 HP and an even larger chassis with a wheelbase of 136 inches (3,500 mm). There was a big 7-passenger touring car, plus the usual roadster and toy tonneau, each at $2,600. A coupe could be had for $3,000 and a limousine for $4,000.

Sales had been low in 1914, so Cole reduced prices for 1915. Further, there were new designations - again - and even some new cars, too. The Four was now called the Standard 4-40. It lost the toy tonneau, and the remaining cars were offered much cheaper: $1,485 for the two open cars and $1,885 for the coupe. The Six was split into two ranges. The smaller Model 6-50 got a 29 HP engine and a 126 in (3,200 mm). wheelbase. It offered a 4- and a 7-passenger touring car $1,865 (still cheaper than the previous Four), a roadster that became more expensive at $2,465 and the coupe at $2,250. Although the new Big Six 6-60, built on the previous year's 136-inch (3,500 mm) chassis, got a powerful 40 HP engine, prices were lower than the Sixes of yore: Roadster and 7-passenger touring car for $2,465, coupe at $2,750, and limousine at $3,750. Joseph Cole negotiated with William C. Durant about a take-over that would have made Cole a GM subsidiary. Cole finally refused.

Assembled car

Cole could shuffle with models and engines the way it did for two reasons: The first was that until 1915, the company refused to offer their cars on a yearly model change but relied on series that were replaced when management felt the necessity for it. Many early cars were built this way, and Packard, for example, stayed with this system until late in the 1930s.

The second reason was that the Cole was an assembled car; that means that all important components such as engine, clutch, transmission, axles etc. were bought from outside sources. Manufacturers of such cars had a slightly lesser reputation as those who built all parts themselves. For Cole, this was not only the simpler way to build a car, but Joseph Cole thought that specialized suppliers could give more attention to their items. Thus, he preferred the term "standardized car" over the usual "assembled car".

The Cole V-8

Big news came in mid-1915: Only one year after Cadillac had pioneered the V-8 engine, and about at the same time as the mighty Cunningham V-8 debuted, Cole brought out its own V-8 powered automobile - and would stay with it until the very end of the make, dropping its Fours and Sixes after 1916. This engine had a displacement of 346.3 c.i. and delivered 39.2 HP. It was built by Northway, then a division of General Motors that also manufactured the V-8 for Cadillac. The car was named the Model 8-50. It had a 127-inch (3,200 mm) wheelbase. Five body styles were available at prices between $1,785 and $3,250. Targeted at this level were, of course, Cadillac; Stearns-Knight, who came out with a sleeve-valve V-8 in 1916; or Lozier who drastically reduced its prices to about this level for its last season of existence.

Positioned higher were, among others, the Mercer, the McFarlan or the Packard with prices starting at about $3,000; or the Kissel with three full lines of 4- and 6-cylinder cars that were only slightly less expensive.

There were few changes for 1917. The car was now called the Model 860. There were five body styles at about the same price level. Some of them received quite flamboyant designations like "Tuxedo Roadster", "Tourcoupe" or "Toursedan", of which a "Foredoor Toursedan" existed, probably a 2-door sedan. 4193 Cole automobiles were manufactured in that year.

Aggressive marketing

The new kind of marketing became even more apparent in 1918. Advertising slogans were "There's a Touch of Tomorrow In All Cole Does Today" or "Did You Ever Go Ballooning in a Cole?", the latter referring to the adoption of balloon tires as an option that year (they became a standard feature finally in 1925). The car was advertised as the "Aero-Eight" (internally Model 870). There were only three body styles left, a roadster, a "Sportster" and the obligatory touring car. They cost $2,395 each and seated 2, 4, and 7 passengers, respectively . The cars also became more fashionably styled.

The 870 Aero-Eight was technically much the same in 1919 but there were now seven bodies to choose from at prices between $2,595 and $3,795 for the new town car and the "Tourcoupe". Some closed bodies got an octagonal rear quarter window as a "beauty" feature. That year, 6,225 Coles were built.

The "Aero-Eight" Model 880 for 1920 was boldly announced: "The Forecast of Future Fashions". The ad further bragged that there were 15,000 miles (24,000 km) possible on its tires. Available were only three body styles, all of them of an open type: A Roadster for 2 and a Speedster for 4 passengers at $2,750 plus a "Tourster" a.k.a. touring car for $2,850. But naming the product got even more creative. While "Sportsedan" and "Sportcoupe" might sound familiar in our ears, "Sportosine" and "Tourosine" for some closed cars definitely do not. These cars got adjustable, "storm-proofed" windshields that had an angled position. Cole switched to Johnson carburettors and introduced a one-piece rear axle and a brake adjuster. The gear ratio was 4.45 (until 1922). A new measure for power replaced the antiquated N.A.C.C. rating. Thus, the Cole V-8 came in with 80 bhp (60 kW) and stayed there until car production ceased. Prices were slightly up and were between $2,750 and $3995.

1921 Coles were only slightly altered. Most of the exalted terms vanished - but "Sportosine" and "Tourosine" remained. There were 8 body styles that were substantially more expensive: $3,250 for the three open cars and between $4,250 and $4,450 for closed.

Facing the end

Cole opened new, wider production facilities in 1922. Alas, sales went down rapidly, mainly because of a short but severe recession. Although there were more models to choose from and prices were reduced drastically (most to a level under that of 1918 / 1919), only 1,722 cars were built of the Model Aero Eight 890, as the car was called this year. The wheelbase was increased by a quarter inch, and the frame ends were split. The Sportcoupe had a weight of 4,155 pounds. The car was priced at $3,385 with a 75 mph (121 km/h) speedometer.

Innovations in 1923 for the Series 890 Cole were stylish drum-type headlights, cowl ventilation and a new windshield with an adjustable upper half on open cars. Other elegant details were wire wheels instead of the previously used "artillery wheels" with fashionable disc wheels on the option list. For this year only, some cars had an added sporty touch with runningboards that did not span the whole length, leaving the chassis-mounted spare wheels "free". Still, with eight types of bodies, prices for open cars were slightly up while those for closed cars remained the same. The most expensive 1922 model, the $4,185 "Tourosine", was gone as were all those strange names, with the exception of the "Sportsedan". Only 1,522 cars left the factory that year.

In this situation and without any debts yet, J. J. Cole decided to liquidate his company rather than risking his fortune by going on. So, it is no wonder that the Model 890, now also called "Master" series, went little changed on the show room floors. Full-length running boards were back on all models. There were seven body styles, again sharply reduced to prices as low as $2,175 for open bodies, $2,750 for a coupe and $3,075 for other closed cars. A Cole was honored to pace that year's Indy 500 race.

Before the curtain finally fell, there were five cars available for 1925. Balloon tires (34" × 7.3") were now standard equipment, and the cars got new two-piece rear bumpers, so-called "bumperettes". Although Joseph Cole began liquidating his firm early in 1925, 607 cars left the factory. He died suddenly of an infection on August 8, 1925, shortly before liquidation was finished.

Cole Model Overview, 1908–1925

Year Model Engine Type / Cyl. Power bhp (kW) Wheelbase in
1909 Model 30 Straight 2 cyl. 14 bhp (10 kW) 90
1910 Series 30 Straight 4 cyl. 30 bhp (22 kW) 108
1911 Series 30 Straight 4 cyl. 30 bhp (22 kW) 118
1912 Forty Straight 4 cyl. 40 bhp (30 kW) 122
1913 Forty Straight 4 cyl. 40 bhp (30 kW) 116
1913 Fifty Straight 4 cyl. 50 bhp (37 kW) 122
1913 Sixty Straight 6 cyl. 40 bhp (30 kW) 132
1914 Four Straight 4 cyl. 28.9 bhp (21.6 kW) 120
1914 Six Straight 6 cyl. 43.8 bhp (32.7 kW) 136
1915 Standard 4-40 Straight 4 cyl. 40 bhp (30 kW) 120
1915 Model 6-50 Straight 6 cyl. 29 bhp (22 kW) 126
1915 Big Six 6-60 Straight 6 cyl. 39.2 bhp (29.2 kW) 127
1916 Model 8-50 V-8 cyl. 39.2 bhp (29.2 kW) 127
1917 Series 860 V-8 cyl. 39.2 bhp (29.2 kW) 127
1918–1919 Series 870 V-8 cyl. 39.2 bhp (29.2 kW) 127
1920–1921 Aero Eight 880 V-8 cyl. 80 bhp (60 kW) 127
1922 Aero Eight 890 V-8 cyl. 80 bhp (60 kW) 12714
1923–1925 Series 890 V-8 cyl. 80 bhp (60 kW) 12714


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