The Big Car Database

Crane Simplex

1912 Crane-Simplex car

Crane-Simplex was a car manufacturer, operating in New York City and New Brunswick, New Jersey, at the beginning of the 20th century.


The Smith and Mabley Manufacturing Co. of New York City was founded by Carleton Raymond Mabley (1878-1963) and his brother-in-law Albert Proctor Smith to import European cars for sale in America. They built their first car in 1904, which was called the S&M Simplex, largely from imported Mercedes parts. The company went bankrupt in 1906 and in 1907 the firm's assets were absorbed into the Simplex Automobile Co. Herman Broesel, passionate about racing, purchased the company and redesigned the Simplex so it could reach speeds of 90 mph (140 km/h). The firm became Crane-Simplex after purchase of the Crane Motor Car Company of Bayonne, New Jersey, which had been founded by Henry Middleton Crane, in 1915. The Crane-Simplex Company was purchased in 1920 by the Mercer Automobile Company but by 1922 ownership had passed to Henry Crane, who then failed to realise an ambition to revive the marque.


The 1904 Smith and Mabley was a touring car model. Equipped with a tonneau, it could seat 5 passengers and sold for US$5500. The vertically mounted water-cooled straight-4, at the front of the car, produced 18 hp (13.4 kW). A 4-speed transmission was fitted. The wood and angle iron-framed car weighed 1200 lb (544 kg). The car used a honeycomb radiator with a fan.

The Crane-Simplex, built in New York, was among the most expensive, largest, most powerful, and well-built luxury cars of the early twentieth century. They were owned by only the wealthiest socialites and entrepreneurs of the time and built by the best coachbuilders in the U.S. Only 121 examples were made.

Notable models

  • 1908 50 Speedcar Roadster (oldest known Simplex)
  • 1909 90 HP Tourabout - large 11 liter straight four engine, with 90 horsepower (67 kW) and 3 valves per cylinder
  • 1915 Roadster - believed to be the only Simplex roadster ever made, with 110 horsepower (82 kW)
  • 1915 Sport Berline Brewster - personal car of Henry Crane and built for 1915 New York Auto Show, sold new for $13,800
  • 1916 Model 5 Holbrook Skiff - built for 1916 New York Auto Show with yacht-inspired design, (including doors in the middle rather than beside passengers and a propeller in back) soon purchased at the San Francisco Auto Show, now owned by Jay Leno
  • 1918 Crane-Simplex - owned by John D. Rockefeller, had two Brewster bodies, for summer and winter seasons, now one of the last surviving Rockefeller family cars

Notable owners

  • Frederick W. Vanderbilt
  • John D. Rockefeller
  • John D. Rockefeller, Jr.
  • Alfred Atmore Pope
  • Theodate Pope Riddle
  • Jay Leno


Simplex engines powered the Dixie series motor boats which won the Harmsworth Trophy four times between 1907 and 1911.

The final chapter for the Simplex Automobile Company

I was asked to do a little research on the Simplex Automobile Company. While doing so I learned a bit more about the many twists and turns of the final years of this esteemed brand. The company was born of a reorganization of the bankrupt Smith & Mabley Manufacturing Company in 1907 - taking the name Simplex Automobile Company. 

Simplex would build 50, 75, and 90 horse power 4 cylinder engines that powered many racing victories through the early teens. In 1914, the company would acquire the Crane Motor Car Company and with it the services of Henry Middlebrook Crane. Henry Crane was an engineer and automotive entrepreneur who had graduated from MIT in 1896. The Horseless Age of July 7,1915 announces the introduction of the new Crane Six. The Simplex-Crane model with the Henry Crane designed 6 cylinder engine (making 110 hp) was the first (and only) 6 cylinder engine offered by Simplex. The Horseless Age of September 15, 1915 dedicated two pages to the new Simplex, explaining in detail the new engine and chassis. Simplex would sell 580 cars (both 4 cylinder and 6 cylinder cars) in 1915 - almost double the number of cars they had sold each of the last two years. Production would drop in 1916 and in 1917 Simplex would only offer one model - the 6 cylinder Crane car now called the Model 5. 

On October 6, 1917, Automobile Topics announced that production of Simplex cars would be discontinued for the duration of the war (WWI). Wright-Martin Aircraft Corporation, the owners of the Simplex Automobile Company plant in New Brunswick, NJ needed the manufacturing capacity to fulfill an order for 450 Hispano-Suize motors (airplanes) for the war effort. Interestingly, the article notes that Simplex's planned output of 325 cars for the year would be completed prior to production being stopped - only 246 cars were actually produced in 1917.

In 1919, the Mercer Motor Company of Trenton, NJ would absorb the assets for the Simplex company (after war production had ended). Many company's struggled in the recession that follow the end of the war and in October of 1920 it was announced that Hare Motors (the selling and distribution company handling Mercer and Locomobile among others) would consolidate manufacturing of Mercer, Simplex, and Locomobile under the Hare Motors name (once approved by the board of directors of each respective company).

Emlen S. Hare, president of Hare Motors stated in The Automobile Journal of October 1920, a reduction in price for the Locomobile ($1350.00) and Mercer ($1000.00) was due to the "suppressed demand occasioned by the insufficient purchasing power of the country through the deflated value of the dollar." Hare appears to have attempted to increase sales through a price reduction and reduce costs through consolation of manufacturing, sales, and service. Hare expressed that they would loose money until the economy improved and greater car sales followed. This was not the approach taken by the majority of manufacturers at the time (many introduced slight price increases for 1921). In North America the recession immediately following World War I turned out to be brief, lasting for only 7 months from August 1918 to March 1919.

Regardless, the effect on Mercer, Simplex, and Locomobile was immediate and very negative. By July 1922, Automotive Industries reported a reorganization of Mercer Motors and reversal of its arrangements with Hare Motors. The article states the Mercer would use the assets of the Simplex Company as part of the collateral to secure the financing related to the reorganization. However, it was not long after (November of 1922) that announcement came of the formation of a new company to continue the Simplex, with the plant and assets being purchased from Mercer by none other than Henry Crane. Plans for a 100 cars per year were spelled out, but it appears production never resumed. The proud Simplex name would be retired for good.

The car shown herein (featured image) is a 1917 Simplex Crane Model 5 (chassis 2333 - the 167th car produced in the last year). This car was purchased in the 1930's from the original owners by Cameron Bradley, who I've written about previously. Mr. Bradley was an early MA based collector who established the Wolfden Antique Auto Museum. This car was sold by Bonhams at the Simeone Museum sale in 2012 for $208,500.