The Big Car Database


The McLaughlin Motor Car Company was a Canadian manufacturer of automobiles.


In 1876 Robert McLaughlin started up the McLaughlin Carriage Company in a blacksmith's shop in Enniskillen, a small village located 20 kilometres (12 mi) north east of Oshawa. The company began making horse-drawn carriages in the mid 19th Century, moving to Oshawa, Ontario in 1876. By 1898 the company was producing more than 25,000 carriages a year, and grossed $1,000,000.00 that year. The company was incorporated as the McLaughlin Carriage Company of Canada Limited. in 1901. By 1915, the company was making one carriage every ten minutes.

Under the leadership of "Colonel" Sam McLaughlin as President in 1907, the company began the manufacture of automobiles. A corporation, the McLaughlin Motor Car Company, was incorporated that year, and formed an alliance for 15 years by exchanging $500,000.00 of Buick stock for $500.000.00 of McLaughlin Stock with William C. Durant. Durant had acquired the Buick Motor Company that later would become General Motors Company, a holding company. Buick engines and various other mechanical parts were brought in from the Buick plant in Flint, Michigan, and incorporated into the Canadian-built automobiles.

During the first few years of operation, the automobiles were known as "McLaughlins". The name was changed to "McLaughlin-Buick" when sales dropped, and returned to "McLaughlin" until 1915 when Chevrolet Motor Company of Canada Limited, owned by McLaughlin, merged both his companies to become General Motors of Canada Limited and allied in 1919 with the Corporation obtaining $10,000,000.00 to build Walkerville plant an establish Canadian Products. The "McLaughlin" name was eventually dropped altogether, leaving the "Buick" marque still in use today. Until 1914, the cars were finished with the same paints and varnishes used on carriages. This meant each vehicle required up to fifteen coats of paint.

In 1918, Sam was Director and Vice-President of General Motors Corporation. The same year he merged the McLaughlin Car Company of Canada and the Chevrolet Car Company of Canada to call it General Motors Car Company of Canada Limited, Sam McLaughlin would go on to be General Motors Vice President in 1918 when Chevrolet owned 54.6% of General Motors stock of $90,000,000.00. Chevrolet was incorporated in the USA. General Motors Corporation gave the McLaughlins GM Stocks to become proprietors of the Canadian plant. As McLaughlin had no sons to carry on the family business, General Motors of Canada was also incorporated.. McLaughlin continued to run the company as chairman of the board of General Motors of Canada, in addition to being vice-president and director of the parent company. He continued to be Vice President and Executive Director to his death.

In 1927 two identical specially designed four-door touring cars were built for the Royal Tour of Canada, one to be shipped ahead to the next city while the other was in use.

Robert Samuel McLaughlin

In 1908 McLaughlin began producing Buick car bodies for William Durant, owner of the Buick Motor Co in Flint, Michigan. When Durant moved on to Chevrolets, McLaughlin began producing them too (1915).

Robert Samuel McLaughlin, industrialist (b at Enniskillen, Ont 8 Sept 1871; d at Oshawa, Ont 6 Jan 1972). After a 3-year apprenticeship in the carriage business owned by his father, Robert McLaughlin, and work in similar establishments in New York, McLaughlin entered into partnership with his father and his brother George in the McLaughlin Carriage Works, Oshawa (1892). When fire destroyed the company's Oshawa factory (1899), 15 municipalities offered financial assistance for relocation near them, but the company stayed in Oshawa, in return for a $50 000 loan repayable "as convenient."

In 1908 McLaughlin began producing Buick car bodies for William Durant, owner of the Buick Motor Co in Flint, Michigan. When Durant moved on to Chevrolets, McLaughlin began producing them too (1915). The business was purchased by General Motors in 1918, and incorporated as General Motors of Canada, with McLaughlin as president. He also served as vice-president of the American parent. By the mid-1920s, the Oshawa plant had 3000 employees and produced more cars for the Canadian and Commonwealth market than the rest of the country combined. McLaughlin retired from active management in 1942, becoming chairman of the board, a position he held until 1967.

In recognition of his support for Canadian educational and medical facilities, including the McLaughlin Planetarium in Toronto, and his work in the Boy Scout movement, McLaughlin received honorary degrees from several Ontario universities. He was named a Companion of the Order of Canada in 1967.

It was his reputation for quality which earned the confidence of his customers and made the McLaughlin Carriage Company the success it became. In 1880, Robert came up with an invention that was to revolutionize the carriage business. His invention was a new type of carriage gear. The gear is that part of a carriage between the body and the wheels: the springs, couplings, chassis, and the mechanism that permits the front wheels to turn and thus steer the vehicle. It was the introduction of the fifth wheel to the gear of his carriage, which made the name of McLaughlin known throughout the country as a safer and smoother riding carriage. The appeal of the gear to other carriage manufacturers was so great that they sent in orders for nearly 20,000. Once the name McLaughlin became known for quality, other carriage makers began buying the gear and soon competitors began purchasing complete carriages.

During his three year apprenticeship in the upholstery shop, young Sam McLaughlin had received a salary of $3.00 a week from which his father had deducted $2.50 for room and board. When he turned 21 in 1892, Sam received all the money his father had deducted, as well as a bonus. He and his brother were then made partners in the business. In town was a building that had been used to build furniture. The furniture business had failed and the building was standing unused. In an unusual deal, the outgrown carriage works was traded in on the new building and production began in the new plant, in 1893. With a continuing growth in the sale of carriages, it was decided to open a branch office. In 1896, George McLaughlin was sent to Saint John, New Brunswick where he opened the first branch away from home. Later, similar branches were opened in Montreal, London, Winnipeg, Regina and Calgary.

All was not to be a bed of roses, however. In 1899, the company suffered a serious loss when its Oshawa plant burned to the ground. There was no insurance on the building or contents and things looked very dark for the future of the business. As it turned out, things were not as bad as they seemed. Robert McLaughlin wanted to stay in Oshawa and with a loan of $50,000 from the city of Oshawa to be repaid "as convenient", he set about rebuilding. When the new plant was opened in the summer of 1900, the business continued to grow.

Then along came a newfangled contraption called the automobile. Quick to see the opportunity, young Sam McLaughlin went to the United States to visit some friends he met at carriage conventions and to investigate the automobile business. Robert McLaughlin conferred with another member of the carriage trade in the states, William Durant, who had purchased the Buick Motor Car Company. A visit to the Buick plant in Flint saw Sam McLaughlin going over every detail of the operation for two and a half days. Final details of the financial arrangement could not be worked out and he left Flint without any plan to build the car in Oshawa. Despite this, he still felt that a car should be built in Canada, and with his brother George, worked out the details. An engineer, Arthur Milbrath was set up in a building set aside as an automobile plant. The plant was equipped with automatic lathes and machines by the dozen, used to produce cars. The cylinders, crankshaft, and pistons were ordered according to specifications, and the engine casting was to be produced in Oshawa. The body was designed by Robert McLaughlin.

Everything was in readiness to produce the first one hundred cars when the engineer became seriously ill and the shop was idled. A hurried call to their old friend, Durant requesting the loan of an engineer brought the McLaughlins unexpected results. Durant himself arrived in Oshawa with two of his executives and a solution to the problem, which could not be resolved earlier in Flint. “It will work” agreed the McLaughlins, and within five minutes after consulting their father, the brothers signed a contract to build the Buick in Canada. Fifteen years was the length of the contract, during which time Durant was to supply Buick motors and McLaughlins would build the rest of the car, including the body. The one hundred cars on which they were working were scrapped, and in 1908, the McLaughlin Car Company produced one hundred and fifty four cars in various models.

Meanwhile, Durant had been buying up companies making cars and automobile parts, and on Sept. 16, 1908 he organized a company and General Motors was born. Buick and Oldsmobile motor car companies joined GM in 1908. Durant added the Oakland and Cadillac cars in 1909. In 1911, Durant set up an independent company known as the Chevrolet Motor Car Company. It was his intention to build the Chevrolet in Toronto but changed his mind and offered the opportunity to Sam McLaughlin. The first McLaughlin built Chevrolet rolled off the line in December 1915.

In 1918, the final decision was made to sell the McLaughlin business to General Motors. The contract to build Buicks would soon be up and it was not expected that as favorable a contract could be acquired again. Chevrolet in the States was now a part of GM and it would hardly be expected that GM would allow McLaughlin to continue making just one of their models. The only condition under which GM would buy the McLaughlin business was that George and Sam remain and run it. So, in 1918, the McLaughlin Motor Car Company and the Chevrolet Motor Car Company of Canada were merged into General Motors of Canada, Limited.

The McLaughlin Carriage Company was sold to a carriage works in Orillia, Ontario in 1915.