Rare 1919 4-Door Templar Sportette

No need to go on a crusade to discover the name of this mystery car!  "This car spent most of its life in Montgomery County, Kentucky," notes Merlin Spencer of Frenchburg, who restored the car for owner Ed Roberts of Mt. Sterling.  "There are fewer than 30 known to survive."  The car was built in Lakewood, Ohio for only 8 years.  The name of the car suggests that it was named after the Order of Knights Templar, as the Maltese Cross is also used as its emblem.

 At the time the Model T was selling for $500. - $700., this car was going for a whopping $2,185.  Some features the marquee had that others didn't included an air compressor to pump up the tires, a sight gauge to check the oil with the engine running, and a wooden body with an aluminum skin.  Some models came with a Kodak camera and a compass.  The only feature this curator sees missing is a white peacock feather roof that looks like a chapeau!  Ha! Ha!

A special "Thanks" to Reminisce Extra, 5927 Memory Lane, Greendale, WI 53129.  This car appears in their October, 2000 edition.

Templar was exemplar car with Lakewood birthplace

It was the only automobile built in Lakewood.  A small, four-cylinder car made by Templar Motor Cars from 1917 to 1924, it was manufactured on a 20-acre site south of Athens Avenue to the former New York Central Railroad tracks, between Halstead and Clarence avenues.

Templar Motors was formed by a group of Cleveland investors in 1916, with production starting the following year.  Management took the name Templar from a military order founded in Jerusalem by the crusaders about 1118. It chose the Maltese cross as the car's emblem.

The corporation's main building, a three-story brick, concrete and steel structure with 300,000 square feet of floor space, still stands at 13000 Athens Ave. It now houses 16 tenants, the largest of which is Lake Erie Screw Products Co.

Three of Templar's original officers - President M. F. Bramley, Vice President W. J. Hunkin and Treasurer D. C. Reed - were prominent in Lakewood community affairs.

Their factory complex cost $2.5 million, a whole lot of money then. Plant capacity was 5,000 cars a year, though production was never in excess of a third of that. Actually, total output during Templar's short span on the market was only 6,000 units.

Nevertheless, the automobile that was advertised as "The Superfine Small Car" had a fair-sized sales organization for its time. A 1920 company financial statement boasted of 106 dealerships and distribution centers in 32 states and 15 foreign countries.

The plant turned out 1,850 cars that year, placing it sixth among Clevelend-area automakers and l5th in the United States among manufacturers outside the Detroit area.

There were four models initially - a sedan, a touring car and two sporty versions. At the outset they cost from $1,985 to $2,255. The most eye-catching entry was a touring-roadster introduced in 1921 and priced at $2,885.

The factory handled all final assembly operations and made its own engine, a four-cylinder, overhead-valve design that developed 43 horsepower and was considered more efficient than the majority of American engines of the period. Most of the car's parts were produced by supplier firms.

Lakewoodite Vernon Lieblein, 87, recalls working for Templar Motors as a teenager during the summers of 1917 and 1918, first as a service mechanic, later on the assembly line and finally as a helper in the experimental department.

One of his last assignments was to assist in building a special Templar for a famous race driver of the day, E. G. "Cannonball" Baker, who had a promotional tie-in with the company.

Cannonball would challenge all comers to match his Templar in speed, economy, endurance and reliability, and he set numerous records.

"The car I worked on for him was stripped down and fenderless, and had a top speed of 46 miles per hour, a velocity that was nothing to sneeze at during that infant period in auto history," Lieblein remembered.

"In 1919 he drove it from New York City to Los Angeles in four and a half days - a remarkable feat, considering the atrocious roads of the day. We even put a battleship steel plate under the car to prevent engine damage while crossing rockstrewn Arizona.

"Cannonball was a big hulk of a man, 6 foot 6 and weighing 250 pounds," Lieblein said. "Just before he set out, he told me he had slept for two whole days so that he would have the energy to complete the run."

Newly built Templars were put through their paces on a quarter-mile oval test track the company operated adjacent to the west side of its main plant.

Cornelius Mahall, 75-year-old proprietor of Mahall's Twenty Lanes in Lakewood, grew up near the Templar factory and fondly remembers the test track.

"Watching through the fence, as a 5-year-old kid, I was fascinated by the cars circling around," he recalled.

But all was not beer and skittles for the fledgling car company.

In 1920 it began hurting badly from the post-World War I depression, difficulty in obtaining parts and growing competition from other carmakers. Henry Ford, for example, at times sold his "Tin Lizzie" Model T for less than $300.

Then, on Dec. 13, 1921, a fire broke out, and only the main fireproof building that remains today withstood the blaze. Damage loss, estimated between $250,000 and $300,000, doesn't appear particularly great by today's standards but was crippling 67 years ago.

Although Templar rebounded and was producing at a rate of eight cars a day by April 1922, more problems surfaced. Severe financial losses as well as stockholder controversies soon beset the company.

Finally, in the fall of 1924, Templar defaulted on payment of a substantial loan and was taken over by a Cleveland bank.

Production halted and failure of the company caused about 20,000 investors to lose a total of $6 million, a sum that today, with the effects of inflation, would amount to more than $42 million.





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