Another five forgotten Detroit-built cars

1935 Terraplane Chris-CraftMac’s Motor City Garage presents another batch of obscure Detroit automotive makes. How many do you recognize? 



MCG honestly doesn’t know how many automobile manufacturers have been based in the Detroit area. We only know there’s been a lot of them over the last century or more, and that so far we’re only scratching the surface. For your review, here are the features we’ve done to date:

+   Five forgotten Detroit-built cars    Thomas-Detroit, Anhut, Krit, Rickenbacker, Columbia

+   Six more forgotten Detroit-built cars   Detroit, Liberty, Graham, EMF, Saxon, Rockne

+   Four more forgotten Detroit-built cars    Hupp-Yeats, King, Northern, Harroun 

And now, five more forgotten makes with origins in the Motor City.


1922 Detroit Air-Cooled PhaetonOne of many unrelated makes to use the Detroit name, the Detroit Air-Cooled of 1922-23 was also marketed as the D.A.C. Its most novel feature was the engine, a fan-cooled aluminum V6 with a narrow 30-degree bank angle and pullrod-actuated overhead valves. Sources estimate that around 100 vehicles were produced at the company’s Wayne, Michigan plant.


Divco Model U Cloverdale FarmsForgotten today, the Divco delivery car was once ubiquitous in American neighborhoods, delivering milk, bread, and other goods. The venerable Model U, shown here, was introduced in 1938 with a signature rounded nose and a step-down frame that permitted a stand-and-drive operating position. Divco vehicles were manufactured in various locations around the Motor City, including the Continental plant on Jefferson Avenue and a dedicated facility on Hoover Road.


Benham Six TouringA large and expensive assembled car powered by a big 48 hp Continental six, the Benham was a successor brand to the S&M (Strobel & Martin) auto, also of Detroit. The circa 1913-14 operation might be best remembered today for its chief engineer, Owen Skelton, who later found fame as a member of Chrysler’s renowned engineering team, the Three Musketeers: Skelton, Carl Breer, and Fred Zeder. Production was only in the dozens, evidently, but one Benham car in unrestored condition resides at the Canton Classic Car Museum in Canton, Ohio.


1910 Owen Touring with Ty CobbThe short-lived Owen automobile of 1910 featured a 120-inch wheelbase, tall 42-inch wheels, a factory on East Grand Boulevard next door to the Packard plant, and Detroit Tiger Ty Cobb (shown here) as celebrity endorser. The effort failed to thrive, but the Owen brothers emerged a few years later as the producers of the Owen Magnetic, the pioneer hybrid auto that employed the Entz electric transmission.


1935 Terraplane Convertible CoupeStarting in 1932, the Hudson Motor Car Co. phased out its Essex companion brand and introduced a jazzy new name, Terraplane, for the company’s junior line. In 1933 a Terraplane with straight-eight power was available—one of the few value-priced cars that could match the new Ford V8 in performance. Bank robber John Dillinger was a fan. The 1935 Terraplanes (shown here and in the lead photo above) turned heads with their bold, advanced styling. The Terraplane ad pitch: “On the sea that’s aquaplaning, in the air that’s aeroplaning, but on the land, in the traffic, on the hills, hot diggity dog, that’s Terraplaning!”


14 thoughts on “Another five forgotten Detroit-built cars

  1. You mention the Continental engine plant in Detroit, but have never covered their cars, the ’33 Beacon, Flyer, Ace and Red Seal for ’34.

    • I hope you aren’t taking it personally. The story of the Continental plant on Jefferson Ave is a complicated one and I would like to give it justice eventually.

  2. ” Owen automobile of 1910……. tall 42-inch wheels”

    And these days we chuckle about “wagon wheels” on certain “show cars”.

    Curious if other makes from that era used wheels of that size and if not who they sourced tires from.

    • In this era, the Olds Limited (among others) also used these giant wheels…which is interesting in that the Olds and Owen companies were related by common investors. Would be interesting to see if there were other similarities.

      • Interesting trivia/detail. I’m not really up on the “old” vehicles. My interest is mainly from the 30’s thru the 60’s, like the majority of the boomers.

        Thanks for the info.

  3. Contrary to many manufacturers, the Benham proudly touted it’s assembled car status, pointing out the sources of all it’s key components in its advertising. I wonder if their suppliers helped subsidize those ads.

    Thanks for mentioning one of the coolest cars ever made, the Owen Magnetic as a successor to the Detroit built Owen. Over its six year life span, it was built in three different cities but not one of them was in Michigan. There is a wonderful example on display in the Crawford Auto/Aviation Collection in Cleveland.

  4. I know about chassis pullrods, but what are engine pullrods? What is this stand-and- drive you speak of? MCG, you’ve launched a google fest!

  5. Sadly, I only got two. The Divco was easy. I thought the lead photo was a Reo and had Apperson for the Detroit. , The others were older than I follow. There were so many manufacturers before 1930 that it’s a wonder anyone can pick one out. I’m only reliable to about 1946.

  6. Where I am Hudson Terraplanes are not forgotten. That name, at least here in Oz went until after the war. Collector and Mallala race circuit owner Clem Smith has about half a dozen most 30s Terraplanes. He raced one as a stockcar in the 50s on dirt.
    And yes the 42″ wheels amused me too. The kiddy car brigade is W A Y behind in wheel size!
    The Benham is an example of ‘propietry’ motor vehicle assembly. Still practiced by a few small operators even now world wide. Generally ok cars but short on originality.

  7. That Terraplane sure has some nice lines!

    I don’t remember anyone using Divco trucks in my area, but they may have been used in the larger cities. I bet the safety folks would disapprove of standing and driving now!

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