Six more forgotten Detroit-built cars

As promised, here’s another group of obscure but interesting automobiles from the glory years of the Motor City. 



Once there were hundreds and now there are three. We would love to have been around Milwaukee Junction and the Michigan Central Belt Line back in the day, when there was a car company springing up on almost every block.

Note that here we’ve been able to provide a number of links that refer to other relevant historical features at Mac’s Motor City Garage. As time goes on, we hope to create a truly comprehensive resource for Motor City car lore, and we’re getting there. For now, here are six more Detroit car makes that are little known today.

See part one of the series here


Founded by William C. Anderson of the Anderson Carriage Co. in 1907, the Detroit Electric was one of America’s best known battery-powered cars. In 1930, the carmaker was acquired by Alfred O. Dunk of the Puritan Machine Co. of Detroit, whose specialty was liquidating troubled automotive manufacturers.

Under Dunk management, the Detroit Electric remained in limited production through 1938, perhaps as late as 1942, often using chassis and bodies shared with gasoline auto producers, including Dodge and Willys-Overland. Today the former Detroit Electric factory is part of the Russell Industrial Center, featured previously at Mac’s Motor City Garage. Shown above is a 1916 dual-drive Coupe.


The Liberty Motor Car Co. (1920 10C Touring shown here) was founded in 1916 by Percy Owen, a former Chalmers executive. The company sold 6,000 cars in 1919 and erected an impressive new plant on Charlevoix Street near Conner, which featured an administration building (still standing) that was a replica of Independence Hall in Philadelphia. But the business turned sour and the company was merged with the Columbia Motor Car Co. in 1923, then folded entirely the following year.


In 1927, the truck-making Graham brothers—Joseph, Robert, and Ray—acquired the Paige-Detroit Motor Co., manufacturer of Paige and Jewett automobiles. With the name changed to Graham-Paige, then simply Graham, the company produced well-regarded cars with influential styling, but with declining commercial success as the Great Depression wore on.

The striking design above, a 1939 Model 96 Coupe, employed the company’s Spirit of Motion theme, known today as the Sharknose. A centrifugal supercharger was also available. Graham-Paige attempted to return as an automobile manufacturer after World War II in partnership with Kaiser-Frazer, but the effort soon fizzled.


The E-M-F Company was founded by and bore the initials of three important pioneers of the Detroit auto industry: Barney Everitt, William Metzger, and Walter Flanders. The factory, which earlier housed the Wayne Automobile Co, another Everitt enterprise, was on Piquette Ave. adjacent to the Ford Piquette plant. Shown above and in the lead photo are two examples of the popular E-M-F Model 30, a touring car and a runabout.

Manufactured from 1909 though 1912, the E-M-F was the number four seller in the United States for a time, with the bulk of the production contracted to Studebaker, which marketed the vehicles through its national wagon dealer organization. But the two companies were soon at odds with each other, possibly over quality control issues—the cars had developed the nickname Every Mechanical Failure. Studebaker bought out the three principals and took over the operation, including the Piquette Ave. plant, and rebadged the products as Studebakers.


You’ve head of Henry Ford. Here’s the tale of Harry Ford (no relation) and his attempt, with backer Hugh Chalmers, to market a low-priced car called the Saxon. While the product (1914 Model 14 roadster shown) was compact and well-engineered, Saxon never approached the economies of scale required to compete with Ford, and the company went out of business in 1923. The former Saxon plant on Wyoming Ave. was later operated by Buick, LaSalle, and Chrysler’s DeSoto division before it was demolished in the 1990s.


In 1932, Studebaker launched the Rockne, a new low-priced brand named for famed Notre Dame head coach Knute Rockne. However, the new company was based not in South Bend, home town for both Studebaker and Notre Dame, but in the venerable Studebaker complex on Piquette Ave. in Detroit. An all-new design, the car was originally created for Willys-Overland by a Detroit engineering firm as a replacement for the Whippet, but Studebaker bought out the project when Willys declared bankruptcy.

Studebaker fared little better as the country spiraled into depression. Studebaker CEO Albert A. Erskine committed suicide on July 1, 1933, while the Rockne division was disbanded that same year with barely 30,000 units produced. A sound automobile by all accounts, the Rockne suffered from unbelievably bad timing. The beautiful gray 1932 Rockne DeLuxe Roadster shown above is owned by Mac’s Motor City Garage reader Gary St. Amour.


3 thoughts on “Six more forgotten Detroit-built cars

  1. That Rockne and Detroit look particularly striking to me.

    It’s obviously exceedingly difficult to run a car company. When there was a huge die-off during the late Fifties recession, it was said that the market wasn’t big enough for more than three companies. Yet now with the Asians and Germans, we have more marques than at that time. Seems like we should have been able to accommodate two or three more back then.

    I would have liked to have seen Studebaker and Packard hang around a little longer, The former was getting very creative, and can you imagine what a Packard could have looked like during the highwater mark of the 60s era Riviera, Eldorado and Mark III?

    With things moving toward electrics, fuel cells, driverless cars and more and more electronics in the vehicle, I keep watching to see if a new wave of automobiles is coming. Sure, Ford and GM are anchored pretty well and have a lot of capital, but few companies survive a hundred years and the recent bankruptcies show that ithere are problems. Investors are big on tech but the internet boom has played out and it would be easy for Silicon Valley to get funding to go into the car business. Tesla is the guide dog.

  2. The mid to late 1930’s Detroit Electrics had some interesting styling – it looked like someone had grafted the front end of a 1930’s car onto the rear end of a 1920’s car!
    Alfred O. Dunk and Puritan Machine Co. would be a interesting topic for a future article.

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