A Roaring Twenties Rarity
This 1928 Elcar Model 8-91 Roadster, manufactured by Indiana’s Elkhart Carriage and Motor Co., is one of only two known surviving examples of an elegant and powerful luxury line now lost to time.
The first Elcars were released in 1915, advertised to the public as “The Car for the Many.” But those included among the later 1928 Travel Air Series such as this Model 8-91 were anything but; most were chauffeur-driven.
Buyers could choose from two different color schemes for their massive, high-end ‘Eights’ at the time of purchase: maroon and tan or green and tan, with upholstery for either selection available in Chase Velmo Mohair.
The exterior expanse of intricate, detailed grillwork was complemented by the seamless, wood-finished molding of its interior.
But the underlying promise of an 8-91 — along with any of Elcar’s other ‘Eight-In-Line’ offerings — was performance. The engine, produced by Pennsylvania’s Lycoming Manufacturing Company, was an eight-cylinder powerhouse, delivering a landmark 86 horsepower to drivers — an industry best for a few brief months before being surpassed by Lycoming’s souped-up, next-generation engine, an exclusive provided stingingly to chief competitor, Auburn.
No Place Like Home
While hardly remembered as a hub of automotive manufacturing, Elkhart was home to more than 20 carmakers between 1905 and 1930, and it seems this particular roadster never ventured too far from its birthplace. The vehicle could once be seen at Elkhart’s since-closed S. Ray Miller Auto Museum, established by a late, local entrepreneur and car enthusiast, prior to becoming part of The JBS Collection.
An Elcar by Any Other Name
As the grip of the Great Depression strangled spending, consumer demand for Elcars dwindled. Confronted with stark, new market conditions, the company shifted production to focus on a niche segment of its business: custom taxicabs.
Elcars were hugely popular with taxi operators in Chicago and New York City throughout the ‘20s. Select body types even included a collapsible hood over the rear seats, allowing tourists better views. Cars were branded with a variety of company names; the Diamond Cab Company and Royal Martel fleets, as well as Manhattan bootlegger and club owner Larry Fay’s ‘El-Fays’ were all Elcars under their badges.
Despite creative attempts to diversify, the economic downturn proved too great for Elcar parent Elkhart Carriage. The company closed in 1931.
1928 Elcar Model 8-91 Roadster Specs:
- 115 hp Lycoming inline eight-cylinder engine
- 127-inch wheelbase
- Belflex suspension
- Originally priced at $1,995
- One of only two in existence