Historic Car Brands
The Flanders Automobile Company was a short-lived US-American automobile manufacturer which operated in Detroit, Michigan, from 1910 to 1913. Its product was sold through Studebaker dealerships.
This fine Flanders 20 resides on the NSW South Coast
Walter E Flanders was born on March 4, 1871, in Vermont, USA. As an adult, he found employment as a machine tool salesman and became expert in their use and positioning for manufacturing.
When he was setting up machine tools in the Ford Plant in Detroit in 1906, Henry Ford found him to be so skilled and ingenious at plant layout and work management that he hired him on the spot, giving him the title Works Manager of the Piquette Plant.
Ford’s Charles Sorensen credited Flanders with making many contributions to the early success of the Ford Motor Company. He helped greatly in orienting Ford’s production operations toward the coming era of mass production, including rearranging the layout of machine tools in the plant for a more orderly sequence of operations.
He introduced the concepts of fixed monthly output and of having some parts inventories carried not by the Ford Company, but by its suppliers.
Flanders’ work formed a foundation on which others at Ford would build as they spent the 1908–1913 period developing the concept of a modern assembly line.
However, as Flanders was an extremely outspoken individual, who liked to smoke cigars, he likely had problems with the straight-laced Ford organization, so it should have been no surprise when he left Ford in April of 1908.
Dutch newspaper advertisement for Flanders cars
A short time later, it was announced that he had teamed up with Bernard F Everitt and William Metzger to form EMF. This company acquired the plants and properties of the Wayne Automobile Company and the Northern Automobile Company in Detroit and Port Huron, Michigan, with the express intention of manufacturing the EMF, low-priced, high-volume, four-cylinder cars.
In the beginning, there were two offerings: Model 30 and Model 20. The 30, despite many faults, became a huge success, but failed to outsell the Model T Ford.
Nearly as soon as the plan was put together, the Studebaker brothers came on the scene and reached an agreement with EMF to take half of the output to sell through their extensive world-wide sales distribution.
It is unknown if EMF ever sold any cars, other than through Studebaker. In early 1909, shortly after initial EMF Model 30 production began, Studebaker purchased the stock of Everitt and Metzger, gaining about one-third of the capital stock.
Walter Flanders became the chief executive officer and Fred Fish, general manager of Studebaker, became a director, making close ties between the two companies.
It’s rumoured that Flanders convinced the Studebaker brothers, who held substantial stock in EMF and were its sole distributors in the USA, to buy the defunct factory of the DeLuxe Motor Company in Detroit, to build a new challenger to Ford.
So, EMF dropped its current 20 and concentrated on the Model 30. The new Flanders, retained the ‘20’ moniker and was patterned after the original, smaller EMF.
This little car had a four-cylinder, 20bhp engine, a 100-inch (2450mm) wheelbase and was priced at US$750 in 1910 – then lower than Ford’s T. However, as Ford was able to cut its price regularly, the Flanders was soon more expensive than the Model T.
This car, designed by James Heaslet, was one of the first motor cars designed to allow for economical manufacture in large quantities and featured unit assembly of the motor, steering gear and radiators on a sub-frame, engineered for ease of manufacture.
The engine was monobloc construction, with the exhaust manifold cast into the block and bore of 3.625-inch and a stroke of 3.75-inch. Lubrication was splash, with automatic feed and the clutch was a leather-faced cone.
The transmission was a two-speed slider – the source of the major problem with the car. As a result, later models used the EMF 30 three-speed transmission).
The Flanders 20 remained relatively unchanged during its three-year, 30,707 unit, production run and, in their best year – 1911- EMF and Flanders together ranked second in the industry.
In its first year, the new Model 20 was available in only two body styles: a runabout for two passengers, priced at US$750, and a four-passenger touring car for US$790. More body styles became available in 1911.
Prices then came down, as they did at Ford. The runabout dropped to US$700, and the Suburban that replaced the Touring was set at US$725. This was also the price for a new three-passenger roadster and the first closed car in the range: a coupé for three passengers that cost US$925.
In its last year, a new Touring model as added and, like the Suburban, it cost US$800. The least expensive Flanders was then the Roadster for US$750, followed by the Runabout at US$775. The Coupé became more expensive, at US$1000. The Flanders wheelbase was increased to 102 inches (2600mm) in 1912.
Flanders cars were also built in Canada by the E-M-F Company of Canada LTD, in Walkerville, Ontario.
After Studebaker acquired all the EMF stock, Walter Flanders became a Studebaker employee, continuing to run EMF until Flanders and Studebaker parted company in 1912.
Studebaker replaced the EMF 30 and Flanders 20 with redesigned cars, releasing them as the new Studebaker Models 35 and 25 respectively for 1913, ending the EMF and Flanders models and names.
After Walter Flanders separated from Studebaker, he became re-involved with his old partners Everitt and Metzger in their own automotive venture.
After leaving EMF in 1909, these two partners had developed a new car that was very similar to the Model 30. They then added the Model 50-Six, derived from the Everitt Six-48. This much bigger car had a compressed-air-operated starter and here were two body styles: a three-passenger roadster at US$2200, and a touring car for seven passengers at US$2250.
On December 31, 1912, Walter Flanders created the Standard Motor Company as a shell company that bought US Motor’s assets, free of debt, along with those of the Flanders Motor Company. One month later, Standard renamed itself the Maxwell Motor Company, preserving the name of the US Motor Company’s most popular car.
The Flanders Motor Company plant in Detroit was converted to make the Maxwell Six and the company was valued at US$47 million when this was all over; giving Flanders and his backers a handy profit.
The Maxwell Motor Company was later rescued by Walter P Chrysler and became the foundation for the Chrysler Corporation.
Walter Flanders died in an automobile accident in 1923.