With its custom body by Brewster & Co, NY (body no.1874), this particular Simplex Crane Model 5 was an imposing luxury automobile. It featured all the amenities and convenience items one might expect in a car costing 10 to 15 times the average American's annual salary.
The Simplex's longitudinal leaf spring suspension, one at each wheel, was state-of-the-art for the time and provided a reasonably comfortable ride compared to the bouncy two transverse springs found on some cheaper cars.
"To those who demand the utmost in smoothness flexibility and luxurious comfort, this car is dedicated." This line from a Simplex Automobile Company advertisement says it all. The short-lived marquee (1907-1917) built racing and touring cars, but was best known for their high-priced luxury cars, enjoyed by an elite clientele.
In some ways the Crane Simplex was similar to the more famous Duesenberg automobile. Both cars combined high-speed racing engines with luxury design, produced them in very limited numbers, and sold them for extremely high prices. The Crane Simplex chassis was even guaranteed for life as long as it remained the property of the original purchaser. The bodies of the Crane Simplex were built by the best coach builders of the day.
America's Car Museum's Simplex Crane was ordered by John D. Rockefeller Jr. as a birthday present for his father, John D. Rockefeller Sr. The Brewster Body order record dated May 5, 1917 notes "John D. Rockefeller...One 7 passenger Touring body for Crane Simplex Chassis 2358 to be duplicate of the one we have on his crane Simplex 1280...Mr.R is making birthday gift of car to his father and request us to endeavor to have it completed for delivery July 8th. Do our best."
The Rockefellers owned five Simplex Cranes over the years. In 1937, the Rockefellers gave the car to the Boston Museum of Automotive Conveyance which was located in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. The museum housed the collection of two significant car collectors, George H. Waterman, Jr. (who took ownership of the Simplex) and Kirkland H. Gibson, two founders of the Veteran Motor Car Club of America (VMCCA).
A Rockefeller 1918 Crane Simplex Model 5 (Serial No. 2489) is part of the family car collection housed at Kykuit, the Rockefeller family estate and a National Trust Historic Site. The 1918 was outfitted with two bodies, one for summer (open touring) and one for winter (closed touring) motoring.
This 1918 and ACM's 1917 are the only known surviving Crane Simplex automobiles from the five owned by the John D. Rockefeller. Later the car was owned by Mr. Clifford W Unser of Sarasota, Florida. Harold E. LeMay purchased this car in 1995 at auction from Herb Livingston Auctions in Charleston, South Carolina. The owner of record at the time was Bellm's Cars of Yesterday of Sarasota Florida (The collection of Walter Bellm). The car was donated to LeMay - America's Car Museum in 1997 by Harold and Nancy LeMay.
References: Mr. William Bell, Simplex Historian, Member, Society of Automotive Historians
Rev. Frank Wismer, Brewster Historian
NYC Public Library Archives Brewster Orders Book Vol. 5 Page 200
Year: 1917 Make: Simplex Crane Model: Model 5 Style: 4 Door 7 Passenger