1908 American Berliet (Alco) Model 60 Seven-Passenger Touring
Chassis no. 280604
Motor no. 118604
60 hp, 584.8 cu. in. T-head inline six-cylinder engine, four-speed manual transmission with double chain drive, solid front and rear axles with semi-elliptical leaf springs, and rear-wheel mechanical brakes. Wheelbase: 126 in.
THE AMERICAN BERLIET: ALCO BY ANY OTHER NAME
The early great American automobiles were frequently European designs produced under license by U.S. manufacturers for their wealthy “automobilist” clients, who would no longer have to wait for the latest Napier or Mercedes to arrive from Germany. One of these was France’s beautifully engineered, powerful Berliet, built in Providence, Rhode Island, beginning in 1906, by the American Locomotive Company or “Alco” – a firm which, like Berliet, had achieved its fame in the railroad industry. The design was originally a four-cylinder model with double chain drive, later joined by a six-cylinder model with a 60-horsepower T-head engine. Each car took a full nineteen months to produce to-order, in one of 54 available body styles, at a cost between $6,000 and $7,000 in an era when the average man was fortunate to bring home $600 annually.
Sold under the rather ungainly name of the American Locomotive Motor Car, the company’s product was more commonly referred to as simply the American Berliet, a name that the factory settled on by 1908. The following year, however, the Berliet designs were abandoned and replaced by a new car, the Alco, a high-end automobile of the firm’s own design that had peerless power and quality, and was successful in early American competition, winning the 1909 and 1910 Vanderbilt Cup races.
Thus the original American Berliets, now so few in number, can be seen as the mighty, European-bred predecessors of one of the great legends of the Brass Era.
THE WATERMAN AMERICAN BERLIET
The 1908 Model 60 offered here is a T-head six-cylinder model with a four-speed transmission and chain drive, the largest and most potent American Berliet. The earliest known example of twelve surviving Alco-built automobiles, it was acquired between 1943 and 1945, by George Waterman, Jr., one of the greatest early American collectors, known especially for his preservation of great Brass Era racing machines, as a complete car with a touring car body.
As aforementioned, Alco was very successful in the Vanderbilt Cup, winning both the 1909 and 1910 races with their 60-horsepower six-cylinder model, with a 126 in. wheelbase – a specification identical to that of this automobile. A retired racer, with the vertical dual pedals, would have likely returned after the event to the Alco facilities in Providence, or perhaps to the Boston showroom from which the road car that was transformed into the Vanderbilt racer was originally purloined, neither location far from where Rhode Island native George Waterman made most of his acquisitions. Photographs on the file attest to the configuration of the unrestored chassis as acquired from Waterman – and that it retained all of the above features and marks of history “as acquired.”
AN AWARD-WINNING EXAMPLE
In 1952 the car was sold by Mr. Waterman to William Miller of Tenafly, New York, who replaced the missing rear fenders and prepared it to go on an early Glidden Tour. It was afterward largely stored in the Miller garage, protected by a World War II silk parachute, until 1983, when the current owner succeeded in acquiring it, following a decade of patient negotiation.
Restoration began soon thereafter and continued for 23 years, with careful attention to accuracy and authenticity in every detail of the engine, drivetrain, and coachwork. During the engine rebuild, the crankshaft was drilled for better lubrication, and new connecting rods were fabricated.The body on the car, presumably mounted by Waterman, was carefully reworked by a shop in Stuart, Florida, to be as near as possible to original American Berliet designs, using the illustrations from the factory catalogue.
Following completion of the restoration, the car was shown in Antique Automobile Club of America competition in and received the prestigious AACA Cup, as the finest pre-1921 automobile displayed in its division during the show year, in 2008. It was also shown at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Celebration of Automobiles and driven on the famous Brickyard during the Indianapolis 500’s 100thanniversary year of 2011. It had been specifically invited to the event as a representative of the Alco that had competed at Indy in 1911. The owner proudly notes that during its “demonstration” laps on the Speedway, the car touched 55 mph!
In further demonstrations of its performance, the car was driven in two of the Hill Climb Reenactments at Wilbraham, Massachusetts. It also participated in two of the private Friends of Ancient Road Transportation (FARTs) tours.
Typical of an Alco product, the level of detail throughout is fabulous, including small brass inserts that ensure a tight fit when the top is folded, large acetylene headlamps, gas sidelights, and a wonderfully ornate brass trumpet horn. All brass was restored by the legendary Rick Britton, whose work is considered without peer, and with the exception of the radiator has been clearcoated for ease of maintenance. The gears in the transmission are vanadium chrome-nickel steel. Even the radiator bears the badging of its Swiss manufacturer and the brass dashboard gauges are correct American Berliet pieces. Similar to the famed Oldsmobile Limited, the car is imposing enough that a second “tier” of running board is provided, to aid the rear seat passengers in and out!
Few automobiles of the Brass Era can exceed this car’s immense power and imposing beauty. It is truly one of the finest survivors of its time, built with the quality that one would expect from the legendary “Alco.”