1913 Oldsmobile Defender Series 40 Touring
Engine No. 70401
35 bhp, 267 cu. in. T-head inline four-cylinder engine, four-speed manual transmission, solid front axle and live rear axle with semi-elliptic leaf springs, and two-wheel mechanical brakes. Wheelbase: 116 in.
Once the industry sales leader, with its versatile and economical curved-dash models, Oldsmobile was in new territory by the early ’teens. Ransom Olds’ investors, Samuel Smith and his sons, were steering the company upmarket by 1904, so Olds left – to found Reo. The Smiths’ piece de resistance, the six-cylinder Model Z, a 453 cid 48 bhp behemoth, arrived just as Billy Durant bought the company for his new General Motors. The Model Z would grow up to be the 505 cubic inch Limited, built from 1910 to 1912, in very small quantities.
Meanwhile, the “volume model” keeping Oldsmobile afloat was a four-cylinder car, initially called “Special.” In 1911 it was joined by a larger “Autocrat” model. Taken together, the Special and Autocrat outsold the Limited four-to-one. In 1912, the Special was replaced with the Defender, a 116-inch wheelbase car with an economical 267 cubic inch 35 bhp four. A modest model, it was overshadowed by the Autocrat, but in 1913, buoyed by the Autocrat’s demise, it became the best seller. It was, however, a transitory triumph, for in 1914 a smaller, less-powerful Model 42 (sometimes called “Baby Olds”) took Defender’s place. The Limited was long gone, its six-cylinder bracket taken by a Model 54 that was still mighty (616 cubic inches) but considerably less expensive. Oldsmobile was firmly focused on the mid-price segment, and would stay there until its demise in 2004.
This 1913 Defender has a storied history, having come out of the legendary Barney Pollard collection in Detroit. Pollard was an inveterate accumulator, and at its height his holdings totaled some 1,200 cars, in every stage of condition. During World War II he was under intense pressure to commit them to the scrap drives. As a result, he preserved them by keeping them out of sight, creating a “forest” of poles with heavy beams between them, the hanging the cars vertically and building walls around them. A 1976 fire damaged some of the cars, and others were later sold at auction.
This car was among several purchased by antique and Classic car collector and restorer Manny Souza and a friend after Pollard died in 1981. In remarkable unrestored condition, it had escaped the ignominy of being hung by its nose. Initially bought by the friend from the Pollard estate, it was later sold to Manny. Its restoration began with Tim Ohlendorf in Beecher, Illinois, well known for his work on GM Heritage cars. The engine and transmission were sent to Sheldon Loewenthal in Ohio for rebuilding, including aluminum pistons, a reground camshaft and new roller tappets. After he retired to Massachusetts some 20 years ago, Souza completed the work there with his own mechanic. It was later traded to Souza’s doctor, whose widow sold it to the current owner after the doctor’s passing.
Although its restoration has achieved a comfortable air of patina, the car presents extremely well. Majestic in white, it has luxurious brown buttoned-leather seating. There is a full top of tan canvas, for which a boot is provided when lowered. An Auto Automatic brass windshield protects occupants from drafts.
The engine compartment is clean, while not antiseptically detailed. The engine has been retrofitted with electric starting for convenience, although those who desire the full experience can still wield the starting crank. An electric fuel pump has been fitted for seamless operation. Powered by T-head four cylinder engine with the cylinders cast in pairs, as was the common practice of the day. Transmissions were of the four-speed sliding gear type that received power through a cone clutch.
Majestic Castle brass headlamps capture the car’s frontal aspect, while Gray and Davis sidelamps and an S.M. Hall taillamp complete the complement. All have been cleverly modified for electric operation, using the original flint sparking switch. Brake lights have been devised, too, for safety.
Instrumentation on the varnished wood dashboard includes a key-wind clock with Oldsmobile script face and a 100 mph Jones speedometer. A medallion accompanying the latter cautions police: “The driver knowshis speed. Don’t arrest on guesswork.”
Although the Defender was Oldsmobile’s best-selling model in 1913, its production was barely 1,325 cars in two years. Hardly plenteous when new, they are seldom seen today. This car represents the uncommon opportunity to acquire the best of the lot.