Monday, May 10, 2010
It’s a fair bet to say that when you think of the Knights Templar, you probably envision fearsome guys with swords and lances riding on powerful, snorting, majestic steeds, and not tooting around in four-cylinder, wooden-spoked, open roadsters. But in 1917, that’s just what appeared on the market in America.
Born in Lakewood, Ohio, just outside of Cleveland, the Templar Motors Company came into being. For reasons known only to its founders, they chose to name their upstart company after the Order, and adopted the Maltese Cross as their logo. World War I was raging in Europe, and the new car factory was almost immediately pressed into service manufacturing war munitions. Nevertheless, a few of the company’s first cars rolled off the assembly line, and they were unlike other cars on the road at that time.
From the start, the Templars used an innovative four-cylinder engine design that was more fuel-efficient than most cars of the day, and for the size of the engine, its 43 horsepower output was impressive (by comparison, the 1911 Model T Ford was rated at 22hp. A modern-day Ford Escort manages about 110hp, while a new Corvette cranks out almost 350hp). It’s overhead valve design inspired its name, the "Templar Vitalic Top-Valve Motor."
Templar Motors offered a two-passenger roadster and four- and five-passenger touring cars, priced between $1,985 and $2,255, ($33,000 to $38,000 in 2010), at almost four times the price that Henry Ford was hawking Model T’s. The Templars were truly luxury cars, sporting 27 coats of paint, wooden-spoked wheels, an electric horn, an onboard tire pump, a searchlight, a clock, a locking ignition switch, a windshield wiper, a dashboard light, a complete set of tools, and a unique “neverleak” convertible top. The car also had a special outside compartment that housed a compass and Kodak camera. The company’s advertising called it “The Superfine Small Car.”
In 1920, a Templar Sportette driven by Erwin “Cannonball” Baker (who went on to be the first commissioner of NASCAR) set a series of speed records, including driving from New York to Los Angeles in 4 days, 5 hours, and 43 minutes across mostly mud-soaked, barely passable dirt and gravel roads.
The Templar cars were successful and became the #15 car company out of more than 40 operating in the United States at the time. Between 1917 and 1924, 6,000 Templars were sold by more than 160 dealers. Unfortunately, their history would be similar to the Knights who were their namesake. After a brief period of notable success, they would end literally in flames. Financial mismanagement and a catastrophic fire at their Lakewood plant finally killed off the company by 1924.
Templar Motors is not the only company to use the symbolism of the Order. There are more than 1,900 businesses in the U.S. alone with “Templar” as part of their name. And the next time you are in the grocery, look for King Arthur Flour. Founded in 1790, it is the oldest flour company in America. Its label depicts a Templar knight, carrying a banner with a red cross.
From The Templar Code For Dummies by Christopher Hodapp and Alice VonKannon.
Photo from AutoWeekCollector.com. See also an AW article about this particular car, one of two owned by John L. Smith of Newburgh, Indiana. There are an estimated 30 Templar cars still in existence.