The fledgling automotive industry by 1908 consisted of a number of firms manufacturing steam, electric and gasoline powered vehicles. The motor car was slowly emerging from a status symbol of the wealthy to a vehicle for the masses. The average automobile at this time cost $1,300 or equivalent to the price of a high-end car today.
Entering this market in 1908, the Lexington Motor Car Company of Lexington, Kentucky, began producing the “Lexington Motor Car” – a low, sleek design, with a powerful four-cylinder engine. Compared to contemporary makes, the Lexington’s innovative design received favorable publicity – especially after a strong showing in the 1909 Glidden Reliability Tour – and the company was soon faced with a large backlog of orders. However, production of the Lexington was limited by the availability of components from suppliers and by financial constraints caused by the low capitalization of the company. These limitations eventually led to the company’s relocation in the summer of 1910 to Indiana.
The motor car in 1910 was a rare sight in Lexington, but by 1920, the horse had become the rare sight.
In 1899, John C. Moore, a mechanic from Georgetown, Kentucky, began designing an experimental motor car based upon the emerging technology and available automotive components. His designs called for an “assembled motor car,” utilizing the components made by other manufacturers. Without the need for huge fixed assets in plant and equipment, he was able to keep his costs low enough to launch a new make of motorcar. Over the next eight years, he continued to refine his designs.
In 1907, Moore moved to Lexington to work for the Blue Grass Automobile Company, dealers of the Stoddard – Dayton Motor Car. His work attracted the attention of automobile enthusiasts in Central Kentucky, including Georgetown and Lexington. Over the next year, investors headed by Kinzea Stone, Dr. Francis F. Bryan and Victor K. Dodge developed plans to start up a new motorcar company.[i] The company was eventually located in Lexington, because of the availability of skilled labor and rail connections.
The Lexington Motor Car Company (Incorporated) was founded on December 2, 1908, with authorized capital of fifty thousand ($50,000) dollars - divided into five hundred shares with a par value of one hundred ($100) dollars per share. Twelve initial stockholders subscribed to one hundred and seventy four shares of stock. The corporation was authorized to commence business as soon as fifty percent of the capital was raised.[ii]
The initial investors included: Kinzea Stone – a wealthy wholesale grocer and horse promoter; Dr. Francis F. Bryan – a noted surgeon; Benjamin F. Stone – Kinzea Stone’s brother and successful grocer; John Osborne- farmer with extensive holdings in Scott County; J. P. Jackson – businessman; L. H. McGraw – businessman; Victor A. Bradley – attorney; Charles O’Neill – businessman; John C. Moore – automotive engineer; Garrett D. Wilson – leading horse trader; Victor K. Dodge – owner of the Lexington Lumber Company and Frank O. Young – physician and surgeon.
The investment group quickly raised the remaining capital from local investors, with Stone purchasing an additional two hundred seventy shares (for a total of two hundred ninety five shares). Stone was the firm’s majority stockholder. He appointed his son, Andrew K. Stone, to oversee his investment, and his son commuted daily from Georgetown on the interurban streetcar. Bryan also purchased an additional forty-five shares. The accumulated stock issued fulfilled the capital requirement and the company was officially in business.
During December 1908, the company formally engaged Moore as the firm’s Chief Engineer. In addition, Fred N. Coats, an automotive mechanic, was also hired to be the firm’s General Manager and plant foreman. Coats was formerly employed by the Dayton Motor Car Company, Dayton, Ohio, which built the Stoddard – Dayton Motor Car.[iii] Coats was recommended to the company by Moore, who had worked with him in the past. Garrett D. Wilson, Jr. was hired as the secretary to the President and Harry S. Johnson as Purchasing Agent.
The company held its first stockholders meeting on December 7, 1908, where Bryan, Coats, Kinzea Stone, Moore, Benjamin F. Stone, Dodge and Bradley were appointed as directors. The Board met immediately following to elect Bryan as President, Stone as Vice President and Garrett D. Wilson as Treasurer.
In December 1908, the company set up temporary quarters in the Hernando Building (near Wilson’s offices). In mid December, the company announced that both Coats and Moore “are now in the North contracting for machinery and supplies and hope to have the plant in operations by the middle of February.” The Lexington Leader also reported:
“It was stated Wednesday by a gentleman conversant with the plans of the company that a high grade automobile of excellent pattern is now being designed, which will be made a leader by the new factory. The company expects to be able to turn out its first machine and have it on the market as a model by March 1.”
“As this will be the first automobile factory in Kentucky, and as there are a large number of machines now in this section, the gentlemen who are behind the new enterprise are sanguine of its success.”
The Lexington Herald reported at the same time that the “plans for the new machine are nearing completion . . . and it is stated that by the first of the year patents covering the design of the machine will be applied for.”[iv]
The Board of Directors selected the name “Lexington Motor Car” at a meeting on January 13, 1909. It was quoted that the name suggested “both style and speed.” In addition, the name also took “advantage of the already established reputation of this city abroad.” After the meeting, both Coats and Moore were again sent “North” to finalize orders for engines, tires, wheels and other material. These components were schedule to start arriving in less than one month.[v] On January 22, 1909, the company relocated to offices in the Security Trust Building, until completion of the factory.[vi]
Main Street Plant:
During the fall of 1908, the investment group approached the Lexington Chamber of Commerce for assistance in locating the manufacturing plant site in Lexington. The Chamber, with funds raised from local banks and leading citizens, had established the Lexington Commercial Club to attract manufacturing concerns to Lexington to generate employment and boost the local economy. The Lexington Commercial Club agreed to reimburse the Lexington Motor Car Company for the costs of purchasing a site for the assembly plant. They stipulated that if the plant closed within the next three years, the company would repay the advance in full.
The company purchased a lot on West Main Street (Leestown Pike) during December 1908 from Patrick Sharkey for $1,600 for its assembly plant. The property contained two and six-tenths acres, with four hundred twenty-seven feet fronting on Leestown Pike west of the Catholic Cemetery and across the street from the Lexington Cemetery.[vii] The Palumbo Lumber Company now occupies the property. The plant was located at the edge of Lexington, at the intersection of the Queen & Crescent Railroad (now CSX) and the Belt Line. Both railroads provided siding facilities for the factory. The Belt Line also operated the local streetcar line, on which the company workers commuted daily to reach the plant.
During December 1908, the company finalized plans for its plant. The plant was designed as a cross (each side one hundred fifty-two by forty feet), built of brick with numerous windows (for lighting) and open concrete floor (painted green). Automobiles were to be assembled along one axis, with subassembly and storage along the other. The plant was roughly ten thousand square feet. The capacity of the plant was estimated at about five vehicles per week. The company also projected to employ twenty-five workers.[viii]
During the first week of January 1909, the contract was given to Frank Corbin, a local builder, who commenced work immediately.[ix] In January, a survey revealed that the factory encroached upon the right-of-way of the Queen & Crescent Railroad and the building altered to a rectangle design of roughly seven thousand square feet.[x]
President’s Office (Dr. F. F. Bryan and Garrett D. Wilson, Jr.) <1910>
In early February, construction was nearing completion, with the plant under roof and the concrete floors finished. During the first week of March, the company finished installing the machinery and sorting the components received from suppliers. The office was also relocated to the plant. Production of the first motor car was started on Tuesday, March 16, 1909. The prototype was expected to be competed by April 1, 1909.[xi]
Manager’s Office (Fred N. Coats) <1910>
Engineer’s Office (Harry S. Johnson and John C. Moore) <1910>
Lexington Assembly Plant, 1909 <M>
Factory Floor, 1909 <M>
Upholstery Work, 1909 <M>
The Lexington was assembled a single vehicle at a time, overseen by a skilled mechanic, with a team of helpers and apprentices. The assembly was done at a stationary site, with the frame being set up on sawhorses.
Then axles and springs were attached to the frame. The engine and transmission were installed on the frame and the wheels attached. The completed frame and running gear was then tested and finally painted black.
After the chassis was tested, the wooden body was lowered onto the frame. The body was then painted to the selected color, and the upholstery seats were installed. The completed vehicle was tested again and finally crated for shipment.
Lexington Chassis (rear view of right side) <1910>
A four-cylinder engine produced by Rutenber Motors Company, Logansport, Indiana, powered the Lexingtons. The bore and stroke of 4½” and 5” produced forty-five horsepower. The motor was equipped with a Schebler carburetor, with an optional Bosch magneto ignition system. This powerful engine allowed speeds up to fifty miles per hour, with a cruising speed of thirty miles per hour. The Lexington’s transmission was made by the Warner Gear Company, Muncie, Indiana, and the axles by Timken Roller Bearings, Canton, Ohio. The body was made by the Central Manufacturing Company, Connersville, Indiana.
Lexington Chassis (front view of right side) <1910>
Completed Body Assembly <1910>
The company’s marque or nameplate was “The Lexington Motor Car,” with each car identified with a regal script “Lexington” located on the radiator.
National Automobile Shows:
The company planned to build between one hundred and one hundred fifty automobiles the first year. In January and February 1909, representatives of the company attended the National Auto Shows in New York and Chicago, respectively. While in New York, Coats received the first out of state order from a Western company for two autos – one a roadster and the other a “power” car. The company had forty-three orders by the time the plant was finished. The company also arranged to enter the Lexington in the 1910 National Automobile Shows in Chicago and New York.[xii]
In early April 1909, the first prototype Lexington (a five-seat, forty-five horsepower touring car) was road tested on the streets of Lexington by John Moore. The Lexington Leader stated that the Lexington had “enough power for any road and space enough for any occasion.” In addition, “both of superior materials and on the latest lines there is no reason why the new car should not prove exceedingly popular.” The price was announced at $2,500.[xiii] By May 1909, the company began assembling production models of the Lexington Motor Car.
First Lexington Motor Car at Factory <S>
During April the company decided against entering the Lexington in the Lookout Mountain Hill Climb, set for the end of April. The company indicated “they could not spare the three expert men that would be required on the trip” to Chattanooga. Further, the “officers of the corporation express themselves as very well pleased with the outlook and predicted great things for the car that will make Lexington famous.”[xiv]
Lexington Model A, with Kinzea Stone seated in front <S>
In May 1909 Professor Paul Anderson, and his students, created a testing apparatus to calculate the efficiently of an automobile’s drive train. The testing device consisted of a series of rollers – on which the drive wheels were placed – and testing instruments to determine the traction effort. Anderson was with the State University (now known as the University of Kentucky).
On May 19, 1909, the company provided a new Lexington from the factory for testing. The test showed that ninety-five percent of the engine’s energy was delivered to the wheels at half throttle (twenty-five miles per hour). This indicated a loss of only five percent of the engine’s power. The Lexington Leader commented “the test proved very satisfactory and bears out every claim that the officials of the company have made for their machine.”[xv]
In addition, on May 19, the first Lexington was delivered to Sidney G. Clay of Paris. Clay proudly drove the car home, from the Phoenix Motor Car Garage on Main Street, to his thoroughbred farm on the Paris Pike.[xvi] The second Lexington was sold to John Gund, owner of the Lexington Brewing Company. The next two vehicles were delivered to Kinzea Stone and the fifth to Buford Hendricks of Frankfort. All five were Model A five seat, open touring car. By the end of May, productions reached five vehicles per week and orders were received from California and Florida.[xvii]
Blue Grass Motor Club Race:
In May 1909, the Phoenix Motor Car Company, local dealers for the Lexington Motor Car, issued an open challenge to race the Lexington against any other make. This would be the first public outing for the Lexington. The race was schedule for Saturday, May 29, at the Kentucky Trotting Track. At the same time, the Blue Grass Automobile Club was conducting a series of five-mile races with motorcycles and various motor cars. The notice indicated:
OUR CHALLENGE: TO EDUCATE THE “SHOW ME’S”
We will be on hand with a “LEXINGTON” (a regular Stock Car) for a 50 mile race with any, or all gasoline stock cars, catalogued as under 60 h. p. now represented or sold in Lexington. We do not care whose they are, who made them, nor what they cost. Conditions of the race as follows:
We are to put up the $100.00 above mentioned; all other contestants to enter absolutely free of cost, the winner to take the $100.00.
Car may be stripped as far as owner may desire.
Car must be driven by some bona fide resident of Kentucky and must be some regular stock model and without special motor, special bore of cylinders, etc.
Under no circumstances will racing cars or professional drivers be permitted in any event.
Whoever enters will be up against a car which will run long and fast.
The company registered with American Automobile Association, under the auspices of the local Blue Grass Motor Club, to participate in sponsored races. Each car had to be inspected and certified as “standard” from the factory.[xviii]
The Automobile Races were postponed until Saturday, June 5, because of the muddy condition of the track. During the week leading up to the race, William Muir test-drove the Lexington on practice runs around the track. The day before the race, the Lexington completed a fifty-mile practice race. “The machine negotiated the entire distance in an average of 1:11 ½ per mile, with a variation of less than three-quarters of a second on any two miles. The track record is said to be 1:09 made by Barney Oldfield in a 75 horsepower machine.”[xix]
In the race, the Lexington lost to a Packard. However, the Lexington was delayed twenty-eight minutes at the start with carburetor trouble. The Lexington was raced without a hood and dust from the track clogging the carburetor.[xx]
The company sponsored an open house and reception at the plant for the Commercial Club of Lexington on Friday June 11, 1909. Club members arrived at the factory siding, after a short trip aboard a special train on the Queen & Crescent Railroad, from its station on Harrodsburg Road. The company held the event so “members of the Commercial Club, who put up the money to make it possible to secure the new plant, can see what they have gotten for their money.” It was indicated that the “Lexington Motor Car Company is Lexington’s latest and greatest acquisition to her manufacturing industries and one that she is justly proud of.”[xxi]
Lexington Models A, B & C:
In June 1909, the company printed its first sales catalog, titled The 1910 Lexington. The thirty one-page catalog featured the three models available, with extensive mechanical details. The catalog was shipped by the company to prospective dealers and buyers across the United States. The catalog address also included “USA” for prospective international sales.[xxii]
The Lexington was available in three body styles, which were the Model A - an open, five or seven passenger touring car; Model B - an open, four passenger light touring car (called short coupled) and Model C - an open, two passenger roadster with rumble seat. These models were all noted as 1910. The three body styles were each assigned a different model designation, but were all built with the same chassis and power train. Open vehicles – open to the weather - did not have side windows (windscreens and tops were optional).[xxiii]
1910 Lexington Model A <1910>
The Lexington was priced as follows:
Basic Price: $2,500
Top (front & side curtains): $ 125 ($75 for Model C) / ($12 for boot)
Extra Seat (Tonneau): $ 50 for Model A
Bosch Magneto $ 150
Folding Windscreen $ 40
Seat Covers: $ 40 ($30 for Model C) / ($10 for Tonneau)
Trunk Rack: $ 10
Premium Tires (4 ½”) $ 12.50 per tire
In June, in addition to local sales, the company had also received orders from the Deright Auto Company of Omaha for five (four touring and one roadster), Haynes Auto Company of Minneapolis for two, Houghton & Bell of Richmond, Indiana for two, Collins Auto Company of San Antonio for one touring and Nock Auto Company of Providence, Rhode Island for twenty five. These cars were shipped as soon as the vehicles were available.[xxiv]
1910 Lexington Model B <1910>
1910 Lexington Model C <1910>
The first year serial numbers started at serial number #501 and ranged to #657, indicating that one hundred and fifty seven vehicles were made. Other references indicated that the company built one hundred twenty three automobiles in 1909. It appears that the majority of production was Model A. Production was limited by the late spring start, supply problems and assembly glitches. By the end of the year, a production rate of two vehicles per day was achieved.
In 1910, the company was purchased and relocated to Connersville, Indiana (production continued until 1925).
 Phoenix Motor Car Company was founded in 1909 as the local dealer for the Lexington Motor Car Company. The company was owned in part by Victor K. Dodge and located next to the Phoenix Hotel, at 250 East Main Street, Lexington, Kentucky. The company operated until the 1950s.
[i] The Motor Car is the Magic Carpet of Modern Times, Lexington Motor Company, Connersville, Indiana, circa 1920.
[ii] Fayette County Clerk Office, Lexington, Kentucky, Corporate Record Book 4, page 33-35, Lexington Leader, Lexington, Kentucky, December 3, 1908, page 6, column 4 and Lexington Herald, Lexington, Kentucky, December 4, 1908, page 8, column 4–8.
[iii] Lexington Herald, Lexington, Kentucky, December 17, 1908, page 4, column 6.
[iv] Lexington Leader, Lexington, Kentucky, December 16, 1908, page 1, column 2, December 18, 1908, page 6, column 1 and December 21, 1908, page 7, column 4 and Lexington Herald, Lexington, Kentucky December 17, 1908, page 4, column 7.
[v] Lexington Leader, Lexington, Kentucky, January 13, 1909, page 5, column 5 and Lexington Herald, Lexington, Kentucky, January 13, 1909, page 10, column 4.
[vi] Lexington Leader, Lexington, Kentucky, January 22, 1909, page 8, column 3.
[vii] Fayette County Clerk Office, Lexington, Kentucky, Deed Book 156, page 62.
[viii] Lexington Herald, Lexington, Kentucky, December 17, 1908, page 4, column 6.
[ix] Lexington Leader, Lexington, Kentucky, January 13, 1909, page 5, column 5 and Lexington Herald, Lexington, Kentucky, January 13, 1909, page 10, column 4.
[x] Lexington Leader, Lexington, Kentucky, January 22, 1909, page 8, column 3.
[xi] Lexington Leader, Lexington, Kentucky, February 4 1909, page, column 4, February 17, 1909, page 10, column 3–4, February 28, 1909, page 8, column 2, March 2, 1909, page 3, column 3 and March 15, 1909, page 7 , column 4.
[xii] Lexington Leader, Lexington, Kentucky, February 4, 1909, page 8, column 4 and February 17, 1909, page 10, column 3–4.
[xiii] Lexington Leader, Lexington, Kentucky, April 4, 1909, page 14, column 1–2.
[xiv] Lexington Leader, Lexington, Kentucky, April 14, 1909, page 14, column 1-2 and April 15, 1909, page 7, column 4.
[xv] Lexington Leader, Lexington, Kentucky, May 19, 1909, page 9, column 2.
[xvi] Lexington Leader, Lexington, Kentucky, May 19, 1909, page 9, column 2.
[xvii] Lexington Leader, Lexington, Kentucky, May 21, 1909, page 3, column 3.
[xviii] Lexington Leader, Lexington, Kentucky, May 4, 1909, page 2, column 5 and May 31, 1909, page 3, column 4 and Lexington Herald, Lexington, Kentucky, May 5, 1909, page 8, full page and May 13, 1909, page 8, columns 1–8.
[xix] Lexington Herald, Lexington, Kentucky, June 5, 1909, page 6, column 1.
[xx] Lexington Herald, Lexington, Kentucky, June 6, 1909, page 5, column 4.
[xxi] Lexington Leader, Lexington, Kentucky, January 13, 1909, page 5, column 4, June 10, 1909, page 6, column 5, June 10, 1909, page 6, column 5 and June 11, 1909, page 8, column 1 and Lexington Herald, Lexington, Kentucky, June 10, 1909, page 10, column 2.
[xxii] The 1910 Lexington, Lexington Motor Car Company, Lexington, Kentucky, 1909 and Lexington Leader, Lexington, Kentucky, May 19, 1909, page 9, column 2.
[xxiii] “Could This Be the Year,” by Bill Cuthbert, Horseless Carriage Gazette, Volume 57, Number 6 (November / December 1995), page 25.
[xxiv] Lexington Herald, Lexington, Kentucky, June 20, 1909, section 2, page 6, column 3.