History of the Lexington Motor Company
When someone mentions Lexington, Kentucky, a number of different things may pop into your mind. Perhaps you’ll remember that it was the home of President Abraham Lincoln. Maybe you’ll recognize that it’s the location of the University of Kentucky and the iconic Kentucky Wildcats athletic program. The economy may come to mind, including the presence of the Jif Peanut Butter plant.
One overlooked fact may be that Lexington housed one of the most important automobile manufacturers in United States history: the Lexington Motor Car Company. You probably won’t find many of the brand’s used car lots in Kentucky, but it’s at least worthwhile to recognize the historical significance of the company…
The Beginning Years
The entire story really starts in 1899, when mechanic John C. Moore began designing an experimental vehicle based on the technology already available. Taking advantage of the components he’d seen on other makes of cars, Moore was able to produce a new make for a relatively low cost. Moore soon began working in Lexington for Blue Grass Automobile Company, and his work soon caught the eye of some investors.
The company was founded in 1909 by Kentucky race horse promoter Kinzea Stone, and the Lexington Motor Car Company grew faster than expected, as they were forced to move buildings as production increased. Contributing to the increasing interest in the car was the company’s showing at the 1909 Glidden Reliability Tour, and the subsequent praise it got for it’s sleek design. This was pretty good timing, as a group of Connersville, Indiana businessmen had recognized their community’s reliance on buggies and carriages. This seemingly contradicted the booming automobile industry.
The Lexington Motor Car Company was asked to move once again to a larger plant in Connersville, and Moore, the company’s chief engineer, immediately worked on ways to improve his company’s vehicles. Among the first innovations were the inclusion of multiple exhaust, which reportedly gave a vehicle 30-percent more power on significantly less fuel. The original Lexington cars were typical four-cylinder automobiles, typically built in five, seven, or limousine capacities. That wasn’t it for features.
“Rather than use an indifferent lot of parts, as constructed in their own shop, the same having been running but a few months, the company have given prospective customers the benefit of the doubt, and will use only tried and proven parts as made by the country’s best specialists in those particular lines,” an advertisement for the 1909 Lexington Model A read.
A New Owner Appears…
As the company struggled through financial difficulties in 1913, Lexington Motor Car Company was purchased by E.W. Ansted, who was tasked with creating a six-cylinder Howard. After a couple years of the ‘Lexington-Howard’ company, the Lexington Motor Car Company once again resumed using it’s former name. However, the inclusion of Ansted wasn’t a bad thing, as he supplemented the four-cylinder engines with a ‘light six’ (capable of producing 29 horsepower) or ‘supreme six’ (capable of 41 horsepower) engine.
These new engines resulted in a popularity boom for Lexington, and the company again moved factories in 1915. Their new location included the iconic smokestack with the Lexington name written on the side. Among the changes in the next five years were the revamping of the car’s frame, including a new rigid box cross-section that eliminated any jamming door issues. Emergency brakes were soon added, and hardtop enclosures were included thereafter.
As this time, Lexington cars were generally in the middle of the pack in regards to pricing. The Thoroughbred Six sold for $2,875, which was essentially the priciest car on the market, but the Minute Man Six tourer and convertible sedan sold for $1,185 and $1,350, respectively. Meanwhile, the Enger 40 ($2,000), the Oakland 40 ($1,600) and Colt Runabout ($1,500) all topped the Lexington vehicles, while the Oldsmobile Runabout ($650) and Ford Model T ($440) cost significantly less.
The company further raised their notoriety following the 1920 Pikes Peak hill climb, when two short-wheelbase race cars (accompanied by the Ansted engine) finished first and second in the race. That same year, the company merged with Ansted Engineering Company and Connersville Foundry Corporation in a $10 million merger. The year would also be the peak of the company’s production, with over 6,000 vehicles built.
A Wrench in the Gears
Despite the fact that Lexington’s parent company, the United State Automotive Corporation, owned ten different factories around the country, the Lexington Motor Car Company began running into issues in the 1920s. General Motors founder William C. Durant asked the company to produce 30,000 Ansted engines for his Durant Six, a vehicle produced by Durant Motors , Inc. Lexington was later sued by General Motors consulting engineer (and Brush Runabout designer) Alanson P. Brush, with the engineer claiming that the Ansted engines infringed on a number of his patents.
By 1923, Lexington’s production fell to about 2,000 vehicles. This decline could be attributed to the negative press surrounding the Brush lawsuit, as well as the post-World War I recession that resulted in the failings of many American automobile companies. Between 1926 and 1927, E.L. Cord’s Auburn Automobile Company purchased the Lexington Motor Car Company, and Lexington was soon phased out. The factories were later used to make Auburns, Cords, Packard-Darrins and Army Jeeps.
While many car companies in the early 1900s were just trying to keep up with the competition, the Lexington Motor Car Company consistently strived to be innovative. Their six-cylinder engine was ahead of it’s time, and the company’s performance in various races brought it unmatched notoriety. There’s no guessing what could have became of the company if not for a pesky lawsuit and an unavoidable recession. Regardless, the Lexington Motor Company had solidified it’s place in automotive history.
The next time you’re driving around Lexington, Kentucky, remember the rich automotive history that accompanies the city (in addition to Lexington Motor Company, the Toyota Motor Manufacturing Kentucky plant is in Georgetown, which is within the Lexington CSA.) When you ultimately decide to purchase a car, head into Dan Cummins dealership. You likely won’t see anything as old as a Lexington, but it will certainly make you appreciate your new vehicle, nonetheless.