(This article originally appeared in Hemmings Classic Car #111, December 2013)
A Company that Couldn’t Live Up to its Name
If Wile E. Coyote chose to drive a car, there is no doubt that it would be an Acme. Unfortunately for the coyote, he would have to do without rocket power. He would also have to travel back in time and out of the desert to 1903 when the Acme Motor Car Company got its start in Reading, PA, not far from where Charles Duryea was testing, manufacturing and selling cars during the same time period. Acme, like many early automobile manufacturers, started life as a bicycle manufacturer in the 1890s. As the bicycle craze waned and the automobile took root attention was shifted to the larger, more profitable machines.
For the 1904 model year Acme offered one single model; a 16-HP Touring Car. By 1905, however, Acme sales literature shows that the company was building four different models, the Type IX, Type X, Type VI, and Type VIII. The Type IX featured a single-cylinder, 9 horsepower engine and a 76” wheel base. The Type X shared the 76” wheel base but offered more power with its 16 horsepower, two-cylinder engine. The type VI model shared the same engine as the Type X vehicles but stretched out on a 84” wheelbase. Proportions increased greatly with the Type VIII where a 40 horsepower 4-cylinder engine ran in a 102 ½” wheel base chassis. While the Type IX, X, VIII models were only offered in a single body style, the Type VI could be had with three different bodies including a standard touring car, delivery body or an enclosed opera sedan.
The 9 1/8” X 6 1/8” sales catalog from 1905 is not flashy at all. Aside from a splash of color on the front cover and blue thread along its spine, the contents of the catalog simply list vehicle specifications with some black & white illustrations. The catalog closes with testimonial letters from satisfied customers.
Acme’s early sales slogan, “From Steel Bar to Finished Car”, boasted the fact that the Acme Motor Car Company actually had manufacturing capability and did not simply assemble cars. This allowed the company to offer an unconditional guarantee on their cars for one full year. Customers had to quickly take advantage of this guarantee as Acme was already in financial trouble by 1906 but Acme struggled on and produced an interesting sales catalog for the 1908 campaign.
In the 1908 sales catalog, Acme chose to highlight the vehicle’s reputation by emphasizing reliability, simplicity and economy. To do this, several catalog pages focused on the February 25, 1908 Economy Run on Long Island, NY and a March 19, 1908 road race in Savannah, GA. In reporting the economy run writers emphasized the Acme’s ability to cover 254 miles at a pace of 30 mph – fast enough to defeat the “20 or 22 contestants in this event.” For the Savannah road race writers reminded the reader that Acme did not produce race cars and their entry “was strictly a stock car right off the assembling floor” but fast and reliable enough to capture third place.
An entertaining claim was made in the 1908 sales catalog when authors stated “All of the Acme cars built in the past are in service to-day – not one has ever reached the scrap pile.” We can’t find solid production numbers for the Acme but think this claim was a little bit of a stretch. Surely one Acme met an early end, whether it fell of a cliff or was just poorly maintained, but this claim is in keeping with early 1900s advertising.
Acme cars were not cheap. In fact, the average cost for an Acme car was $3750. This high price and a highly competitive market likely contributed to the demise of the company in 1911. At that time it was sold to the S.G.V. Car Company who would take up residence in the Reading factory for another four years before it too would crumble.
Acme & S.G.V. companies are now just a footnote in Pennsylvania’s vehicle manufacturing history. If you happen to find an Acme sales catalog at auction be sure to grab it because if you don’t, Wile E. Coyote surely will.