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Selling a Dragon

(This article originally appeared in Hemmings Classic Car #107, August 2013)

Selling a Dragon

In the summer of 1906 the Dragon Automobile Company was formed on paper in Maine. Dragon0002 The company held an office in Detroit for a few months before finally creating a production facility and headquarters in Philadelphia, PA that October.  The company’s goal was “to produce the very best car possible for the $2000 price.” The Dragon Automobile Company was a member of the American Motor Car Manufacturers Association; a group fighting the Selden Patent’s stranglehold on the automobile manufacturing industry.

Aside from “dragon” what other word can more quickly spark images of raw power, unchecked speed, intimidation and, of course, fire breathing? With a name like Dragon, advertising has to be good.  At least that’s what I think and I can also imagine advertisers having a field day with that brand name.

Instead of capitalizing on the obvious, copywriters in 1907 decided to take a less aggressive Dragon0001approach to sell the Dragon motor car with phrases like these:

  • If you want a roadster that will split the atmosphere like a canon ball don’t buy a Dragon. It isn’t that kind of car. 
  • It has power to spare for hills and rough going, but not the wild speed that will rack any mechanism to pieces no matter how well made.
  • It might be truthfully said that the 1907 Dragon cars do not offer a single new and untried feature. 

In 1907 the Dragon’s $2000 price tag would get you either a roadster (with detachable rumble seat) or touring car.  Both body styles featured a 4-cylinder T-head engine that would produce 24-26 HP. The sliding gear transmission was a three speed and the car was capable of 48 MPH.   Sales literature specifically describes the paint scheme as dark royal blue with cream running gear.

Reading multiple Dragon sales catalogs paints a clear picture of the cars.  Sure, nobody capitalized on the name or image of the fiery beast but what they did attempt was to create an image of a solid, rugged and dependable automobile.  In 1907 a $2000 car was a mid-priced vehicle; buyers would likely be more interested in dependability and ease of maintenance than innovation and flash.

One 1907 sales catalog also describes the Dragon factory including the excellent machinery and materials that go in to Dragon automobiles and quality control experiments.  Dragon Dragon0003“experiments consist of building a car, running it three months, taking it apart, breaking the parts with a sledge hammer, and submitting the material used to a metallurgist for report.” Reading this makes me wonder if the metallurgist would be able to determine the difference between natural wear over the course of three months and damage from a hefty sledge hammer!

The image of the Dragon Automobile Company as dependable and solid was shattered almost as soon as the company was formed.  As soon as they moved into their Philadelphia factory they were hit with one lawsuit for failure to pay employee salaries and another at the 1907 Automobile Show in New York City from a dealer who claimed Dragon automobiles “were not up to the standard guaranteed, and it was found impossible to get the company to put them in proper repair.”  Financial shakiness showed its head again when, in an effort to secure $136,000, a Philadelphia bank took 200 Dragon automobiles as security and released each unit as sold with some portion of the sale going to pay off the loan.

Dragon Automobile Company would fade from the automobile manufacturing world as quickly as it appeared.  By February, 1908 the company was history.  Dragon left behind some average catalogs, a regal name and, from a sales literature perspective, a question of what could have been.

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