(This article originally appeared in Hemmings Classic Car #117, June 2014)
Like most car people, I’ve been curious about early car companies that have the same name as me. Before I was born my parents decided on my first and middle names. My first name was selected because it has been popular for at least a billion years but my middle name was planned to be the same as my father’s middle name. The middle name I have is Alan and my parents unwittingly made my initials spell “CAR”. When it came time to give my information for the birth certificate my father was not in the hospital room so my mom dutifully entered my middle name as Alan. Unfortunately, my father spells his middle name as Allen.
The Allen car got its start in 1913 when the Peabody Buggy Company reorganized in Fostoria, OH. Their first car, the “Allen 40” was a 27-horsepower, five-passenger touring car on a 118” wheelbase. It featured a full-floating rear axle, an Autolite electric starting and lighting system and “nothing else new or radical.”
By 1915 Allen would offer four different models with two different engines; the same 27-horsepower unit used in 1913 and a smaller, 21-horsepower unit used in smaller models that were being offered for as little as $875. Sales for each year during the mid-teens approached 2,000 cars.
When you read news articles about the Allen from its start in 1913 through the late teens it would appear on paper that all was well. During the company’s first seven years Allen absorbed Sommers Engine manufacturing, built a new plant in Fostoria in 1917 and acquired the Columbus Buggy Corporation in 1919. The reality for the Allen is that sales started to dwindle as early as 1918 and the company landed in receivership in 1920. They simply couldn’t compete with a poor economy and by offering cars that didn’t evolve or improve much. The company would cease to exist by late 1922 but not before one last-ditch effort was made in 1921 and 1922 with “Artcraft” models that offered vivid body colors “named after the precious stones they resemble – Sapphire, Garnet, Turquoise and Amethyst.”
Sales literature for the Allen is, for the most part, quite nice. They regularly used color, provided extensive illustrations and, in addition to specifications, provided great detail on interior upholstery and exterior paint details. The Allen stylized logo is quite nice and shown extensively through all sales pieces.
The most beautiful piece of Allen literature is from 1918 and it sells the Series 41 and measures 4 ½” X 9 5/8”. The front cover shows the Allen 41 driving through a redwood forest and the back cover shows the Series 41 in the shadow of New York City’s Woolworth Building. Inside, the catalog folds open to 13 5/8” X 9 5/8” and it provides full-color illustrations of the Series 41 body styles, chassis, and special features like electric controls on the steering column and floating rear axle.
While Allen effectively used color in sales literature early on, they failed to capitalize on that tool with their Artcraft models in 1921 and 1922. Likely because of the companies failing financial health, these late catalogs provide simple black & white illustrations of the Artcraft bodies and a list of basic specifications. Had they been introduced during a different time in Allen’s life these Artcraft catalogs could have been jaw-dropping.
Finding information on cars that match your name can be fun. Look through a copy of The Standard Catalog of American Cars and see what cars match your name. If you can’t find anything that matches your name then fall back on the name you were supposed to have – it worked for me!