Fageol Trucks Were Their True Claim to Fame
The purpose of the Fageol Motors Co. factory, built in 1917, was to build tractors, cars, buses, and trucks, and the stories behind the Fageol trucks, buses, and cars are as interesting as those of the tractors.
Fageol cars, called the ‘Fageol Automobile Deluxe,’ were one of the most expensive cars ever built, with a 1920 price tag of $12,000.
The Fageol brothers, Frank and William, wanted their cars to be the finest and most exclusive passenger cars ever made. The first one was exhibited in January 1917 at the Foreign Car Salon in Chicago, eliciting phenomenal interest and international publicity. Subsequent introductions in New York and San Francisco met with similar success.
In its June 1917 edition, Pacific Service Magazine reported: ‘The company builds the Fageol Car equipped with the famous Hall-Scott 125-horsepower military hydro aeroplane engines. This car can be started from dead stop, reach a speed of 25 miles and stopped all within 40 feet. It is elegantly equipped and sells for $12,000. The Chevrolet factory, nearby, sent a floral tribute with the words, ‘From the lowest to the highest price car.”
The Fageois used a 135- to 145-inch wheelbase, and the engine had six cylinders. Fageol patented a hood design of rear-facing fin louvers positioned atop the hood to help with cooling, although the louvers turned out to be mostly for looks. (Some of the tractors even had ‘blind’ louvers, which didn’t help with cooling at all.)
Unfortunately, the United States’ entry into World War I stopped the production of Fageol automobiles after only three cars were built. A car of such luxury would have been a wartime folly, and additionally, the two men most instrumental in the car’s design were conscripted by the U.S. government to design military vehicles. They were E.J. Hall, a noted engine designer who had made a car called the Comet 10 years earlier, and Col. J.C. Wallace, formerly Packard’s chief mechanical engineer. Together in the service, the two men designed the Liberty airplane engine.
Fageol also built a series of very popular buses that were used worldwide, but the company’s true calling was the truck. After World War I, Fageol Motors Co. began building 2-, 3-, 3 1/2- and 5-ton trucks using four-cylinder engines, and over the years, Fageol introduced a host of inventions that improved trucks. These included the compound transmission, the multiple-speed transmission, air cleaners and reservoir oiling system, all of which became standard in the United States.
Fageol’s prospective truck customers thought in terms of tonnage, not pounds, and the company worked hard to build vehicles that could cope with the rugged Western conditions. These included traveling daily from below sea level to mile-high altitudes under tremendous loads and over very divergent terrain, from desert sands to virgin timber stands.
The company earned a reputation for building rugged, reliable trucks, but despite that, in 1929, it was forced to file for bankruptcy. In 1932, as the Great Depression deepened, Fageol Motors went into receivership; Waukesha Motor Co. and the Central Bank of Oakland assumed control of the operation.
Despite its difficulties, the company introduced new models for the next six years, but in November 1938, Sterling Motors acquired the assets and announced production would cease.
A lumber magnate from Tacoma, Wash., named T.A. Peterman came to the company’s rescue. He purchased Fageol in April 1939 to build a chain-driven logging truck. Two units were built and neither worked, but regular trucks continued to be made and to sell well, and soon, they were renamed ‘Peterbilt’ Trucks. FC
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