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Sexy Saxon still going strong after a century

Graham Hodder at the wheel of the Saxon. PHOTOS/KEVIN BALL

KEVIN BALL

A handsome little 106-year-old touring car is bound to be the centre of attention when the Wairarapa branch of the Vintage Car Club stages its premier event, the Rex Porter Memorial Rally, tomorrow.

The 1914 Saxon Model B1 open two-seater is unusual in that it has been in the Hodder family of Featherston for 103 of those years. It was imported new from the United States by AM Lewis and Son, of Gisborne, and sold to an army officer, possibly named Captain Salt, serving at the Featherston training camp.

Present owner Graham Hodder’s aunt bought the car in 1917, during World War I, and used it until World War II, when tyres became difficult to get.

It was placed on blocks and not used until the Featherston Centenary in 1957 when, running on borrowed tyres, it took part in the celebrations. Then it was back into storage until the late 80s, when Graham Hodder, the only son in the family, became interested in having it restored.

The work was entrusted to Nigel Weber, of Dannevirke and completed, beautifully, in 1989. In later years fellow Wairarapa VCC member the late Chris Slater sorted the car’s smoking problem.

1959: Leading the parade … the Saxon heads off at the start of the Wairarapa branch of the Vintage Car Club’s 50th anniversary celebration.

The Saxon is an impressive wee beast. The four-cylinder side-valve 1.4-litre engine develops 12.1hp. It was designed by Ferro and built by Continental and gives a top speed of 56kmh [35mph] and cruising speed of 48kmh [30mph]. Fuel consumption when touring is 9.41 litres per 100km [30 miles per gallon]. Drive is through a multi-disc clutch to a two-speed and reverse unit on the rear axle banjo housing.

A foot pedal operates contracting brakes on the hubs of the rear wheels. The handbrake is of the internal expanding type on the same hubs. Both can be relined. Suspension is by way of four quarter-eliptic springs.

The wheels are artillery-type 71cm [28-inch].

Founded by Hugh Chalmers and Harry W. Ford [no relation to Henry], the Saxon Motor Car Company was located in Detroit, Michigan.

The idea of building the Saxon was conceived in 1912 by Hugh Chalmers, whose ‘Chalmers car’ was among the most popular in the United States. Chalmers thought that consumers wanted a small car that was well made and economical.

Finally, the Saxon car appeared in late 1913. This first model, denoted ‘A’, was a small car — a two-seat roadster with a 4-cylinder, 1.4-litre engine designed by Ferro, built by Continental, which was water cooled and which developed 12hp.

The original gearbox was two-speed but was soon replaced by a three-speed. The electric lights were optionally available at an additional cost of $70. The original lighting was by carbide gas from a generator mounted on the running board. Electric lighting became standard in 1915.

This car was sold at the price of a cyclecar and cost only $395, and although it was more like a cyclecar than a conventional car, its features realised the dreams of many people, so sales were high from the start.

During the first year 3000 units were produced. The power, speed and endurance of the Saxon roadster put it far beyond cyclecar experiments of earlier years.

The engine of the Saxon was light, powerful, efficient, and durable. In 1914, a Saxon car travelled from New York to San Francisco in 30 days, which represented a real achievement for the time. During this journey of 6500km, the Saxon averaged 200km a day and consumed an average of 12 litres per 100 km.

In 1915, Harry W. Ford took over the company. That same year the Saxon Six model appeared, which sold for $785. This model was followed in 1917 by a sedan. In 1916, Saxon’s line included the Saxon Model 14, with a 4-cylinder, 12 hp engine and the new Saxon Model S-2 with a 6-cylinder, 20 hp Continental engine.

1917, when 28,219 units were produced, was the best year for Saxon, which became the eighth largest producer of automobiles in the United States. However, Harry W. Ford fell ill and died at the end of that year.

In 1920 Saxon introduced a new model with a 4-cylinder, 45hp, overhead valve engine. It was called the Saxon Duplex and was one of the most expensive cars of its class.

In 1921 production fell to 521 units as the company suffered through the recession caused by World War I. Six-cylinder cars were withdrawn from Saxon’s line.

In 1922 the company was sold to the Ace factory and moved to Ypsilanti, Michigan, where production and sales continued, using the existing stock of Duplex engines. In 1923 the last cars were sold and the company went into bankruptcy late in the year.

Graham said the biggest problem with driving the Saxon was other motorists.

“They overtake in silly places, pull alongside shouting and waving, it’s challenging; they don’t understand the dynamics of an old car like this,” he said. “And the braking is limited.”

Obviously, due to its age, the Saxon has a lot of history. Graham tells of his grandfather driving around with flagons of beer under the seat during the Prohibition years. And there was the chap who recalled playing under and on the car as a child. The man was now 83, but the memory was fresh.

Graham, a semi-retired farmer, and his wife Joy have two sons, which raises the issue of succession. However he has just purchased a 1930 Ford Model A phaeton, more comfortable and practical than the Saxon, so that will be one each for the boys when he eventually trudges off to the great cowshed in the sky.

In the meantime, Graham and Joy will continue to enjoy the little car, rain, hail or shine. It doesn’t have a hood – “it didn’t look right” Graham said – so they take whatever the weather gods send them. But a sunny day tomorrow would be welcome.

The cars can be seen at the VCC clubrooms, next to the hockey turf at Clareville, from 9.30am tomorrow, before they leave on their run at 10am.

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