In 1917, Alfred Barley acquired the Michigan Buggy plant in Kalamazoo and started to produce a high-end luxury sports car, his organization: the Barley Motor Car Company. Barley’s plan, build a sports car with smart European styling, the car would sell well in Hollywood and the European continent.
Introduced in 1916 the sports car was called the Roamer. The car was very stylish and was equipped with nickel plated grille modeled after the Rolls-Royce. The Roamer was marketed from its inception as “America’s Smartest Car” and would prove to be successful in many early racing events. After a Roamer with a Rochester-Duesenberg engine set six records for one kilometer, one-, two- three-, four- and five-mile sprints at Daytona Beach in 1921, the advertisements proclaims, “America’s Smartest Car Makes America’s Fastest Mile.”
The man who designed and drove the Roamer at world record speeds was Leyland F. Goodspeed.
Leyland F. Goodspeed was chief of engineering staff at Roamer, with over twenty years of experience as an engineer. Goodspeed was a true auto enthusiast, not only a patent holding engineer, Mr. Goodspeed was a race car driver having participated twice in the Indianapolis 500. At a national level, Goodspeed was a minor celebrity in various automotive circles: manufacturing as well as racing.
Traveling a record speed of 105.1 Goodspeed broke the flying mile record of Ralph Mumford at 102.8 mph at Indianapolis in a Roamer. The stock Roamer was equipped with a Rochester-Duesenberg four cylinder engine. Five years at Roamer, by 1921 Goodspeed’s days were numbered.
In the Fall of 1921 Commonwealth Motors was having financial difficulties. The producer of sedans, tourer and taxicabs. The standard automotive line was in decline, the basic design dated back to 1915 yet the Taxicab line of Mogul taxis was doing quite well and expanding.
Morris Markin was both a Commonwealth supplier of taxicab bodies and a large customer too, buying Commonwealth Mogul Taxicabs for his Chicago based cab syndicate. Markin had control of the Checker Mogul taxi operation in Chicago and sourced all cabs from Commonwealth. Concerned about his investments he merged his companies into Commonwealth and effectively took control of the Commonwealth operations. Over the course of the next two years Markin would transform Commonwealth and create Checker.
By November of 1921 Markin’s impact on Commonwealth would be felt. In the November 21, 1921 Automotive Industries magazine the following item appeared: “Leyland F Goodspeed for the past five years or more Chief of Engineering staff of the Roamer has resigned from at Barley Motor Car Company Co to join forces with Commonwealth Motors of Chicago and Joilet, Illinois. Has been elected vice president in charge of engineering of commonwealth Motors which at the present time in working on a new passenger car.”
It appears that the initial plan was to bring in new talent and revitalize Commonwealth. Late in 1921 Motor Land magazine reported: “Following closely on the numerous rumors which have been current since Leyland F Goodspeed joined Commonwealth Motors as elected vice president in charge of engineering of Commonwealth Motors. It is now a certainty that a new car to be produced by this organization to be exhibited at the New York and Chicago National Automobile Shows
While nothing definite in the way of character of this vehicle in announced it is presumed that Mr. Goodspeed has lend his twenty odd years of experience and reputation to the building of a high grade product. This fact is apparent in the news that the new Commonwealth will bear the name: Goodspeed”.
Markin, always a great promoter appeared to be resurrecting Commonwealth by leveraging the Goodspeed name, by February of 1922 Commonwealth Motors was now starting to lay out the distribution plans for the Goodspeed. In the February 15, 1922 issue of Motor West the following item appeared: “Leyland F Goodspeed vice president and chief engineer of Commonwealth Motors Company of Joliet and Chicago Illinois plans to distribution of the new Goodspeed car made by the Commonwealth Motors which will be limited to eight metropolitan centers in which for the present year only a limited number will be available. Mr. Goodspeed was nine years in perfecting the new piston valve motor for this car.”
In Spring of 1922 the Goodspeed debuted to the public. The Goodspeed was a truly modern and exciting car for 1922. The convertible was built utilizing an all-aluminum body, unique considering most stock cars of the day were based on wood frames. Fenders and hood sills were also made of aluminum. The sports car configuration eliminated running boards and utilized four side steps for entry. According to Automobile Industries magazine “the engine produces a silent running mechanism, free from the clatter often resulting from the use of poppet valves and strong valve springs”. The Goodspeed was years ahead of the industry in terms of engineering on the piston valve motor, clearly Goodspeed had developed an advanced automobile for Commonwealth.
Priced at $5400.00 the car was positioned for the highend customer, three prototypes were produced. The buying public and media were excited, yet nothing came of the Goodspeed, what happened?
When the Goodspeed was introduced, Commonwealth was teetering on the brink of financial failure. The Commonwealth sedans and tourers were not selling and taxicab production was just barely keeping the company afloat. Morris Markin requested that Commonwealth be put into receivership.
By May of 1922 Markin had forced a reorganization of Commonwealth and created Checker Cab Manufacturing. The Commonwealth passenger cars were discontinued and only Mogul Checker taxicab production continued ultimately transforming into the Checker Model H in 1923.
Goodspeed was retained, but he effectively had a new job, turning around production and moving the company from Chicago to Kalamazoo. Goodspeed lead the effort to take over the Knight-Handley and Dort manufacturing facilities. Additionally Goodspeed re-engineered the Model H and launched the Model H-2. The primary difference was the switch from the Herschell-Spellman engines to Buda. Additionally Goodspeed would bring his friend at Barley Jim Stout to Checker as head of experimental engineering.
Meanwhile on the other side of town, Goodspeed’s former employer Barley Motors Company would be expanding its operation. The producer of Roamers sports cars would launch a low cost line of cars called the Barley in 1922. Additionally in 1924, Barley Motor Car Company would launch a purpose built taxicab called the Pennant. Virtually a clone of the Checker it rode on a 115 inch wheelbase and like the Checker Model H-1, it would use a Buda engine.
Markin’s original timeline to introduce the Goodpseed indicated that it would take several years to launch: it no longer made sense to introduced and manufacture. The creation of the Goodspeed would have required significant investments in aluminum body fabrication and engine production for an unproven concept. Markin reorganized and clearly understood that his Taxicab was a cash cow to be exploited, by 1923 Checker was in the black and running the plant 7 days a week, producing 112 cars a day.
Additionally, Markin could see in his own town, Barley was now trying to emulate Checker’s business model. Why invest in the Goodspeed, when it was quite clear the Roamer was having trouble in the same sports car market? Roamer would go out of business in 1929, the Barley and Pennant taxicab were dropped in 1924.
Even though the Goodspeed was never produced, Checker still received great press from the exercise and leveraged it as long as they could. As late as 1963 CMC would put on a search for the Goodspeed literature and photo’s. 1962 was a record sales years for Checker, perhaps CMC was looking to their automotive roots as a means of further promotion? In the early 90’s CMC promotional material would present the Goodspeed story. CMC milked out the Goodspeed indeed.
Additionally its appears that Markin dusted off his multi year plan to introduce the Goodspeed and applied it to the introduction of the Checker Marathon. From 1956 till 1960 Markin initiated a similar regional plan to launch the Checker much like the plan described in 1921. Taken from a page out of the Goodspeed script, Markin was able to generate press and rumors four years prior to the Marathon’s national introduction in 1960.
Sadly for Goodspeed, his car was never put into production. In 1925, Leyland Goodspeed would die in a car crash, any hope for production of the Goodspeed would be lost.
As a postscript it is interesting to note that in 1925 Checker did indeed produce a convertible non taxicab. Several Checker roadsters were sold to the American Blue Book road survey company. The Blue Book Checker convertible were placed in national service mapping out the roads of the USA.
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