By Steve Jansen
Charles T. Jeffery was a bicycle manufacturer in 1887 and sold bikes under the name Rambler. After apparently becoming bored with the business, he sold his bicycle plant but kept the Rambler name.
In 1898, he and his son Thomas designed their first automobile. In 1904 the first Model ‘L’ went into production using the Rambler name. Following Oldsmobile, they were the second company to use the assembly line method. (Ford didn’t use this method until 1908 with the Model T). The Jeffery Company was the first to replace the tiller with a steering wheel. It also took the engine and placed it in the front instead of under the seat.
In 1910, Charles Jeffery died, but Thomas continued to build Rambler autos. In 1914, to honor his father, Thomas introduced a new model and named it the Jeffery. This model was produced from 1914-1916 and it is estimated that 1,350 cars were built.
After Durant was rehired for the third time by General Motors, the CEO of GM decided to resign and buy his own auto factory. His name was Charles Nash. He purchased the factory in August of 1916. Since the Rambler name came with the sale, he changed the Jeffery logo to what we know today. This same model was continued under the Rambler logo until 1918, when a new model was introduced.
We have all heard the stories about “barn finds,” but this one is a little different. Judging from the VIN numbers, it looks like this car was built sometime in July of 1916. The history only dates back to 1964 when it was purchased and at that time the owner installed a new top (it was never taken out of the tonneau). The owner who bought the car after its barn stay had the jump seats redone and had the Speedo rebuilt. Since he didn’t know how long it had been broken he had it reset to zero. We know it read 7,600 miles when it broke. The man then took it on a short tour with his neighbor, who also owned a 1914 Jeffery. This tour was just short of 100 miles. The next time was a parade when the starter quit with a speedo reading of 103 miles.
It was determined that the starter switch was bad. After trying to get it to work, he gave up and pushed the car to the back of his garage and it soon became his storage center. It had so much piled on it that the car was virtually forgotten. After the owner’s death in 2005, the car was sold. The new owner tried to fix this switch, but gave up and also put it into storage. This owner died in January 2013 and the car was hauled to the California Auto Museum to be sold on consignment. That’s when I purchased it. The speedo still showed 103 miles.
This starter switch in question is a Bijur. I had never seen one before. This switch is the reason the car has so few miles and probably why I have it today. It is a heal start switch, meaning you press it down with your heal. It is both electrical and mechanical; as the button is pressed, there is a resistor dropping the 6-volt system down to 3 volts, turning the starter very slowly. The mechanical arm engages the drive gear into the ring gear to avoid a clash. At the same time they mesh together, 6 volts are applied to the starter. This is a 6-volt positive ground system with voltage always applied to the starter, then a second cable leaves the starter and terminates on the switch to complete the circuit.
After my repairs were made, the compression was checked and all cylinders had the same compression of about 15 lbs. I was then able to scope the cylinders and found the hone marks still on the cylinders and no ring ridge. I scoped the crank case and to my surprise everything was still shiney. I changed the perfectly still-clean old oil and and put Marvel Mystery oil both in the crank case and cylinders. I cranked her over a few times for about three days and then again checked the compression. It was up to 25 lbs. At that point, I filled the vacuum fuel pump with gas and the old girl that sat for 50 years fired right up.
It took about three days to rebuild the fuel pump, clean the gas tank and seal it. While doing this, I ran the car about 20 minutes using the old technique of the gas can on the seat with a hose to the carburetor. Today, one year and almost 500 miles later, the compression is sitting at 50-55 lbs.
The car came with three of the original Firestone non-skid tires and two of them still had the red tubes. The 34 x 4 tires are getting hard to find, so I switched to period correct Goodrich tires. With a few minor exceptions, the old girl has been trouble free and starts right up every time.
Jeffery owned 50 percent of the Seaman body company and Seaman supplied the body for this car. When Nash purchased Jeffery he purchased the other half of Seaman, which continued the Nash bodies until the end of production.
The last time that I checked the Nash roster, this is the only 1916 Jeffery listed. It sold new for $1,000 plus another $35 for the jump seats that made it a “7 Passenger Touring.” The engine and transmission were built by Jeffery, which makes it a manufactured and not an assembled automobile.
I don’t know for sure that this is the last 1916 Jeffery in the world, but it sure sounds like it. Of course, you don’t ever know what might show up on eBay.
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