Gobel: Building a car from the top down

A simple photo leads to an interesting discovery.
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The “Gobel Special” touring either wholly or partially constructed by Konrad Gobel of Oakland, Calif., to promote his
custom-built top. -
Photo from author’s collection

The original image was discovered in late 2007 in an Iowa antique store where the whopping sum of $2 acquired it.

Since it was a long-wheelbased car, my first thought was that it was one of the luxury marques promoting an optional fitted top. We were able to discern that the car is fitted with Norwalk tires and is left-hand drive, but every attempt to identify its maker led to a dead end.

The turning point came when the front wheel cap was greatly magnified, and a few of the etched letters not completely worn down became visible (.....BEL’S Special - Oakland, California). Paging through Kimes and Clark’s voluminous Standard Catalog of American Cars 1805-1942 searching for any Oakland location with a builder whose name ended in BEL, I had to go through the “G” listings before I hit paydirt.

It was there that a listing for Gobel appeared. The Oakland, Calif., maker’s biography is as follows:
1911 — Konrad Gobel built an automobile strictly for advertising purposes. He was proprietor of the Pacific Auto Top Co., 59 Twelfth St., Oakland. The firm’s name was deceptive because, although Gobel did make tops for automobiles, his specialty was refitting older cars with new bodies. An ad in the Oakland Tribune on April 23, 1911, showed the Gobel torpedo-type touring car and carried the legend, “designed and built by Gobel, Oakland’s best known automobile builder. Gobel can take your old car and make it into the latest 1911 model, and the cost will be but little.” Another ad declared that the Gobel was “not built for sale, but to demonstrate to the people of California that Gobel can make any part of a car needed.”Gobel implied that he had built his car from the wheels up. That may have been an exaggeration.

Based on Kimes’ and Clark’s assessment that Gobel’s “Special” touring may not be 100 percent original, it’s still quite an accomplished work.
The craftsmanship of the top is remarkable, and if the body panels are each hand-crafted, those, too, are commendable in their quality.

It’s also not clear if this touring was the final automobile that Gobel pieced together, whether partly or in its entirety. There is a mention in the Feb. 1, 1920 issue of Motor West that Konrad Gobel and his top business was 1 of 77 exhibitors at the Pacific Coast Auto Show in January of that year, held in Oakland’s Civic Auditorium. He was an exhibitor in the Accessory category, but by then, he most likely would have promoted his top work on a model much newer than his previous — and by then dated — “Special” touring.


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