EVOLUTION OF THE WILLS SAINTE CLAIRE
How can classic be defined? Sleek, stylish, perfection, unique, timeless, and valuable are words of articulate, lasting design. If you assemble these words in the form of a tangible object you have defined the unique and beautiful Wills Ste. Claire automobile. Manufactured by C. H. Wills and Company, in Marysville, Michigan, from 1921-1926, the Wills St. Claire quickly became one of the shining stars of the auto world in the 1920s. This timeless classic has graced the auto world with its stylish and perfected form that still pleases classic auto enthusiasts the world over. We trust your visit to our site will be informative and enlightening as you take an inside look at a man who designed and manufactured one of the finest engineered automobiles in the world.
Childe Harold Wills had been employed by Henry Ford as a metallurgist and chief engineer. Forever known as a perfectionist, Wills was the inventor of Vanadium steel, a metal known for its strength and durability and molybdenum steel alloys. Every model of Ford's cars was made of this time-tested steel and proved to be the leading material in Henry Ford's automobile production. The infamous Ford logo, still present on all Ford vehicles today, was designed by C.H. Wills and like his Vanadium steel, it has withstood the test of time. Wills had accomplished much when employed by the Ford Motor Company which was still in the early stages of producing world class automobiles. Wills left the Ford company on his own volition in 1919 to pursue designing and manufacturing his own automobile.
WILLS ST. CLAIRE AUTOMOBILE PRODUCTION
Feeling his creativity unnecessarily restricted, Mr. Wills resigned in 1919, cashed in his Ford stock for $1.5 million, and set off on his own, explaining, "I am anxious to do something worthwhile and this seems the opportunity to start."
Taking some Ford people with him, Mr. Wills founded C.H. Wills and Co. and announced plans to build the Wills Sainte Claire, a somewhat futuristic automobile that used state-of-the-art engineering concepts and materials.
During World War I demand spurred rapid development of a huge, very low grade molybdenite deposit being mined by the newly formed Climax Molybdenum Co. at Bartlett Mountain, Colo. The mine did well during the war, but when it ended the molybdenum market collapsed and the mine was closed.
In 1920, Climax consisted of a president, Brainerd Phillipson, an entire mountain of molybdenum and a huge stockpile, but no market for the metal. Mr. Phillipson soon met Mr. Wills and sold his stockpile to the auto mogul " for next to nothing. "
When the first Wills Ste. Claire Model A-68 rolled off the Marysville, Mich., assembly line in the spring of 1921, virtually every component subject to even minimal stress was made of molybdenum steel, including the crankshaft, connecting rods, camshaft, gearbox gears and shafts, propeller shaft, frame, springs, front axle, steering knuckles and wheels.
Available in three standard colors, "Lady Mary Maroon," "Newport Blue," and "Liberty Green," the Wills Ste. Claire was pure luxury. The Wills V-8 produced 67 hp at 2,700 rpm, more than enough for contemporary performance standards. Criticism focused on the length of the wheelbase and the car's 3,115-lb. 1,413-kg) body - all less than the competing Cadillacs, Packards and Pierce Arrows.
The car didn't do well. A post-war depression and an imposing 3,000 price tag meant a rough start. By November 1922, the Wills Co. was $8 million in debt and forced into receivership.
Refinanced, the company resumed production in 1923, introducing a 6-cyl. engine and new touring and roadster models. This time Mr. Wills made molybdenum a prominent part of his advertising to promote the car's image of advanced metallurgical durability. The Wills Ste. Claire was promoted as "The All Mo-lyb-den-um Car." To make it easier to pronounce and spell, the name was broken into syllables and hyphenated.
At the same time Climax mounted its own advertising campaign, which took advantage of the established link between the Wills Ste. Claire, molybdenum and automotive durability. The company used the Wills Ste. Claire to promote its own molybdenum. Its most effective ad, which appeared in such magazines as The Saturday Evening Post, showed a drawing of a Wills Ste. Claire superimposed against Bartlett Mountain, the "Mountain of Molybdenum." It touted moly steel as the "The American Super-Steel."
The link with the Wills Ste. Claire gave moly steels their first industrial acceptance. In 1925, the U.S. Bureau of Mines published Molybdenum, Cerium and Related Steels, the first government paper to accept molybdenum as an alloy metal. More important, the Association of Automotive Engineers formally recognized moly steels as standard alloys.
By 1925, increasing demand warranted the reopening of the Climax mine and mill.
The Wills Co. didn't enjoy the same success. First, the Wills Ste. Claire was too expensive. Second, Mr. Wills interrupted production to implement every conceivable improvement. The company didn't survive the 1926 recession and was forced into liquidation the following year.
OUR MUSEUM’S MISSION
“To collect, preserve and interpret the history of C. Harold Wills, the Wills Sainte Claire Automobile and their impact on the auto industry and the City of Marysville.”
The Creation of Our Museum
The Wills Sainte Claire Auto Museum was formed in 2001 by local antique automobile enthusiasts who wanted to share the fascinating history of C. Harold Wills and the Wills Sainte Claire Automobile and their impact on auto history and the City of Marysville, Michigan.
The worlds largest collection of Wills Sainte Claire Autos
is on display for you to enjoy!