(first posted 6/17/2014) I believe this is the one and only time I have come across a street parked CCCA full classic car. Dramatic styling easily identifies it as something special and this 1931 Reo Royale Victoria Eight 8-35 could be Reo’s finest automotive effort.
An argument over product direction lead to Ransom Eli Olds leaving the company that bore his name, Olds Motor Works (later Oldsmobile). In response, he founded R. E. Olds Motor Car Company, quickly renamed to Reo Motor Car Company after an objection by his former company. The Reo name used his initials rather than his last name and launched in 1905. In the early days Reo sold one, two, four and six cylinder cars and trucks before standardizing on six cylinders. On the car side Reo is more known for two cars; the first of which is the Flying Cloud. Introduced in 1927 with a 115″ wheelbase and six-cylinder engine, the Flying Cloud was one of the first American cars with a model name that tried to convey an image rather than a mere designation. Flying Cloud of course was meant to invoke feelings of lightness, comfort and speed.
For 1931, the Reo looked upmarket with two new eight-cylinder engines and a longer wheelbase Royale. Model names now included indications of cylinder count and wheelbase length. At the top of the line up was the 8-35 Royale with an eight-cylinder engine and 135 inch wheelbase. The similar looking 8-30 Flying Cloud utilized the smaller displacement eight-cylinder engine and was built on a shorter 130 inch wheelbase. Rounding out the line up was the 6-25 Flying Cloud with a 268cid 85hp six-cylinder model on a 125 inch wheelbase.
The Victoria Eight coupe was designed by Amos Northup. Northup had started as a cabinet maker but transitioned to automotive design, initially at Wills Sainte Claire. By 1924, he moved to Murray Corporation of America not in a design capacity, but rather in charge of production bodies. Murray, in addition to building bodies, did some design work for smaller sized automotive companies of the time. The designer in Northup could not be contained as he, at Murray, submitted a styling proposal for an Americanized Austin. It was ultimately not chosen but greater things were to come, with Northup being responsible for the beautiful styling on the 1931 Reo Royale Victoria seen here. A tentative but important step in the direction of aerodynamics included a rounding of the grille and fenders, a dramatic difference compared to the still very square Flying Cloud from only a few years prior.
As of 1928, Northup became the Art Director and Chief Designer for Willys-Overland where he is credited with the 1929 designs of Willys-Knight and Whippet and he became of the most respected designers of the day with 1932 Graham Blue Streak. See the Blue Streak in Paul’s Graham write up. Its raked-back radiator, hidden radiator cap and fuller fenders were widely adopted by the rest of the industry.
I had previously seen this car at a show some years back, so I can bring you a shot of its smooth running, nine bearing crankshaft engine. The Royale is powered by a L-head 358cid inline eight engine developing 125hp. Power is routed through a three-speed gearbox to a live rear axle suspended by semi-elliptic leaf springs. The front axle is also solid and similarly suspended by semi-elliptic leaf springs. For stopping power, Reo equipped the Royale with four-wheel hydraulic drum brakes.
Inside, a wood dashboard with square gauges is overshadowed by a large steering wheel. A few car show plaques demonstrate that the owner gets the big Reo out regularly, but I am not sure I could affix them to that beautiful dashboard if it were mine.
Reo had spent a massive six million dollars developing this new line of cars. While dramatic looking and well received by the press overall, sales were down. In a bid to widen its appeal, further variations on the Royale and Flying Cloud with smaller engines, shorter wheelbases and more body configurations were offered. Reo sold only 6762 cars of all types and lost 3 million dollars in 1931. For the 1932 season, the grand eight-cylinder Royale Flying Cloud models were essentially left alone while further smaller displacement engines and wheelbase offerings on the six-cylinder Flying Cloud were put to market. Alas, sales dropped to 3900 and Reo rationalized its line up for 1933 with fewer variations, including a discontinuous of the eight-cylinder Clouds. Even with price cuts, sales still dropped modestly to 3623 cars. 1933 brought the optional of a semi-automatic transmission dubbed Self-Shifter. Sales increased for 1934 to 4460 units, but development costs of the new transmission stressed the company.
Above is the less glamorous but related 1931 Reo Flying Cloud 8-30. I believe the Flying Cloud is owned by the same person as the Royale as they sat side by side at a car show I attended some years back.
The Eights were gone by 1935 and a redesigned Flying Cloud, code named A-6, appeared on the market with full fenders. Offered only with six-cylinder power, the new Cloud was tweaked for 1936 but sales fell. While the automotive side of Reo was floundering, the truck side of the business was proving to be profitable. By May of 1936, Reo officially pulled out of cars to concentrate fully on trucks where it would see success for several more decades.
The eight-cylinder Royales, and particularly the lovely Victoria coupes, are the most sought after for all Reo automobiles. They were a first tentative step towards more streamlined styling and today are recognized as a full classic. Not bad for a curbside find in a southern Alberta town.
What a stunning find, and at the curbside, no less. The years between 1929 and 1934 produced some of the most beautiful cars ever. This is a really graceful design.
As much as I am drawn to cars of this era, the REO has never really made my radar, so thanks for making me look at one. These should be better remembered than they are.
I would suspect that the dashboard on this car is really steel with a painted woodgrain finish. That was fairly common as interior trim in the 30s. Hopefully those are magnets instead of adhesive stickers.
Another car I’ve never seen or heard of and a real beauty.As JP said cars from this era were so graceful and elegant.A great read and pictures thank you
The classic-est CC ever. What a wonderful thing to find parked on the street.
It was a little shocking to come across. I do have another gas station spotting that could be equal to it. To be written up soon.
I keep thinking about this car this morning. REO was one of so many small car manufacturers that got caught up in the prosperity of the late 20s. So many medium priced cars were moving quite upmarket then – 8 cylinder cars became commonplace by 1931. But suddenly, the market evaporated and there they were. Not that all of those small companies could have survived on smaller sixes, but few were buying cars like this Royale.
Even the low priced three were moving up market with six (and even eight) cylinder power. But while Ford continued to offer a four cylinder car into 1932 and 33, it was not selling. I guess the low end was buying used (if it was buying at all) while those who could afford a new car wanted some prestige for their buck (as now).
On a much smaller scale, I think of the boom of 1955 that turned into the huge bust of 1958-59. All of the cars conceived in the boom years were quite out of place in a bad economy.
What a good looking car. There is always something stately and graceful about mid 1920’s to mid 1930’s cars and that one looks good. Did 1931 REOs have a turn signal option or was that signal stalk a later mod?
That turn signal mechanism is probably 1940’s or 1950’s. They were very common on antique cars back when I was a youth because those self-same cars weren’t ‘antiques’ 10-15 years earlier. They were just old cars in daily use and without antique plates were subject to the same DOT regulations as a current year car. So some enterprising individual(s) came up with a turn signal kit that could be wired in to the cars tail and running lights. Unseeable from the picture, the chrome body had a rubber edged wheel that rubbed the steering wheel and powered the automatic-off procedure once the turn had been made.
Those units were very common, and I can still remember them in the JC Whitney catalogs in the late 60’s, usually sold with the Model T and Model A parts section.
Another one of those wonderful cars from a company that was too small, with a too small dealer network, to survive the Depression. The Self Shifter can be credited with being the first (semi-) automatic transmission to reach production in any quantity, which in itself guarantees Reo a place in the history books. Unfortunately, on top of development costs, there were the legal costs. Everybody and his brother who had previously dreamed up some form of automatic transmission (none of which made production) sued Reo for supposedly infringing on their patents. I don’t believe any of the suits were successful. From what I’ve read, the big drawback of the Self Shifter was that, of course, performance suffered.
Thank you for the additional information on the Self Shifter. A lot of pitfalls on the development road to a reliable and useful automatic transmission.
In an era of so many fine-looking cars, the Reos were some of the very best. Amos Northup was exceptionally gifted, and was a trend-setter. Thanks for this excellent look at one his best cars.
Gorgeous car, and a very successful job of rounding off the edges on a very squared-off shape without it looking incongruous or forced. It looks all of a piece, sleek and very well proportioned. And what a thing to find at the curbside! Great piece.
There has always been something about these very handsome cars that reminds me of the Cord L-29.
Also the Chrysler Imperial of that era, though somewhat smaller.
I thought it was a Chrysler at first glance. Beautiful car.
The designs of the years 1929-1932 are probably the most beautiful in the history of the American automobile. When you’ve got the 1931 Auburn being one of the more homely designs of the period (and it was a beautiful car), that says a lot for everybody else. Look up a Ruxton (contemporary of the L-29 and came out a short time afterwards, built by Moon) for another example of incredible loveliness.
Amos Northup also brought us the Graham Blue Streak, which was also beautiful. The grille of this Reo looks Bentleyesque…great looking car!
On the other hand, what’s the deal with car show plaques? I place a car with trinkets like that right up with continental kits and fender skirts on Corvairs…nonsense. How could you own a Reo Royale, and say “this is a good idea…stick!”
Actually the dash is not wood, it is painted metal. Those are magnets form the car shows.
Here is a pic on the net of a REO with a rusty dash
Wow! What a car! Um…less than 20 comments? Come on guys, this is a genuine find! Read! Comment! Enjoy!
To be fair, as much as I personally love seeing this car here, there just aren’t that many people who can relate to it, compared to the 50s-80s cars that everyone here has a story about.
The people for whom this car left an impression while new are, sadly, mostly dead.
I guess I’m weird. I have a healthy appreciation for cars I can’t relate to! 🙂
And I’m one of the last survivors of that group. I got into the antique car hobby in 1967, attending the second meeting of the Flood City Region AACA (Johnstown, PA) that December. At 17, I was the youngest member of the chapter by at least 15-20 years. Which means I got the same appreciation of the Depression era cars as the guys who were adolescents when they were new.
My first project was helping the club president on a restoration of a 1929 Packard rumbleseat coupe (small eight). In 1999, I walk into an antique car restoration shop and find that same car, three owners later, about to be torn down for a ground up restoration. Proving it was the same car by predicting where the restorer would find yellow paint overspray on the firewall (back then we were enthusiastic, but not perfectionists), I ended spend the entire afternoon with the shop foreman going over the car, describing what we’d done while he took notes. Unfortunately, I never saw the car finished.
That summer, I rode to my first car show, an Auburn-Cord-Dusenberg regional meet in Harrisburg, PA in a 1936 Cord 810 roadster (actually cabriolet, it had wind up windows, but only a single bench seat). While there, I was given the chance to drive a 1930 Dusenberg J tourer on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.
I’m lucky, just shy of 64, I’m able to fully appreciate the cars that my father’s generation as their owners did, because those cars were as much the part of my adolescence and early twenties as a GTO, Road Runner, 58 Impala, etc. Actually, more so, because back then my loves were pre-WWII cars and British sports cars; not the current American muscle.
And it probably has something to do with my minimal love, bordering on disdain, to the usual abundant stuff that shows up to car shows today.
Damn that’s a beautiful car. It makes you stop and look at it.
I’ll add a comment for Tom, and I suspect for many that come across pieces like this on CC.
It’s a great write up on a beautiful car, and unfortunately, an increasingly obscure name in automotive history.
While I know the story of Ransom Olds quite well, (I have a 496 page book “Setting the Pace, Oldsmobile’s First 100 Years” in my shelves and read a biography on Durant years ago) it would be hard for me to extemporaneously add any quality comments about the REO without some real research.
So, I frequently enjoy such pieces in silence. But, hats off to Mr. Saunders for his find, photos, and write-up. And, thanks to the commenters that have added much to this, particularly Syke. It is great to see your bio in this thread – it adds to my appreciation for your insightful comments.
Real nice car and not one think Ive ever seen later REOs yeah like the 35 pictured but not the earlier real luxury models.
Great find David, and a story well told!
I had a similar experience last week, however I couldn’t take the time to stop and get a closer look and spot a badge to establish what sort of car it was. I would estimate it is a 1904-1908 model. I’ve never seen a car that old parked on the street before, in the middle of the week.
Correction: The 8-30 Flying Cloud and 8-31 Royale successor were also powered by the same 358 c.I. 125 h.p. straight eight engine. Introduced also in 1931 were the 8-21 and 8-25 Flying Cloud models which were powered by a 268 c.I. straight eight sourced from Continental Motors, their Model 9K, named R-800 Special as used by REO.
I know the person who owns this car. He has quite a collection of REO cars. Some are also located at Heritage Acres farm museum north of Pincher Creek Alberta. The photos shown appear to be from the Fort Macleod annual show and shine.
Fort Macleod, yes. Show and Shine, no. Just a street capture as I was driving through town.
A 33 Royale Coupe was my daily driver for several years in the 50’s. It was a wonderful car. I once had it to 72 mph in second gear. 5″ stroke engine gave huge torque. I commuted over the San Francisco Bay Bridge and got 15 mpg and 15 miles per quart of oil. The long stroke made upper cylinder lubrication a problem so that was supplied by drilling the rods and lubing the cylinders via the pins; The oil rings couldn’t control the flow. Syncromesh transmission too. I wish (of course I still had it, but at 87, I likely couldn’t take care of it now.
By modern definitions Reo was still making passenger cars in ’39.
A recent letter in Collectible Auto told about the writer’s grandfather who was a cattle buyer and put lots of miles on cars. He started buying Reos in 1905, then alternated Reos and Hupmobiles. He had one of the last real Hupps in ’38, then finished off with a Reo Speedwagon woody in ’39. After that both companies were firmly out of the passenger car business, so he switched to Packards.
The Coles Land Transportation Museum in Bangor, Maine has a beautiful 1931 Reo Royale rumble seat coupe on display. To see such a fine car alone is worth stopping to see. The rest of this museum is worth planning a trip around. The fact that Acadia National Park is only an hour away on a slow day makes this a vacation destination!
I have to wonder if there was ever a more half and half application of combining the extetnal trunk, as in a piece of luggage trunk, and the moulded in steel trunk. This car combines the two like I’ve never seen before.
That REO – Not just “street parked”, but “Middle of the Street Parked”!