(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.