The following information was obtained from Jim Liptrap of Spring, Texas.

View his site for further information and his personal restoration story.


REO Motor Car Company

Of Lansing, Michigan



Ransom Eli Olds was born in Geneva, Ohio,
in 1864. His father relocated to Lansing, Michigan, and opened a blacksmith and machine shop.
_In 1886, Ransom bought out his brother's share in the business. But even before that, he was fascinated by steam engines. The Olds shop sold over 2000 steam engines of Ransom's design by 1892. _He produced his first steam powered vehicle in the fall of 1887, which worked, but was underpowered. He then got busy with business and marriage, and didn't make another until 1891, which he exported as a novelty to a company in India, the first exported automobile.

Ranson Eli Olds
Ransom E. Olds

____The Olds Company started producing the new gasoline engines, and it was December of 1895 when Ransom produced his first gasoline powered automobile, just a month after Frank Durya. But due to the weather, he did not test it until spring. In 1897, his father retired, and Ransom teamed up with Samuel Smith to incorporate the Olds Motor Vehicle Company in August of that year. The expansion of the factory required capital, supplied by Smith, making him the president and principal stockholder. Smith, a Detroit businessman, insisted that the new plant be built in Detroit. Construction began, and the design and building of no less than 11 prototypes, gasoline, steam, and electric, with Smith wanting large, impressive, expensive machines. Olds, seeing the gasoline engine as the engine of the future, favoring a small, light, inexpensive machine that would sell to the middle class for about $600.

1902 Oldsmobile
1902 Oldsmobile

__The indecision ended in March, 1901, when the new plant was destroyed by fire, including all of the prototypes except light one near the door that the only man present was able to push outside by himself. Olds knew that time was vital. He asked Henry Leland to make the engines. Leland was known for precision work and interchange-able parts, and later helped found Cadillac and Lincoln. Olds asked John and Horace Dodge to make the transmissions.
____The Dodge Brothers later produced the first half million Model T Fords before starting their own automobile company. The little curved-dash Olds was an immediate success. They produced 425 of them that first short year, and 3299 in 1902, 4000 in 1904, and 5000 in 1905. The other auto makers of the day produced large, luxurious machines, and made rude comments about "The Merry Oldsmobile" as being too fragile to be practical. So Olds had Roy Chapin, later head of Hudson Motor Co, drive one over 800 miles to the New York Auto Show in 1901. After seven and one-half days of mud, no roads, and battling with mule drivers on the Erie Canal tow path, the little car rolled up to the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. One day with "good" roads, the car had logged 278 miles - a record that boggled the mind at the time. Later, this car specially tuned and equipped, was the first to travel a mile in less than a minute!
____But when Samuel Smith yielded to his sons, they put greater pressure on Olds to produce the larger prestige cars. He left Oldsmobile in January, 1904, and incorporated the REO Motor Car Company of Lansing, Michigan, in August, 1904. The new REO automobile debuted October 15, 1904, with the first shipped to customers in January 1905.

1906 REO
1906 REO

____The car became known for quality workmanship, durability, power, and innovation. In 1906, REO sold 2458 cars, the new larger Oldsmobile 1600 (Ford 1599). In 1908, REO 4105 to Olds 1035. In 1908, William Durant of Buick tried to combine with REO, Ford, and Maxwell. Failing there, he found Oldsmobile, Oakland, Chevrolet and Cadillac, to form General Motors.

____REO started making trucks in 1909, and became well known for strength and durability. The REO Speedwagon set the standard for power, durability, and quality workmanship. They were fire trucks, tow trucks, dump trucks, delivery trucks, busses, hearses, ambulances. With the nearly indestructible Gold Crown engine, REO trucks were used for the most demanding tasks on-road and off.

____REO was known for many innovations, including the first assembly line, hydraulic brakes and in 1932 the "self-shifter." Production peaked at 33,353 in 1927, with trucks peaking at 23,509 in 1928. In 1927, when most engines needed major work every 10,000 miles or so, the REO claimed, and demonstrated 100,000 miles with minimal wear.

1931 REO Royale

The REO was a mid-range car. Certainly above the Ford or Chevrolet, but not a Cord, Packard, or Cadillac. REO's luxury model, the Royale, debuted in 1931, one of the most beautiful motor cars ever produced, and perhaps the most ill-timed. The depression effectively killed the company, along with many other prestigious companies of the time.

1933 Reo Royale


 The last automobiles were produced in 1936, with body dies shared with the Graham. But selling less than 5000 cars, the Board of Directors decided to cease auto production. But REO continued to manufacture sturdy trucks. Ransom Olds retired as president of the company in 1923, and died in 1950. The company was bought out by White Truck in 1957, and the trucks renamed Diamond REO, and the REO nameplate was finally retired in 1974.

1936 REO Flying Cloud
1936 REO Flying Cloud

____Although Ransom Olds was an innovator and quality control fanatic, he lacked the determination and aggressiveness of Henry Ford and others. It is interesting to speculate what might have happened had Olds been more aggressive in marketing his small car for the masses in 1906 - before Ford got started. Or teamed up with Durant and General Motors. Or had not proclaimed his 1912 model "perfected," giving others a couple of years to catch up. But Ransom Olds stands out as one of the founders of the automobile industry.