Rare Classic: 1920 Elgin Six Touring

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We’ve probably all heard people say that a car runs like a Swiss watch, but the Elgin Six is a car that actually runs like an Illinois watch. That is because the brief and shining history of the Elgin Motor Car Corporation can be traced directly back to a watch-making company. This Elgin Six Touring is a product of the company’s most successful sales year, and it is believed to be the only 1920 model that was fitted with steel disc wheels. Barn Finder Roger spotted this amazing classic for us, so thank you for that Roger. The Elgin is located in Fergus Falls, Minnesota, and is listed for sale here on Craigslist. The asking price for this old gem is $28,500. I would also like to say that if any of our readers can add anything to the story of the Elgin Six or the company itself, I will be very interested in any contributions.

The history of the Elgin Motor Car Corporation is brief and glorious, or if you prefer, inglorious. It was formed in 1916 by the principals of the Elgin National Watch Company, who took over the New Era Company of Joliet, and then moved its vehicle manufacturing operations to a huge factory in Argo, Illinois. It was these very roots which led to the company’s marketing slogan, “Built Like a Watch.” They quickly introduced their first model, the Elgin Six, powered, as the name suggests, by a 6-cylinder engine with a capacity of 180ci. Between 1916 and 1924, Elgin produced 16,784 cars, but by 1925, they were bankrupt. They were yet another car company that fell victim to the financial recession that struck in the early 1920s.

The presentation of the Elgin is pretty good, although I believe that the car has undergone restoration at some point. If the color scheme isn’t original, then I would be willing to guess that this might hark back to the 1970s. The cream and brown combination was actually a fairly common choice at that time, although I really would love to know how the car started out. The owner claims that the steel disc wheels make the car unique, and I certainly haven’t been able to locate any other cars fitted with them. As was common at the time, the wheels on the average Elgin were wooden spoked items. The attention to detail on the Elgin was something quite special. Those lights attached to either side of the cowl are actually turning signals. I did find a close-up photo of the temperature gauge that is attached to the top of the radiator, and the steel ring is decorated with some beautiful and intricate engraving. The Elgin Six was available in two distinct models. The most commonly sold was five-passenger Touring, the same as this car. The company also offered a 4-passenger Roadster, but this didn’t sell in significant numbers. This Touring also has a soft-top, and it looks like it is in good condition.

Powering the Elgin is a straight-six engine with a capacity of 180ci. Power from this was not enormous at 21hp, but that was still a respectable number for the era. That power is sent to the rear wheels via a 3-speed manual transmission, and an Elgin Six was capable of topping 60mph. The owner says that the car runs and drives, so it is ready for some enjoyable top-down touring.

The engine fitted to the Elgin was quite a sophisticated unit for the day, especially for a low-volume manufacturer in an incredibly competitive market. This was an overhead valve engine, and you can see the rather cool exposed pushrods in this photo. The low power output is a bit surprising because even Ford with the less sophisticated and less efficient flathead engine in the Model T was extracting 20hp from an engine of similar capacity. However, this didn’t deter Elgin, because the following year, a capacity increase to 196ci saw a dramatic increase to 40hp.

The interior of the Elgin presents very nicely, with no real issues to report. The dash provided some great detail and information, with gauges for fuel level and battery charge in addition to a speedometer. The car is capable of seating five people in comfort and features such luxuries as pockets in all four doors. The windshield also features wind deflector glass, to help minimize buffeting for the passengers on cooler days. On hotter days, it was simply a matter of opening the top half of the split windshield to allow for some flow-through ventilation.

The owner of this Elgin Six claims that there are less than ten vehicles now operational in the US, and this is a number that I find to be quite feasible. With such a low original build total, and with nearly 100-years having elapsed since the company folded, natural attrition could easily account for this. The owner of the Elgin isn’t just selling a car, they are selling a colorful slice of American motoring history. The car comes with a fair collection of documentation, including an original Share Certificate for the Elgin Motor Car Corporation. The shares would not be worth the paper they’re written on, put as another piece of the story about Elgin, it is an interesting addition. This car would appear to be an automotive unicorn, and that is one of the reasons why it is so interesting. Maybe the next owner will be willing to start an Elgin Six register, so the story of the Elgin doesn’t get lost in the mists of time.

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  1. mark

    Great find!

    Like 4
  2. 86_Vette_Convertible

    Very Interesting (doing my best Arte Johnson impression). Can’t say I remember hearing of Elgins before but then again there were a lot of early car makers that didn’t last.
    Good looking car.

    Like 4
  3. Coventrycat

    Love these 100 year old oddballs. The detail on them is incredible.

    Like 4
  4. Bob McK

    Wish I had room for this and the price was a little lower… World love to bring her home.

    Like 1
    • Kyle Richards

      Make an offer Bob! This needs to go to a great home that can show it off and have people see it!!

      Like 0
  5. R. Goodreau

    I’ve seen another vintage car at the Shaker Village in Hancock, Ma. That had solid disc wheels. I believe it is a 1923 REO T6 sedan.
    The car is part of the museum dedicated to the Shaker people and their way of life.

    Like 0
  6. Peter

    Note the hot air pipe that comes off the top of the exhaust manifold and across through the valve cover to the top of the carburettor.

    Like 1
  7. Dave Mazz

    I have an :”ILLINOIS” pocket watch I inherited from my father. I wonder if was made by the same company. I just gave the stem a couple of winds. and it started right up. If the car starts as easily, it’s a real keeper! :-) :-)

    Like 0
  8. Kyle Richards

    I am the seller of this car and the disc wheels are correct for the car as I have an old 1920 photo of one that had the disc wheels. Truly a unique vehicle. The restoration was actually done by auto body shop owner I think late 80s or 90s but it is still a great restoration as it hasn’t been driven much. The color is not original for sure. However, this is truly a unique car and I would entertain offers…I have a lot of old memorabilia including an original owners manual!!

    Like 0
    • Jason McNabb

      Its Jason McNabb here. I have a 1917 Elgin also. Restored back in the late 1980’s Please feel free to contact me as I am trying reach out to others with these cars. Thank you

      Like 0

    Hi Kyle, Hope you don’t get upset with my question , I have a Elgin Six radiator badge . It’s a plain round copper badge with the Elgin Six logo on it . Any idea of the worth of it ?

    Like 0

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