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Hertz History as a Car Manufacturer

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Hertz History as a Car Manufacturer

1925 Hertz Model D-1 Touring

Actions of America

While recently looking through the listing of an upcoming classic car auction, we came across a model we hadn’t heard of before, a 1925 Hertz D-1 Five-Passenger Touring. Our first thoughts were, could this Hertz car be any relation to John D. Hertz of the Hertz Rental Car empire?

After a great deal of research, we uncovered that John Hertz did in fact have a short but noteworthy sideline of building luxury cars which were used for his first rental car business, Yellow Drive-It-Yourself, part of the Yellow Cab Company.

John D. Hertz was born in 1879 in what we know today as Slovakia. His parents immigrated to the United States and made their way to Chicago in 1882. By 1905, after various attempts of a career, John began selling cars at a struggling Berliet dealership owned by Walden W. Shaw.

The costly Berliet manufactured in France was better known for its trucks than for its automobiles, but Hertz convinced Shaw that he would help improve sales for a part ownership of the dealership.

Hertz idea of using liberal trade-in terms helped Shaw’s dealership to sell new cars; this solved one problem but created another…a surplus of used cars. Hertz then convinced Shaw that the way to make money from the used cars on their lot was to start a side business using them as cars for hire or, as they were just becoming known, taxis.

Suggested Reading - History of the Taxi

The Shaw Livery Company came into existence in 1910 and consisted of used Thomas Flyers and landaus that included Cadillacs, Berliets and Alcos, the latter successor to the license-produced American Berliet. None of these really met the requirements of the partners new taxi business, so a decision was made to design a special purpose car strictly for use as a taxi. With startup cash of $50,000, Shaw and Hertz began building their own lighter cabs, using Continental engines and Racine-built bodywork.

Hertz called the new company Yellow Cab Manufacturing and on New Year’s Eve 1914, the design-work for first cab was completed, but it wasn’t until August of 1915 that the Model J hit the streets.

John Hertz took over Shaw's interest in Yellow Cab in 1916 and made the company the world leader in specialty taxicab production by 1925. During which time Hertz also bought a rental car company from Walter Jacobs, who had founded the Chicago-based business in 1918 with a fleet of Ford Model Ts. Hertz later renamed the business Hertz Drive-Ur-Self Corporation and kept Jacobs on at the helm.

If that wasn’t enough, Hertz also started his sideline business building luxury cars, the Shaw and Ambassador, powered by a 12-cylinder Weidley engine. He named a smaller, six-cylinder Ambassador after himself, the Hertz Model D-1, which he produced from 1924 into 1927 as either a sedan or a touring car for use in Drive-It-Yourself business.

By 1928, John Hertz concluded his fortune lay in renting, not manufacturing cars, so the Hertz automobile was abandoned and replaced by rental fleets of automobiles from volume manufacturers. But how many of these cars were made is our question as they seem to be a rare find today? A press release that was sent to the automotive trade on January 1, 1921 implies quite a few:

“CHICAGO, Ill.—The new year brings Chicago its first great automotive industry. John Hertz, president of the Yellow Cab Manufacturing Co., today announced that his organization will begin immediately the manufacture and distribution, on a tremendous scale, of passenger cars and light trucks.

“Manufacture will be in the great new factory of the Yellow Cab Company at Menard and Dickens st., northwest. The new industry will mean an investment of several million dollars and employment of several hundred more workers, within a few months.

“The Yellow Cab Co. has been for several years turning out about 2,000 of its famous cabs a year, for use in this and other cities. Now the Yellow Cab Manufacturing Co., developed from the cab organization, is going into the passenger and truck field on a mammoth scale.

“The star of the company's line will be a 12-cylinder car, called the Ambassador, which Mr. Hertz this morning characterized as ‘the most beautiful car ever made.’ Greatest production, however, will be on a 4-cylinder car, of moderate price, worked out on the Yellow Cab chassis. To complete the line, the Yellow Cab Manufacturing Company will get out a one-ton speed-wagon truck and a ton and one-quarter speed truck. Types of all these various cars have been turned out behind closed doors at the Yellow factory and are ready for exhibition at the Chicago automobile show, Jan. 29 to Feb. 5.

If the Ambassador and subsequently, the Hertz Model D-1 were produced en masse as offered, they surely didn’t survive the test of time.

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