The Canadian-made 1930 Durant 407 Deluxe Sedan owned by John Neil is now well into its second lifetime after being rescued from a Prince Edward County stone pile, but it might not have had a first one if it wasn't for the economic upset that came to be known as The Great Depression.
In 1929, U.S. auto maker Durant - created on the bounce in 1921 by General Motors founder William Crapo Durant after his second ouster from that company - was already cash-strapped and anticipating the recession's tightening pinch when it announced its five-model range would be slashed to two for 1930.
The entry-level four-cylinder model, which had been a company mainstay, would be dropped. But this odd decision, given the parlous economic conditions slowing sales of pricier cars, was reversed the following April and Durant decided it would offer a four-cylinder in 1930 after all.
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This was a simpler time, of course, so re-engineering a six-cylinder-engined Durant 614 model's engine compartment - the bodywork and running gear remained essentially the same - to suit a four-cylinder engine involved little more than drilling a couple of extra holes. The engine was already familiar as it was being used in a truck sold under Durant's Rugby brand.
Rugby and Durant vehicles were built in a former munitions factory in Toronto's Leaside owned by Canadian subsidiary, Durant Motor Co. of Canada.
Harvey Frid, one of this Durant's former owners and now deceased, played a major role in returning it to its present accurately restored condition. He also left behind information indicating the four-cylinder 407 wasn't a regular production model, but built to customer order in a variety of body styles. Most were constructed in the Leaside operation, but some in Durant's Oakville, Calif., plant.
Frid speculated the 407 Deluxe Sedan was built to suit a somewhat more upscale but conservative clientele, among them well-off farmers, who didn't believe a fancy six-cylinder engine would prove as reliable as a sturdy four. They wanted a car with prestige allied to simplicity and practicality.
And that's what they got. According to Frid, the Deluxe Sedans - only 20 were built and the one owned by John Neil of Stirling, Ont., is the only survivor - were equipped with a radiator stone guard, front and rear carpeting, dual tail lights, fender-mounted parking lights, a chrome Klaxon horn and a trunk rack, plus larger-diameter wire (not wooden-spoked) wheels.
Other equipment included speedometer, temp, gas, ammeter and oil gauges, a rear-view mirror, an automatic wiper and chrome-plated bumpers and other external fittings. Some of the latter were reproduced from castings created by Frid.
The four-cylinder engine, made by Continental, which supplied a number of car makers, was a side-valve or flathead design rated at 49 hp at 2,300 rpm and came with a three-speed manual gearbox. Suspension at both ends was by solid axles on leaf springs and the four "Steeldraulic" drum brakes were actuated by a mechanical system of rods and cables. ("Steeldraulic" may have been a marketing-department-generated term to make customers think it had the more advanced hydraulically operated brakes, then coming into vogue.)
During the 1920s, William Durant's auto empire comprised the Star, Eagle, Flint, Princeton, Rugby, Locomobile and Durant brands, but it was getting seriously out of shape in the 1930s. Sales in 1931 totalled just 7,270 and, in April of that year, it had defaulted on a U.S. loan for which the Canadian company had acted as collateral and the unit was subsequently sold to a Canadian investment group. It was renamed Dominion Motors Ltd. and continued to build cars under the Durant and Frontenac names until 1933, just a year longer than the parent company itself survived.
No record exists of who the first owner of the Durant now cherished by long-time old car enthusiast Neil was, but it has apparently spent most of its life in the Belleville, Ont., area.
When Neil, now retired after a career with Bell Canada as a network planner, purchased it about five years ago, it had spent many years being used very little, and not at all for so long that many of its vital systems had deteriorated badly. "It needed just about everything mechanical," says Neil. Tires were rotten, the exhaust and fuel tank rusty and the carburetor gummed up.
It took him a couple of years to get it mechanically sorted out to his satisfaction, but little other than detailing was required for the rest.
"The bodywork, paint and chrome were done at least 35 years ago," he says, and it's a credit to the original restoration effort that it's stood up so remarkably well.
The car also now sports a couple of additional neat touches, the mirrors that strap to the leather-cover-protected "dual side-mounts" and the aluminum step plates on the running boards.
Neil says he became interested in old cars in his teens in Kingston, but it wasn't until his mid-20s he acquired his first collector car, a 1952 Chev he fixed up to "presentable" condition. It was followed by a 1953 Chrysler Imperial. "That car was a monster, with its big Hemi engine and fluid drive transmission, it would get out and go on the 401 like you wouldn't believe. And the ride was better than a Cadillac."
He liked it so much he kept it for 17 years, but sold it and took a couple of years off from the old car hobby, before getting wind of Frid's Durant and tracking it down to a subsequent owner.
What's the now 80-year-old Durant like to drive? "Well, it drives like an old car," laughs Neil, but he's nevertheless confident enough in its abilities to cruise it at up to 80 km/h on the area's secondary roads to attend local old car events - keeping in mind those mechanical brakes require plenty of room to get it stopped.
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