Gardner Motor Co. - 1920-1932 - St. Louis, Missouri

    The Gardner Motor Company and their St. Louis neighbor, St. Louis Coffin Company, entered the field in 1927 with a series of attractive coaches using a Lycoming 84hp inline-8-cylinder engine mounted on a purpose-built Gardner chassis. For 1928 the re-styled Gardner coaches offered a number of new features, including the availability of Lycoming's new 115hp straight-8-cylinder engine, disc wheels, Gordon spare tire covers, miniature coach lamps and cowl-mounted spot-lights. Both engines were available in any one of four Gardner coaches, a popular funeral coach, a combination funeral and invalid coach, a stylish service car, and a full-time ambulance. Gardner was an early adopter of the new chrome plating process pioneered by the Udylite Company of Detroit, Michigan. Up until the late 1920s, all silver-colored surfaces were nickel plated, a surface that required constant maintenance.

During the summer of 1929, Gardner announced two "very important" automobile contracts. Sears, Roebuck, and Company wanted Gardner to develop a new car to be sold by mail order. The other venture was with New Era Motors to manufacture the front wheel drive Ruxton. With the stock market crash in late 1929 both deals were off, auto sales were at a standstill and Gardner slashed prices on their leftover 1929 and new 1930 six-cylinder coaches by $1000 or more. Their advertisements focused on economy and their personal belief that unlike their competition, Gardner coaches were "Ten Year Cars".

1931 Gardners were priced as low as $1500, the price of their well-appointed six-cylinder service car. $1750 bought you their new Light Hearse, a six-cylinder 4-speed funeral car that equipped with all the essentials. 1932 Gardner coaches were equipped wiht an 85hp V8 mated to a free-wheeling 4-speed synchromesh transmission.  The firm had operated at a loss since 1927 and closed its doors later in the year.

Like Kissel and Auburn, Gardner sought to recoup the falling sales of their private cars with a line of ambulances and hearses, produced in association with the St. Louis Coffin Co. These were based on their Lycoming-engined straight-8s with all expanding hydraulic brakes; some had 4-speed gearboxes. Gardner's fortunes, however, continu­ed to decline and by 1930 their cheaper professional cars were largely Chevrolet-based. In spite of this, the hearses outlived the cars by a year, though 1932 models were little more than modified V8 Pontiacs. Gardner was still making a profit when they decided to close their doors. They chose to close up shop before the Depression wiped out their assets.


Without a dollar in his pocket, Russell E. Gardner left his home state Tennessee for St. Louis in 1879. Three and a half decades later he was millionaire several times over. Russell Gardner had made it big in St. Louis by manufacturing Banner buggies before the turn of the century and unlike many wagon builders, was well aware of what the automobile age meant to his business. He got started by building new Chevrolet bodies and along side, his company was building wagons. By 1915 this had led to the complete assembly of Chevrolets in St. Louis and Russell Gardner was controlling all Chevrolet trade west of the Mississippi River states. The Russell Gardner sold his Chevrolet business to General Motors after his sons enter the Navy during World War I. after the war the three decided to build their own automobiles. The Gardner Motor Company was established with Russell E. Gardner, Sr. as chairman of the board, Russell E. Gardner, Jr. as president, and Fred Gardner as vice-president. Their previous experience had been in the assembling of cars, so it was not surprising that the Gardner was assembled. A very good, Lycoming engines were used throughout the years of production. A 4 cylinder medium sized with a 112-inch wheelbase and medium priced was introduced late 1919 as a 1920 model. Sales in 1921 were 3800 cars, increased in 1922 to 9000. In early 1924 Cannon Ball Baker established a new mid-winter transcontinental record from New York to Los Angeles in 7 days, 17 hours, and 8 minutes in a Gardner. They started to prepare to expand the product line and distributorship network. The Plant's capacity was 40,000 cars annually and by 1925 these included both sixes and eights. The fours were dropped in 1925 with both sixes and eights being produced in 1926 and 1927. For 1928 and 1929 the eights were the only engines used on their models. During the summer of 1929, Gardner announced two "very important" automobile contracts. The Sears, Roebuck, and Company wanted Gardner to develop a new car to be sold by mail order. The other venture was with New Era Motors to manufacture the front wheel drive Ruxton. With the stock market crash in late 1929 both deals were off. For the 1930 model Gardners they returned to the six cylinder engine only. In January of 1930 the company announced a front wheel drive six-cylinder car. An 80 hp six on a 133 wheelbase, and a Baker-Raulang body which sported a longer hood with distinctive low-slung lines. Rare in America they used Lockheed hydraulic internal expanding brakes and a two way hydraulic shock absorbers. Unfortunately it turned out that they would only produce prototypes of this model. The 1931 models were the same 1930 model but just updated. In mid 1931 Russell E. Gardner, Jr. solicited the permission of his stockholders to stop producing automobiles. The reasons he gave for his company's failure was that Gardner had been only profitable until 1927. The fierce competition of the major producer of automobiles and their control of many sources of parts supplier. The Gardner funeral car was built through 1932, but then the company ended all production.


    For more information please read:

The Professional Car (Quarterly Journal of the Professional car Society)

Gregg D. Merksamer - Professional Cars: Ambulances, Funeral Cars and Flower Cars

Thomas A. McPherson - American Funeral Cars & Ambulances Since 1900

Carriage Museum of America - Horse-Drawn Funeral Vehicles: 19th Century Funerals

Carriage Museum of America -  Horse Drawn - Military, Civilian, Veterinary - Ambulances

Gunter-Michael Koch - Bestattungswagen im Wandel der Zeit

Walt McCall & Tom McPherson - Classic American Ambulances 1900-1979: Photo Archive

Walt McCall & Tom McPherson - Classic American Funeral Vehicles 1900-1980 Photo Archive

Walter M. P. McCall - The American Ambulance 1900-2002

Walter M.P. McCall - American Funeral Vehicles 1883-2003

Michael L. Bromley & Tom Mazza - Stretching It: The Story of the Limousine

Richard J. Conjalka - Classic American Limousines: 1955 Through 2000 Photo Archive

Richard J. Conjalka - Stretch Limousines 1928-2001 Photo Archive

Thomas A. McPherson - Eureka: The Eureka Company: a complete history

Thomas A. McPherson - Superior: The complete history

Thomas A. McPherson - Flxible: The Complete History

Thomas A. McPherson - Miller-Meteor: The Complete History

Robert R. Ebert  - Flxible: A History of the Bus and the Company

Hearses - Automobile Quarterly Vol 36 No 3

Marian Suman-Hreblay - Dictionary of World Coachbuilders and Car Stylists

Daniel D. Hutchins - Wheels Across America: Carriage Art & Craftsmanship

Marian Suman-Hreblay - Dictionary of World Coachbuilders and Car Stylists

Michael Lamm and Dave Holls - A Century of Automotive Style: 100 Years of American Car Design

Nick Georgano - The Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile: Coachbuilding

Marian Suman-Hreblay - Automobile Manufacturers Worldwide Registry

G.N. Georgano & G. Marshall Naul - The Complete Encyclopedia of Commercial Vehicles

Albert Mroz - Illustrated Encyclopedia of American Trucks & Commercial Vehicles

Beverly Rae Kimes & Henry Austin Clark Jr. - Standard Catalog of American Cars 1805-1942

John Gunnell - Standard Catalog of American Cars, 1946-1975

James M. Flammang & Ron Kowalke - Standard Catalog of American Cars, 1976-1999


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