1914 Imp Cycle-car (One of five extant)
In 1969, Henry Austin Clark was conducting the third auction of his entire automobile collection from the Long Island Automotive Museum. My mother and father had been very close friends of Austin and Wally (his wife) for many years by this time and they also attended the first two auctions, which sold mostly finished or original cars. This third auction was to sell off his huge supply of parts and un-restored autos.
As they were organizing items for the sale to happen in a few days hence, the group stumbled upon the remains of a 1914 Imp Cyclecar that Austin found one day while in search of a Model “K” Ford engine. Knowing that it was soon to be my mom’s birthday and that she had always wanted a cyclecar, Austin gifted the pile of parts to her.
When mom and dad returned from New York, I was fascinated with the new project that they brought home. I immediately started studying the car and researching any and all documents, pictures, articles and other owners. I learned that there were four other Imps left in existence. One was in the Auburn, Cord, Duesenberg Museum in Auburn, Indiana. It was only about a four-hour drive from Cleveland and I had to go and see one in person.
The people at the A-C-D Museum were unbelievably helpful and gracious. The Imp was originally built in Auburn and the actual building that was the factory for the two years of production was one of the A-C-D displays. They also had extensive company files and photos. The real “topper” was when I learned that the serial numbers of our two Imps were only one digit apart with ours being the higher number. That meant that they were right next to each other on the entire assembly line and should end up being identical vehicles.
Since I was fifteen at the time and had no current car project, my father said that my brother Al and I could work on it, but we had to finish the research before we could start “wrenching”. The car was missing quite a few parts that we had no patterns to reproduce. We needed a hood and grill, top, friction drive shaft, belts, steering wheel, front seat, some dash controls, a piece or two of missing wood on the frame and an array of small parts.
Al and I researched for the next eight years while we finished high school and I moved to Georgia with my job as a Domino’s Pizza Franchisee. After settling in to our new home in Carrolton, I set about building a workshop capable of fabricating metal and wood parts. As soon as I was ready, we moved the car to Georgia and I began work. The car still belonged to my mom, so the deal was that I would do all the work and my dad would pay for materials. When completed, the car would return to mom.
For the next two years, my brother Al (working in Cleveland) and I worked diligently on the project. As we were approaching completion, my dad made a challenge. If I could have the car complete for the 1985 Glidden Tour in French Lick, Indiana, I could have the car for my own. I actually worked on the car some inside of the closed trailer that we were using to transport the car to the event. We made it!
While taking “Uncle Austin” for his promised ride, he told me the story of how he came to referring to this car as his “million dollar Imp.”
It was a day in the late 1940’s when Austin followed a lead on the Model K Ford engine that was mentioned at the beginning of this article. The weather was terrible that day and upon arriving at his destination, he learned that there really was no Model K engine where he thought one should be. The lead was incorrect. However, not wanting to waste the trip, he asked some gentlemen in the local parts store if they were aware of any old cars in the area that might be for sale. (His collection eventually grew to 185 cars) The men told him about an old “cyclecar” that was down by the boat docks. He went to make an offer and the owner was only too glad to see it go.
Upon returning home (late for dinner and soaking wet) he remembered that they (Mr. and Mrs. Clark) were entertaining dinner guests at his home that evening. His dinner guest was a bit nervous already because he was going to pitch a business idea to Austin and now the schedule seemed disrupted. Upon hearing the man’s proposal and being in a previously fouled mood after looking for a big “T”-head engine only to return with a rusty old go-cart, Austin declined the offer stating that “Dr. Land, I really don’t think that anyone’s going to be interested in a camera that develops its own pictures.”
That’s right! THAT Dr. Land! Austin had just turned down an offer to be on the ground floor of the Polariod Land Camera. When Austin told me the story, he said that he had always blamed THIS car for his big investment mistake.
I continued to own the 1914 Imp until 1992, when I sold it to a member of the A-C-D Museum Board of Directors. I believe that it now lives in a private collection in Houston, Texas.