If it weren't for the ‘80s troll-hair band, REO Speedwagon, Ransom E. Olds other car company could presently be as unfamiliar a name as Pope Hartfield or Dan Quayle. Instead, cars like today's Nice Price or Crack Pipe 1934 Flying Cloud come with some name recognition, but will its price also register?
Registration was a concern for a lot of you when it came to yesterday's 1985 Renault R5 Turbo 2. It was of such questionable legality that it potentially could have starred in Pretty Baby II. That issue, along with a general consensus that if your going to go French you're better off with Mirelle than some potential automotive molotov, resulted in the badonkadonk coupe garnering a 58% Crack Pipe vote. That loss made the rest of you feel like this.
Just as the purchase of that particular French car might lead to wallet-emptying grief, so too might a French kiss lead to additional activities, hopefully however, not grief inducing. Of course when you are of the age of today's 1934 REO Flying Cloud a kiss may be just enough.
A couple of weeks ago I was chewing the fat with a fellow car collector; a gentleman of means whose current paddock was padded with the likes of a Dino 246 GTS and 1965 427 Corvette among others. He told me that at one time he had the hots for Ford's Model A, but had seen the market for those cars evaporate like someone had carpet bombed it with silica packs - don't eat ‘em! When I inquired as to why that was, he postulated that it was because those with an interest in the depression-era darlings had experienced a mass die-off due to something called old age.
That got me to thinking, do we naturally gravitate to interests of our own eras? Would today's high-tech car guy have any interest in vehicles where the spark advance is set not by an ECM but by a lever on the steering wheel? And hence, as both an example of a rare and significant make and as a bit of an experiment, today's NPOCP is this ‘34 Flying Cloud.
Now, Flying Cloud may sound like the name of an antiquated - say 1995 - Rolls Royce, however while there have been Silver Clouds and Flying Spurs (which sounds like a wicked cool kung fu movie) this honorific has never adorned an offspring of Crewe. REO, as you know was the 1905 follow up auto manufacturing concern started by Ransom Olds after leaving his first - the Olds Motor Vehicle Company - due to clashes with business partners.
REO managed to carve out a profitable share of the American auto market in the teens, but competition from Ford and Chevrolet ate away at market share despite the company's burgeoning reputation for innovation and solid products. It was that innovation, as well as a poorly timed attempt at expansion that ended REO's automotive manufacturing efforts in 1936, leaving the company to make only commercial trucks for the next 39 years.
Before that flame out REO brought out a pair of what would become their best known models - the range-topper Royale 8, and the subject of today's deliberation, the Flying Cloud. That mid-level (think Buick) model debuted in 1927 and took its name and mascot from the clipper ship of the same name. This ‘34 Flying Cloud sports REO's 268-cid flathead six which put out a respectable pre-war 85-hp.
The transmission is the company's Self-Shifter semi-automatic, the $2 million development cost of which was partially what drove REO to the poor house. Introduced the year prior, the T handle under the dash actuates a two-speed gearbox - push it forward for low/high, pull it back for neutral, and give it a twist for reverse, easy peasy. The clutch was only used for starting from a dead stop. The Flying Cloud was also the first car to feature Lockheed's internally-expanding hydraulic brakes, which were a significant advancement over the mechanical brakes of the time, or just leaping out of the moving car before it hit something.
Not everything was as advanced as those particular mechanical systems as another aspect of this car being a ‘34 is its wooden body frame. The very next year REO switched the Flying Cloud to an all-steel frame and shifted the design from the boxy gangster look of the twenties to the more rounded look apparently favored by depression era curb-side apple peddlers. Inside this one's ornate orange crate it's resplendent in art deco styling elements and appears to be made almost exclusively of burled wood, bakelite, and leprechauns. The green velour upholstery does seem a little incongruous in light of the deep teal exterior color, but maybe that's just the eBay snaps. Overall it looks to be in fine shape both inside and out, although the seller admits that its restoration is older and is showing some cracks and wear. The chrome - including the neat bookended door handles - looks as shiny as you could want.
The seller also mentions that its odometer (did they call them that back then?) reads 87,406, but that the speedo's inaccuracy due to taller tires may mean that's off. Unless you have X-Games level OCD that wouldn't likely be a deal killer. There are two things that might be though. The first circles back to that original question about whether or not the market for these kind of cars - the less notable prewar machinery - is impacted by what sociologists describe as the great fogey die-off. If you managed to stay awake through Econ 101 then you know as demand decreases due to such a contraction, so hence must the intersection of supply shift, driving down prices. That brings up the second possible influence on this REO's outcome today, which is its asking price. The seller claims that ‘average retail' is $16,300, making his $15,000 price tag seem a modest deal in comparison. But where exactly does one go to calculate average retail on a 77 year old car? I'm guessing Hemmings, but I find that tome envisions damn-near everything built prior to 1968 to be worth a king's Ransom E Olds.
So we'll just have to wing it here. What do you think, is there still a significant market for these survivors of the great depression, and if so, does $15,000 make this REO grand? Or, is this pre-war car's price preposterous?
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