John T. Rainier got his start in the automobile business around the turn of the 20th century when he purchased the Brooklyn, New York-based truck and bus manufacturer Vehicle Equipment Co. Vehicle Equipment Co. built electric trucks and sightseeing buses and following his takeover, Rainier experimented with a few cars marketed as a V.E.C. He eventually introduced a new automobile that bore his name in 1905. This luxurious new motorcar was assembled in a facility in Flushing, NY using an engine and chassis supplied by Garford of Elyria, Ohio. 1906 Rainiers were even larger, now riding on a 104″ wheelbase and powered by a 30/35hp four-cylinder engine, still by Garford. Big and expensive, the Rainier cost a not-insignificant $4,000 in 1906, rising annually to nearly $6,000 by 1910 making it one of the most expensive motorcars in America. Success in competition – mainly hillclimb events – earned Rainier a strong reputation. Their quality, cost and equipment levels earned them the nickname “the Pullman of Motor Cars”.
Garford had entered into a contract with Studebaker that prevented them from supplying any more engines and chassis to Rainier, so in late 1907, Rainier moved to Saginaw, Michigan and hired an ex-Garford engineer who designed an even larger range of engines, all the way up to 50hp. An ambitious plan to sell 300 cars was met with bankruptcy in 1910, after just 180 were produced. In spite of the financial struggles, the Rainier brand held enough weight to attract the attention of William C. Durant who purchased the remains of Rainier and rolled it into his new company, General Motors. The marque continued only through 1911 when it became part of the lower cost Marquette brand.
This remarkable 1907 Rainier Model C is one the last of the New York-built examples before the company was moved to Michigan. Chassis number 1193 carries with it a fascinating history, with a string of famous and influential owners that kept it in their care over the years. It presents in complete, original condition, appearing a bit rough in places but remaining proud and grand as ever.
This history of 1193 is known back to the original owner, one Paul M. Howard, a wagon builder from Mansfield, Ohio. Apparently the wagon building business was quite good, as Mr. Howard specified his Rainier with an expensive and elegant convertible limousine body by C.P. Kimball. Given the considerable expense of his Rainier, it is of little surprise that he kept the car until 1945. The car was then purchased by the famous radio personality and operatic tenor, James Melton. Melton was clearly enthralled with the car as he kept it for many years before it changed hands again, this time going to Winthrop Rockefeller, the Governor of Arkansas and third generation member of the famous Rockefeller family.
After its time with Mr. Rockefeller, the Rainier then became part of what was once the most famous car collection in the world, the William F. Harrah collection. It remained part of the Harrah collection for nearly a decade before passing to another famous collection, that of Don Metz. It remained in Metz’s possession for two decades before its sale to David Noran in 2004.
This Rainier Model C is imposing and impressive as one would expect from a high-horsepower horseless carriage. The magnificent body was built by C.P. Kimball of Chicago, Il. Standing at over seven feet tall, it can be reconfigured as either a closed limousine or open tourer. Period advertisements proclaim the ability to remove the roof and fit “summer doors” and a folding top (at additional cost, naturally). Options included rear jump seats, and accessories such as electric light fixtures, gentleman’s smoking case, ladies toilet case, and carriage clock were touted. This luxury came at a cost of course; over $2,000 in its day. The passenger compartment on our example features the optional jump seats and the rear upholstery is believed to be original. Original features such as the intercom tube remain intact and the body still wears its original brass lamps.