The First Gardner

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1919 - 1920  

In the beginning….
The announcement to convert the Banner Buggy Company to a Motor Car Company was in early 1915. Russell Gardner put the Buggy Company up for sale and announced the formation of a new company - Banner Automobile. This was the same announcement he made in 1910 but it appears that no vehicles were built under the name Banner Automobile. It is likely that the 1915 announcement caught the eye of Billy Durant, head of Chevrolet and the two began talks about Gardner building the upcoming Chevrolet 490.

Russell Gardner had the factory and $1,000,000 to invest in upgrades. Chevrolet would provide the parts. Production began in November and until August 1918 Gardner built all the Chevrolets for a nine state area. In addition the contract to build the bodies for Chevrolets, was in excess of the cars he built so it is likely he built all the bodies for assembled cars built outside of Michigan. On August 1, 1918 he sold the factory to Chevrolet and for a period was out of the transportation business.

With his two sons home from the Great War the three set out to build the Gardner automobile. On March 17, 1919 Russell Gardner, Russell Jr. and Fred W. along with automotive engineers and draftsmen entered the newly acquired facility at 4300 Forest Park Blvd and began the design of the proto-type. By August field testing began in the mountains of Pennsylvania, that same month they entered an agreement to buy back their old factory at Rutger and Main. On Oct 6th they held the first public viewing of the new car. Possession of the factory was delayed from Jan 1st to March 1st because the new GM factory was not complete on the scheduled date.

These early units are often described as conservative in styling, and powered by a Lycoming engine that was adequate for the times. This would be true for almost all of the cars built in the $1200 price range. With the Lycoming ‘K’ engine it was a good automobile but not a great automobile.

The touring was the first offering and was followed with a roadster; by September of 1920 the 4-door sedan was in the line up. While the cars 1922 Roadster look basically the same for the first three years, a number of changes did take place. One of the first things to be updated was the Gardner logo on the radiator shell, MOTOR CAR was added and the ornate curls in the center were removed, this occurred about July 1920.

Other updates include; adding an oil pressure gauge, a top aluminum molding added to the touring and roadster, the dog bone moto-meter radiator cap all appeared October 1921. The high-rimmed conical headlights were replaced with drum headlights in February 1922. The business coupe was first introduced in the summer of 1922. Numerous mechanical changes took place as well, including a new carburetor in 1921.

The business coupe was first introduced in the summer of 1922. Numerous mechanical changes took place as well, including a new carburetor in 1921.

In January 1922, Gardner announced significant price reductions, and just a few days later announced an unprecedented 1-year guarantee. The standard guarantee for the other makes was 90 days. Sales more than doubled for the year, making 1922 the most successful year for units sold at 9,000.