The term “land yacht” gets thrown around a lot when talking about big American cars, but the 1916 Crane-Simplex Model 5 Holbrook Skiff featured on the latest episode of “Jay Leno’s Garage” is one of the few cars actually named after a type of watercraft.
A skiff is a small boat with a flat bottom, square stern, and pointed bow, but this Crane-Simplex is a bit more elaborate. It’s a luxury car that, typically for the period, features coach-built bodywork (by New York firm Holbrook). In this case, the bodywork has a nautical theme, complete with ship-style air intakes, propellors, and a cowling around the passenger compartment not unlike a motor yacht’s.
Simplex began as a manufacturer of steam engines, shifting to cars at the turn of the 20th century. In 1915, the company merged with the Crane Motor Car Company, a New Jersey firm founded by engineer Henry Middleton Crane.
1916 Crane-Simplex Model 5 Holbrook Skiff on Jay Leno’s Garage
The car is powered by a 110-hp 563.7-cubic inch inline-6, which Leno said was basically a copy of a period Rolls-Royce engine. Much of the under-hood hardware is copper, while the carburetor looks like a piece of steampunk art. Crane-Simplex included some novel features, including an air compressor for refilling tires that runs off the engine, and a work light (for impromptu roadside repairs, presumably).
This car has a well-documented history; it was passed between several large car collections over the decades, including the collection of the Harrah’s casino. Leno had it fully restored by Randy Ema, best known for his Duesenberg restorations.
The Crane-Simplex is one of many defunct brands that came and went quickly in the early days of the auto industry. Watch the video for the full story on this obscure piece of history.