HomeCar CultureRather than trying to sell you insurance, this Gecko was a car...

Rather than trying to sell you insurance, this Gecko was a car producer

And before it built appliances for Sears, Kenmore also was building cars


Our series on car companies with unusual names continues as we open Volume II of The Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile:

Gadabout — The dictionary says a “gadabout” is an idle pleasure seeker, which leads us to wonder how many people may have sought their pleasures while gadding in a Gadabout, an automotive brand operating from 1914-1916. The Encyclopedia notes that this company was founded in Newark, New Jersey, where it made bodies for its vehicles from wicker and promoted them as easy to clean — just remove the seats and hose the rest down. In 1915, Gadabout moved to Detroit and started using metal coachwork. In 1916, the company moved again, to Buffalo, New York, where it closed sometime in 1917.

Gecko — Before there was that annoying little gecko trying to sell you car insurance on television, there were two car companies named Gecko. Both were British. Our focus here is on the first of them, established in 1965 in Yorkshire where 23-year-old Stuart Smith created a 2-seater designed to stand on end when parked. The Encyclopedia notes that Gecko closed a year later without producing perhaps anything other than Smith’s original prototype.

Glide — We included this company simply because of its poetic slogan: “Ride in a Glide, Then Decide.” The company existed from 1903-1920, producing more than 500 vehicles in Peoria, Illinois, where it was founded by J.B. Bartholomew, who had been producing peanut- and coffee-roasting equipment.

Gyroscope — Before Gyroscope, there was Griswold, a short-lived company in Detroit that made a cyclecar that mounted its 2-cylinder engine vertically, flywheel down. C.H. Blomstrom thought such an engine might have a natural gyroscopic effect and bought the rights and went into production. However, he found few people who agreed with him. He started cutting prices but that didn’t help, so he closed his company in 1909.

Hanomag — I don’t recall ever seeing a Hanomag at any car show or concours I’ve attended. In fact, I’m not even sure I’d heard of the company. But the Encyclopedia devotes 2 full pages to this German automaker in business from 1925-1952. 

The name is a contraction of Hannoversche Machinenbau AG, which traces its history to 1835 and a company that produced steam engines, farm implements and locomotives. In 1930, Hanomag was second only to Opel in vehicle sales in Germany, but it went through a financial reorganization in 1932.

The photos more than words drew my attention. The 1926 Hanomag 2/10PS coupe has a passenger box placed between snub-nosed front and rear sections and the 1939 Hanomag 1.3-liter saloon looks like a precursor to the Volkswagen Beetle. 

Harding — Have you heard of invalid cars? Harding of Bath, England, specialized from 1921 until after World War II in producing hand-propelled, gasoline and electric single and 2-seaters designed for those with disabilities. 

Gecko, Rather than trying to sell you insurance, this Gecko was a car producer, ClassicCars.com Journal
A few years after winning the inaugural Indianapolis 500, Ray Harroun was involved in a car company bearing his name | Txm6555 photo

Harroun — What did Ray Harroun do after winning the inaugural Indianapolis 500 race? Well, in 1917 he designed a roadster and a touring car. One thousand were produced before the company closed in 1922.

Hertz — Yes, as in the rent-a-car company, but from 1925-1927 John Hertz was involved in the Yellow Cab Manufacturing Company in Chicago and not only was building cabs but a sedan and touring car anyone might purchase.

Husqvarna — You likely know this Swedish brand for its chain saws, power tools, motorcycles and perhaps even for its sewing machines, but in 1943 it developed a prototype 3-wheeled car with an eye on post-war production. The Encyclopedia notes, however, that the car didn’t go into production as the company decided to focus on 2-wheel motor machines.

Hydrocar — You like know Amphicar, but the Hydrocar dates to 1917 when car dealer George Monnot of Canton, Ohio, designed an amphibious car that went forward on the road but backward in the water, thanks to a propeller mounted beneath the radiator at the front of the vehicle. The Hydrocar had 2 steering wheels, one for forward and one for reverse.. Monnot thought the U.S. Army would be a great customer, only to have World War I end and the Army’s potential interest ending in peacetime.

Indian — Like Husqvarna and Brough Superior, Indian was a motorcycle producer. But between 1925 and 1927, Jack Bauer, son of the company president, crafted four automobiles, one powered by an Indian motorcycle engine and the other three by Continental car engines. Two of the cars had Merrimac coachwork, one had a LeBaron body and one was done in-house. Whatever plans Bauer might have had for production ended when Indian went through reorganization in 1929.

Jack Frost — It’s no wonder this properly named Chicago-based company was in production only in 1903 — have you been in Chicago when the winter wind is coming off frozen Lake Michigan? It produced an open electric-powered car with 3 rows of seats and rode on solid rubber tires mounted on steel wheels. To soften the ride at least a little, the seats were equipped with pneumatic springs. 

Kenmore — Founded in Chicago in 1910, this company produced 2- and 4-cylinder cars until 1912, which it sold its manufacturing facility to Sears Roebuck, the mail-order company that produced and sold its own cars from 1908-1912. By then, however, Sears was done with automobiles. However, Sears kept the Kenmore name alive by putting it on a succession of home appliances.

Larry Edsall
Larry Edsall
A former daily newspaper sports editor, Larry Edsall spent a dozen years as an editor at AutoWeek magazine before making the transition to writing for the web and becoming the author of more than 15 automotive books. In addition to being founding editor at ClassicCars.com, Larry has written for The New York Times and The Detroit News and was an adjunct honors professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.


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