The Autocar marquee has had a long and industrious life over the past century The business initially started as an automobile manufacturer in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in1897. Starting as the Pittsburgh Motor Vehicle Company it changed its name to Autocar when it was relocated to Ardmore in 1899. The first car off the production line was a single cylinder chain drive runabout released in 1900.The founder of the company, Louis Semple Clark came from a mechanical engineering background and was already well known for his mechanical inventiveness which included spark plugs for gasoline engines, first design of an oil circulation system and improvements to the automobile drive shaft. Clarkes patented porcelain insulated spark plug system was sold to Champion and remains, to this day, the industry standard.
Clarke also insisted on placing the driver’s seat on the left hand side of the vehicles he produced and many believe it was his insistence on this that led to that standardization throughout the USA and much of the automotive industry worldwide. As a consequence of this UK (and subsequently Australia) produced their ranges with right hand drive. Clark sold his interest in 1929 and retired to Palm Beach where he died in 1957.
From 1911 Autocar only produced trucks. Their first model had a 97-inch wheelbase, a one and a half ton capacity and a two cylinder gasoline engine under the seat. Later the range was expanded to four and six cylinder units. The company fell on difficult times in the Great Depression but production peaked again during WWII when over 50,000 units were supplied to the American Forces. Much of its production was centred on making armor plated half tracks. This increased output continued after the war ended thanks to permission being granted by the US government for the company to produce 3000 vehicles. Autocar soon had over 100 dealers spread throughout the United States and units were vailable in either low or high mount. When the post war boom ended and sales declined considerably Autocar sold out to the White Motor Company in 1953. White sold both White and Autocar trucks with most of the latter being cab over engine type models. White however did replace the original Blue Streak engine with its own Mustang engine. Interestingly, and just to confuse us, White sold Autocar in Canada during this time as Western Stars.
Autocar's ‘Custom Engineering’ and policy of meeting every customer's needs soon led to a reputation as Autocar being the ‘World's Finest’ truck. The White Motor Company was taken over by Volvo Trucks in 1980 with Autocar continuing as a division. In 2001 Grand Vehicle Works Holdings acquired White and continued to use the Autocar brand name for their line of trucks.
The last traditional Autocar, complete with a ‘Custom Driver Cab’ rolled off the production line on 18 December 1987. Autocars were from that point made in the style of other Volvo-White products with the bow-tie emblem on the radiator and hood side panels. The name changed to Volvo-Autocar in 1996 until 2000 when the Autocar marque was withdrawn completely from the market. This can be explained in part because when Volvo acquired Renault Trucks (with Mack) at that time they were faced with a surplus of heavy duty / refuse type models. Subsequently Volvo agreed to sell select vehicle designs for the Xpeditor low cab forward heavy duty product, and the Autocar Company brand rights to Grand Vehicle Works Holdings. This company has a nationwide service network throughout America and it’s Autocar customer base includes large fleets, private fleets and municipalities all around the United States and Canada. The occasional one still makes it to Australia.