THE FORGOTTEN ARTISTRY OF NED JORDAN
The Jordan was a good car but so were the products of several dozen other American automobile manufacturers. Moreover, as with dozens of other manufacturers the Jordan was an assembled car.
In fact, the majority of the big companies had begun as assembled cars. The first Ford’s used transmissions and differentials produced by the Dodge brothers. The foundation for Cadillac was an engine designed for Olds and a tantrum by Henry Ford.
What the Jordan did have was something no other company had – the gifted Ned Jordan. A writer extraordinaire, a lyrical poet who in another time would have been the writer of sonnets, a romanticist in the golden age of industry was Jordan.
An odd anomaly from the infancy of the automobile is the fact that it sparked passion and excitement but advertisement and promotion was stilted and dry. A promotional piece for the Porter Stanhope of 1900 featured a small ink drawing of the vehicle at the top of a page followed by almost 1,000 words of text.
It was in this sterile atmosphere that Jordan first began honing his skills to promote the automobile. After a stint as a newspaper reporter, he married into the Jeffery family of Kenosha, Wisconsin, an early leader in automobile production. In short order he assumed the role of advertising manager for the Thomas B. Jeffery Automobile Company.
His marriage as well as his new position at the company provided unfettered access to individuals with capital. Getting attention from those with financial resources was accomplished through the promotional pieces produced for the company that in turn allowed him to polish his gift as a silver tounged wizzard.
In the summer of 1916, Charles Nash gave up his position at General Motors, purchased the Thomas B. Jeffery Company, and set it on a new path. However, this realignment of the company was of little concern to Jordan as in January of that year he had collaborated with another Jeffery employee and established his own manufacturing company.
The concept he had in mind was relatively easy; build a car from the best parts available – Continental engine, Bijur electrics, Bosch ignition, Stromberg carburetion, and Stewart-Warner vacuum fuel feed. Then bring them together in a package that appeared to be a custom car complete with wire spoke wheels.
Production commenced in September of 1916. Sales were initially somewhat modest with just over 1,700 models produced that first year but with Jordan’s gifted prose sales soared to 5,000 by 1918.
The prose was coupled with creative model designation while the mechanics were wisely left to those better suited. For 1918 there were numerous models including touring, town car, and Sport Marine. In 1919, the touring car became the Suburban Seven Touring. The year 1920 saw the introduction of the Playboy and Silhouette.
In the promotion of the Playboy, the talents of Jordan reached their zenith. “Some day in June, when happy hours abound, a wonderful girl and a wonderful boy will leave their friends in a shower of rice and start to roam. Give them a Jordan Playboy, the blue sky overhead, the green turf flying by and a thousand miles of open road.”
In late 1925, the automobiles produced by Jordan were more than just a well-promoted assembled car. Fresh styling, the addition of a in house designed Continental straight eight engine and Lockheed hydraulic brakes enabled them to live up to the hype.
As a result, 1926 would be the companies best year with 11,000 vehicles produced. The following year was the mirror opposite. Sales were dismal with less than 7,000 of the 10,000 vehicles produced finding buyers and the personal front was little better. Jordan’s marriage was on the rocks and his health was suffering years of long hours, stress and alchol.
Ironically at the heart of the sales decline was Jordan’s ability to think ahead of the curve. The well built and designed Little Custom was poorly received, the American consumer had little interest in a luxury compact automobile during those heady days of seemingly unbridled prosperity.
The swan song for Jordan, the company and the man, came in 1930 with the Model Z Speedway Ace. In addition to performance and styling the car exuded pure class with such features as an aircraft inspired dash, narrow Woodlite headlamps and low slung chassis.
It could be said the introduction of a car such as this with a hefty price tag of $5,000.00 in the first days of the Great Depression was the folly that brought the company to the end of the road. However, the Duesenberg sold for even more and the smaller, less expensive Jordan was not selling either.
The Jordan chapter ended in 1932. Ned Jordan would fade into obscurity with only a brief stint of employment for Studebaker Sales Corporation in 1934 and 1935 as his final association with automobile related endeavors.
The Jordan today is simply another forgotten chapter in American automotive history with less than 100 vehicles existent. Perhaps the saddest part of this obscurity is the genius and talents of Ned Jordan are as forgotten as the ballads he wrote to sell them.