Montrose’s Auto Assembly Plant – The Flintridge Motor Manufacturing Corporation
As promised in last week’s column, we have more local auto history for all our “gearhead” readers. It may surprise you to find out that in February 1957, the Flintridge Motor Manufacturing Corporation established an auto assembly plant in Montrose at 3724 Park Place. The building is still there and has the signature architectural look of a building of that era. It appears today that that the front portion of the building is an unlabeled office and the back is Baird’s Auto Body.
A small article in the local paper in 1957 outlined some information about the assembly plant provided by the president Harry Lindsay. The cars they were assembling were German DKWs. The parts were produced in Germany and shipped to the U.S. for assembly. Flintridge Motors was licensed to produce the cars and slap their own name on them. They assembled a small sedan and an early RV: the Flintridge Caravan. The Flintridge Caravan resembled a sheet-metal travel trailer bolted to a van front end.
The DKW design that these Flintridge models were built on had some features we would consider ahead of their time. The engines were mounted transversely in the vehicle and drove the front wheels, both features that most cars today have. However, the engines were 900cc 3-cylinder two-stroke engines that produced only 38 horsepower. This was at a time when most American cars had big V8s, or at least six-cylinders producing horsepower measured in the hundreds. But apparently the physically tiny engine was strong for its size and, with proper gearing, pushed the Flintridge cars along at a respectable speed, probably trailing a column of acrid smoke typical of two-stroke engines of that era.
Flintridge Motors had its own showroom at 442 Foothill, across the street from today’s Trader Joe’s, and was part of a nationwide group of DKW dealers. Their advertising played to the strengths of the odd little cars. They called the DKW “unique” and trumpeted that the cars had front wheel drive and German craftsmanship. They told potential buyers that the odd little engine got up to 35 miles per gallon, had only seven moving parts, and could push the car along at 75 miles per hour. They said about the engine that “three equals six” meaning that their three-cylinder engine produced the same power as a six-cylinder.
It was at this point in 1957 that Flintridge Motors entered into a partnership to produce a sports car that has become somewhat legendary: the Flintridge Darren. The concept of fiberglass car bodies was relatively new, and a few cutting-edge designers were working with the idea of taking production cars and “reskinning” with a fiberglass body to emulate the successful Corvette. One of the most successful designers was Howard “Dutch” Darren. He was approached by investors willing to pay to have a production fiberglass sports car designed for the DKW chassis. He was directed to the Flintridge Motor Manufacturing Corporation of Montrose, which provided him with a DKW sedan to work out his design on. He cut away the boxy DKW auto body and sculpted a clay prototype on it. From there Flintridge Motors produced tooling for a visually stunning fiberglass body to attach to the DKW chassis.
The design was a hit with reviewers. The car was low and sleek, with slightly raised tailfins. The tiny motor under the feather-weight body produced some impressive performance, and the beautiful convertible could seat five, unusual for a sports car. It was decided to move the Flintridge Darren production line to Santa Gail Marks Ana where the fiberglass body panels were being produced.
Only about 20 of these interesting sports cars were produced before slow sales dictated an end to production.
From here we lose track of what became of the Flintridge Motor Manufacturing Corporation. An internet search turns up a Flintridge travel trailer produced in 1959, but that’s the end of the trail.
And of the legendary Flintridge Darren – not a single car survives today. An interesting but elusive chapter in the automobile history of the Crescenta Valley.