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SNAPSHOT 402: 1920 Noma

The research for this week’s Snapshot produced a famous (or infamous) owner, and one of America’s finest motoring illustrators.

Noma Motors Corporation of New York City was a subsidiary of the Walton Body Company. During the Great War Walton had turned their entire factory facilities over to the production of aeroplane wings for the government, and they decided to use this experience of achieving lightness with strength to create a sporting car.

The Noma was an assembled car, typical of many in the USA at the time. Its ovoid radiator, low-slung coachwork and wire wheels as standard gave it a sporting appearance. It made its debut at the New York Auto Show in January 1919 and gained positive attention from the public and some favourable column inches in the motoring press. The car was available only as a 2-seater speedster at $2900 and a 4-seater close-coupled phaeton for $300 more. It was fitted with a Continental 7R 6-cylinder L-head engine as standard equipment, or optionally a 6-cylinder Beaver engine. Instead of running boards there were stylish aluminium step plates. Prices dropped significantly in 1922 to $2000 for the speedster, and a 6-seater touring car and a sedan were added to the range, but in 1923 the last of an estimated total of 625 Nomas was built.

Now for the infamous owner. Some time after 2000 an enthusiast was searching in an old, closed down salvage yard. In a shed was a 1922 Noma car, with a restored chassis and the body still intact but off the car. The grandson of the yard’s founder confirmed that it was a one-owner car that had belonged to “Legs” Diamond, the mobster. The car had been impounded from his hideout in 1933 after his murder and had been stored since.

Jack “Legs” Diamond (1897-1931), also known as Gentleman Jack, was an Irish American gangster in Philadelphia and New York City during the Prohibition era. A bootlegger and close associate of gambler Arnold Rothstein, Diamond survived several attempts on his life between 1916 and 1931, causing him to be known as the “clay pigeon of the underworld”. In 1930, Diamond’s nemesis Dutch Schultz remarked to his own gang, “Ain’t there nobody that can shoot this guy so he don’t bounce back?”

Our illustration is from a British advertisement of October 1920 placed by the importers E. J. Rossiter Limited of London WC2. Very little is known of Rossiter, except that he won the 3.15 pm race at Brooklands at the 27 June 1914 Midsummer Meeting in a Hispano-Suiza. The illustrator, however, is far better known. He is Peter Helck (1893-1988), born in New York City and a resident of New York State throughout his life. An illustrator, writer, painter and etcher, he was known for his superbly detailed illustrations of cars and trains as well as masterful landscape paintings. Helck was elected to the National Academy of Design in 1947, in recognition of his contributions to American art. His paintings hang in many private collections and museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Congressional Library in Washington, DC.

Image courtesy of The Richard Roberts Archive:

2 responses to “SNAPSHOT 402: 1920 Noma”

  1. Tom Clarke says:

    Great piece!

  2. That’s a great barn find!

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