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SNAPSHOT 422: 1920 National Sextet

The National Motor Vehicle Company was a manufacturer based in Indianapolis from 1900 to 1924. There is a strong connection of the company to American racing history: one of its presidents, Arthur C. Newby, was also one of the investors who created the Indianapolis Motor Speedway that opened in 1909.

National first concentrated on electric vehicles but in 1903 began producing petrol-engined cars alongside the electrics, starting with an 8hp two-cylinder and a 16hp four-cylinder with Rutenber engines and shaft drive. Practically all parts of the cars apart from the engines were built in-house.

The 2-cylinder did not last and by 1905 Nationals were large cars: a four-cylinder 35/40hp and a six-cylinder 50/60hp – one of the first six-cylinder cars to be made in America. In 1907 National filled the final gap in its control of manufacturing by acquiring its own engine plant; it was not until 1916 that it went outside again for engines.

By 1908 there were four models: 40 and 50hp fours and 50 and 75hp sixes. But production of these up-market machines was modest, with output in that year of only 1313 cars. The highest figures were in 1915, at 1816, after which production dropped because of the war and afterwards as a result of the challenge from mass-produced cars.

National achieved many sporting successes, mainly in the years between 1909 and 1912. In 1911 alone, in a combination of road races, speedway races, hill climbs and dirt track races, its cars won a total of 84 times, came second 48 times and third 30 times. National won the Indianapolis 500 in 1912, the first and only time a stock car ever won that race.

In 1916 the range changed again:  a lower-priced 29hp six was introduced with a Continental engine but at the top end was the Highway Twelve powered by a V12 of National’s own design and manufacture. In 1916 National was bought by a New York company and the V12 was dropped at the end of 1919.

Our Snapshot is of the sole model made by National from 1920 to 1922: the National Sextet, powered by its own overhead-valve 4.9-litre six. It was made in five or six body styles and pricing was high, at $4,950 for the 1921 sedan.

In 1922 National became part of Associated Motor Industries, a combine headed by Cameron Earl that also included Dixie Flyer and Jackson. Sadly, the resultant range of cars from the combine, priced from $975 to $3,285, did not help sales: only 185 Nationals were sold in 1924, the year the company closed.

Image courtesy of The Richard Roberts Archive:

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