1920 Brewster-Knight Town Landaulette - $79,900
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  • Overview & History
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With just three owners over the course of the last century, it’s a remarkable piece of history that demonstrates the remarkable quality and style that was unique to Brewster & Co.

Most enthusiasts are familiar with Brewster & Co., primarily as coachbuilders. In fact, Brewster was arguably the oldest coachbuilder in America, with its founder’s great grandfather arriving at Plymouth Rock in the 1600s. When automobiles arrived in the early 1900s, Brewster provided some of the most extravagant and expensive bodywork for a discerning clientele and was a distributor for European marques such as Renault, Panhard, and Delauney-Belleville. When World War I interrupted the supply of suitable chassis, Brewster decided to construct their own. Everything was built in their Long Island, New York factory, from the chassis to the bodywork to the sleeve valve engines whose design was licensed from Knight. By the time this 1920 Brewster-Knight Town Landaulette was built, these were widely regarded as the most expensive, highest-quality cars you could buy, with a sticker price of more than $10,000 (for comparison, a 1920 Model T Ford cost about $525). Brewsters were built from 1915 to 1925 when the company was purchased by Rolls-Royce to supply bodies for Springfield Silver Ghosts. Later, when the Springfield factory closed, Brewster returned to their coachbuilding roots, creating bespoke town cars on a variety of chassis, from Ford to Buick, before finally succumbing to the Great Depression.

Which brings us to this magnificent 1920 Brewster-Knight Town Landaulet, showing just 11,715 miles and presenting in largely original condition. With just three owners over the course of the last century, it’s a remarkable piece of history that demonstrates the remarkable quality and style that was unique to Brewster & Co. It was repainted once in the 1950s, when the second owner purchased it from the estate of the first owner, apparently an industrialist from Pittsburgh, PA. His name is lost to the sands of time, but the car remained in the second owner’s possession for nearly 50 years before being sold to the most recent owner in the early 2000s. That second owner repainted the car in its original dark blue livery, which fairly accurately replicates the bespoke colors and varnishing techniques Brewster used. There are, of course, some minor signs of age but the 70-year-old lacquer is holding up beautifully and could almost pass for original itself. Of course, they replicated the original white pinstripes that outline the ornate coachwork and highlight the “Brewster curve” ahead of the rear doors. The round radiator shell is practically a carbon copy of the Delauney-Belleville, and for an expensive car, the use of bright trim is restrained. A few nickel fittings such as door handles and headlight rings dress up the Brewster, but this was a vehicle that didn’t need to call attention to itself with excessive jewelry.

The interior is a familiar combination of utilitarian and lavish. Up front, the driver was treated to black leather, which was durable and weatherproof, while the rear compartment is trimmed in expensive wool broadcloth that could be tailored to each client’s individual tastes. The 100-year-old leather in the front compartment is obviously showing its age and has been amateurishly repaired using black duct tape, and that might be the biggest demerit on the entire car. If it were mine to keep, I would seek out some distressed hides to replicate the original materials—a simple task for a competent trimmer. There’s a full array of instruments, from the Warner speedometer and 8-day rim-wind clock to an ammeter, temperature gauge, and oil pressure gauge. Controls are familiar with a floor-mounted shifter for the 3-speed manual transmission, and there are spark and throttle levers on the steering wheel hub (note the stylized B emblem that frames them!). The roof over the driver—in fact both front and rear roofs are collapsible—tucks into the header above the driver’s seat, but there is no other weather protection for the front seat occupants.

The rear compartment is lavishly appointed with expensive looking and feeling wool broadcloth and it’s in remarkable condition with few signs of age. Pleated upholstery is more akin to what you would find in an expensive home than an automobile and there are accommodations for two extra passengers in drop-down jump seats. Brewster is largely credited with inventing roll-down windows as we currently know them, and there are cranks in the doors plus one for the divider between front and rear compartments. The well-finished headliner neatly disguises the fact that the top does indeed fold fully and the window frames are hinged to swing out of sight, making this an open 4-door touring car (obviously we did not attempt to fold either of the 100-year-old leather tops). Other accoutrements include a speaker system for communicating instructions to the driver, an overhead reading lamp, and a Waltham clock. The car also includes a fitted Beals and Selkirk trunk mounted out back, ideal for supplies while touring.

Brewster licensed the Knight sleeve valve engine design but the 276.5 cubic inch 4-cylinder engine was of their own specifications and manufacture. In fact, there are stories of freshly cast engine blocks being seasoned on the roof of the Brewster factory. There are no official horsepower or torque ratings, but we estimate it at perhaps 50 or 60 horsepower and 160 lb.-ft. of torque, which was perfectly adequate for motoring the Brewster around New York City, its most common home. Not designed for speed, it is nonetheless smooth and torquey, requiring minimal shifting and the sleeve valve engine is as smooth and quiet as you would expect. Of course, the drawback of the sleeve valve design was a bit of smoke from the exhaust from imperfect sealing of the sleeves, but most experts agree that more driving results in less smoke as carbon build-up helps seal the chambers. Thanks to a 12-volt electrical system, this Brewster spins to life almost instantly and settles into a smooth, quiet idle without a lot of drama. On the road it pulls nicely, but again it is important to remember that this was a city car and effortlessness was the goal. As a result, it is comfortable at about 35 MPH—there’s more on tap, but it settles in nicely at cruising speed and pulls easily from low RPM in high gear. That is entirely the point.

The 3-speed manual transmission is not synchronized, so it requires some familiarity and a quick double-clutch to master it, and it seems to work better as it warms up, although the 1-2 shift still requires you to pay attention. The steering is shockingly precise and it tracks straight with minimal corrections required to keep it on course—this Brewster might have the best steering of any early car we’ve experienced. Brakes are external contracting on the rear wheels only, but they’re surprisingly effective and more than adequate for the car’s modest performance. It does emit a wisp of smoke at speed, but it is well within acceptable levels for a sleeve valve engine, and it has been recently tuned and serviced by noted early car expert David Heinrichs. It does run a little hot after a longer drive, so we might recommend servicing the cooling system before using it for extended driving, and those 35x5 tires are probably 70 years old themselves, so replacements might be in order.

We did not expect to like this car as much as we do. It’s presence is imposing—it is not another one of those spindly, delicate-looking early cars. It has broad shoulders and looks every bit of the outrageously expensive luxury car that it is. The craftsmanship is tangible in every single part and the driving experience is far less primitive than you would expect. Master its idiosyncrasies and it is a delightful machine that will always attract attention, regardless of the event. Add in the wonderful preservation and three-owner provenance, and you have an exceptional car that will delight both owner and onlookers alike. Call today!

Harwood Motors always recommends and welcomes personal or professional inspections of any vehicle in our inventory prior to purchase.

Vehicle: 1920 Brewster-Knight Town Landaulette
Price: $79,900
Stock Number: 117099
Mileage: 11,715 (authentic)
VIN: 91256
Engine: 276.5 cubic inch sleevel valve inline-4
Transmission: 3-speed manual
Gear Ratio: 4.89
Wheelbase: 125 inches
Wheels: Wood spoke wheels
Tires: 35x5 blackwall
Exterior Color: Blue
Interior Color: Black leather
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