In addition to the Detroit Three, Michigan has played host to some smaller automakers. Featured on the most recent episode of “Jay Leno’s Garage,” this 1922 Wills Sainte Claire is the product of one of those firms.
The car was the brainchild of C. Harold Wills, an early employee of Ford who contributed several key innovations to the Model T. Wills left Ford and used the severance money to start his own car company, basing it in Marysville, Michigan, about 60 miles northeast of Detroit. Wills named the company after himself and the nearby Saint Clair River, though added an extra “e” on the river’s name. The company produced cars from 1921 to 1927, and was always a relatively low-volume player.
Unlike the Ford Model T, the Wills Sainte Claire was not designed to be a car for the masses. It also wasn’t designed to break new ground with styling. What distinguished the Wills Sainte Claire from other cars of the period was its engineering.
Under the hood sits a 265-cubic inch dual-overhead cam V-8 making somewhere between 65 and 70 horsepower, according to Leno. It’s got a fairly narrow, 60-degree “V” angle.
The engine uses passive thermosiphon cooling instead of a water pump, and has a gear-driven fan instead of a conventional belt-driven one. Wills developed the Model T’s detachable cylinder head, Leno noted, but the heads on this engine aren’t detachable, making repairs difficult.
Between 12,000 and 14,000 cars were made, of which about 80 remain, according to Leno. Watch the full video to see the recently restored Wills Sainte Claire on the road, and for a look at the restoration process.