Automotive Quarterly Volume 37 No 2

When Dorris Had His Day

by Curt McConnell

It appeared on fashionable streets from Los Angeles to New York City wearing custom closed bodies designed by Fleetwood, Hume, Karl H. Martin, the Seaman Company and the Robert Thompson Company, among others. But it was more than just a pretty car; the Dorris proved its engineering soundness by performing well in- and often winning - early races, reliability runs, hill climbs and economy contests.

Born in Nashville on April 2, 1874, George Preston Dorris spent many hours each summer swimming in the Cumberland River. In the early 1890s, Dorris and his close friend John L. French bought a steam launch, charging passengers for river cruises. But "the steamboat inspectors got on them," recalled his son, Preston Dorris Jr. of St. Louis who was 90 years old during a January 1997 interview:

They were too young to per ate a steam launch. Instead of going out of business, Dad went to Vanderbilt University [in Nashville] for a year and built an engine in their shops… So they put a gasoline engine in the boat and went back into business. The steamboat inspector hit them again and couldn't find any reason why they shouldn't run.

Physically, George Dorris wasn't big. The elder Dorris listed his height as 5 feet 4 inches and his weight as 130 pounds on a 1946 auto registration. He attributed his good health and long life to his size: "There isn't enough of me to go wrong."

Dorris enrolled during the 1892-93 academic year in the Vanderbilt Engineering School's Manual Training Program, which provided access to a forge, woodworking tools and other equipment. Years later, in 1934, he sent a series of letters and blueprints to Arthur Twohy, who later became the first president of the Horseless Carriage Club of America. Describing his Nashville experiments, Dorris said he built a four cycle, two-cylinder vertical engine of 4 x 5 inch bore and stroke that powered the launch from 1892 to 1897.

In 1895, Dorris was inspired by Scientific American articles on French and German experiments, and from 1895 to 1897, he built his own horseless carriage. He equipped it with the same float-feed carburetor used on his launch engine. The float automatically interrupted the flow of fuel, thereby maintaining a constant gas level inside the carburetor. Without a float, operators had to constantly adjust a gas-metering valve. Were the launch and the automobile engine one and the same? A reporter who interviewed Dorris years later in 1954 wrote that, yes, the boat engine went into Dorris' Nashville car. But in a 1957 Antique Automobile article, Duncan R. Dorris recalled that his brother built a new engine for the car, patterned after the boat engine.

It's unclear if Dorris tried to patent the float-feed carburetor he designed for the boat engine in 1892 and refined for his automobiles. However, it is certain that he never received such a patent. "Apparently it wasn't patentable," concludes Chuck Rhoads, an historian of the St. Louis auto industry. "There's no patent on it. In Europe they were fairly popular before 1900."

Dorris, however, receives far less credit for the American introduction of his carburetor design than does A.L. Dyke of St. Louis (see AQ, vol 35, no. 1). Dyke, the first person to open and American auto-supply house, bought engines and parts from the St. Louis Motor Carriage Company as well as other suppliers, but often marketed them as his own. According to Rhoads, Dyke had a local foundry make a slightly modified version of the Dorris float-feed carburetor with the words "A.L. Dyke Mnfg'r" cast in the side. This Dyke version is the float-feed model that the Smithsonian Institution acquired in 1926 and which press reports at the time labeled as "the first float-feed carburetor made for sale in the United States"

Dyke was not a manufacturer but a salesman and promoter. Rhoads said, "Dyke didn't design anything much at all. I don't think Dyke had the abilities to." Dyke originally advertised the carburetor as his own design. In his 1928 Supplement to Dyke's Automobile and Gasoline Engine Enccylopedia, he allows that his "A.L. Dyke Mnfg'r" version was "designed by A.L. Dyke and G.P. Dorris." Dyke's supply house may have been the first in America to sell the Dorris float-feed carburetor. But Dorris used the design far earlier–on the auto he finished in Nashville in 1897, on the first production St. Louis autos of 1899, and on all of the one-cylinder St. Louis autos.

Dorris said his first car had automatic intake valves, a two-speed transmission with no reverse and a radiator consisting of "two copper tanks," one on each side of the body. The engine mounted just in front of the rear axle, under the body. A December 1895 photo Dorris sent Twohy reveals the car was at that time only a body and chassis without an engine.

By 1895, John French was in St. Louis working at his father's Jesse French Piano & Organ Company. Sharing Dorris' fascination with horseless carriages, French decided to manufacture them. His plans lured Dorris to St. Louis, where he arrived on Thanksgiving Day 1898.

An October 1898 partnership agreement made John French president of the St. Louis Motor Carriage Company, widely known for its "Rigs that Run" slogan. His brother H. Edgar was named treasurer, and Dorris became chief engineer and headed the construction department for $75 a month. Dorris brought $2,000 in assets to the new business, including his 1895-97 Nashville auto, which he promptly cut down to make a truck for company use. The eventual fate of this car is unknown. John and Edgar French and their mother, Callie, agreed to advance $3,000 cash "when needed." Thus, with assets totaling $5,000, the company opened for business in early 1899 at 1211 North Vandeventer Avenue. The fledgling concern incorporated on April 26–Dorris became vice president–and advertised its first car for sale in the August 30, 1899, Horseless Age.

That same year, Dorris applied for a patent on a sliding-gear transmission. Similarly novel was the three-point engine mounting that Dorris began using in 1900. It allowed the engine to twist or rack slightly without transferring that motion to the frame of the car. St. Louis autos were equipped with steering wheels by September 1901–most automakers of the time still relied on a tiller.

Dorris received 16 automobile patents from 1900 to 1940. Five early patents improved transmission gearing or shifting on St. Louis autos. Inferior metals, poor lubricants and crude designs meant that stripped gears were a common problem. Recognizing this In 1899 Dorris sought a patent for the St. Louis auto's two-speed, two-lever, sliding-gear transmission. His later patents refined the idea.

Early Dorris designs were the unit power plant and float-feed carburetor. He designed his unit power plant in 1900. With his gearbox in-a-crankcase design, Dorris achieved the constant alignment of parts by placing the transmission gears and clutch inside the engine. Dorris sent a copy of Patent No. 801,712 in a letter to Arthur Twohy in 1934:

This patent was basic in that it was the very first unit power plant build. This procedure is now universal. Also note a single disc clutch and sliding gear [transmission], which has lived through the years and will continue.

Unfortunately for Dorris, another way to create unit power plant was by bolting a clutch and transmission directly to (but outside of) the engine–the general practice today. Dorris' patent was narrow enough that he received no licensing fees from makers who adopted, as he himself later did, the bolt-on style of unit power plant.

George Dorris' partner, John French, who suffered internal injuries in an August 1902 auto accent in Pittsburgh, died May 23, 1903, in St. Louis. When the St. Louis Motor Carriage Company moved to Peoria, Illinois in 1905, Dorris stayed in St. Louis and began making Dorris autos. H. Benjamin Krenning, a wholesale grocer, helped fiancé the Dorris Motor Car Company, incorporated in August 1905 and capitalized at $55,000. Krenning was president and treasurer; Dorris was vice president and chief engineers and Tennessee native Webster Colburn, formerly a bookkeeper and salesman with the St. Louis Motor Carriage Company, was secretary.

Dorris, who shepherd a four-cylinder St. Louis auto into production in February 1905, had actually constructed an experimental overhead-valve four-cylinder engine in 1902 or earlier. (He raced the four-cylinder engine in 1902; he may have completed it in 1901.) Understandably, he put a four-cylinder engine in the first Dorris, the Model A, which emerged in late 1905 as a 1906 offering.

Dorris, Franklin, Marmon, Premier and a very few other autos were using overhead valve four-cylinder engines. Dorris refined his design, using a bore and stroke of 4 1/4 x 5 inches in twin two-cylinder castings to develop 30 horsepower. The overhead valves, in removable threaded cages for easy servicing, gave the engine unusual power, observed Horseless Age:

The arrangement… gives a free admission and exhaust over the entire circumference of the vales, which, with the direct pipe connections, gives this type of engine a good deal more speed and consequently more power for a give size cylinder.

Oil seldom splashed high enough in early vertical engines to reach the piston-pin bushings. Because these bushings wore out often, Dorris eliminated them. Instead, he clamped the piston pin tightly in the connecting rod and installed two bronze bushings in the piston. The wrist pin rotated in these bushings. "By this means large and long-wearing bearings are secured, and lubrication is simplified, as the oil from the cylinder walls works directly into the bearings," Automobile said approvingly. Dorris offered its first six-cylinder engine in 1915, later advertising that it developed 80 actual horsepower.

Instead of a fan behind the radiator, fan blades in the engine's 22-inch flywheel pulled air past the radiator. Dorris used a flywheel fan through its 1917 models. Like the St. Louis cars, the first Dorris had an interlocking device to prevent gear-grinding. The design automatically disengaged the clutch when the driver moved the gearshift lever, thereby allowing the operator to shift gears without using the clutch pedal–an early semi-automatic transmission. The driver could not apply power until the gears were fully meshed.

In the 1909 Dorris the speedometer was geared to the transmission, via a short cable. Other cars ran their speedometers off an exposed front-wheel gear using cables that were in harm's way and prone to kink. "This is the first instance known in which the rear wheel motion has been used in any way for driving an auxiliary of this sort," according to Motor World, praising the "simplicity and directness" of the unpainted innovation.

Through the years, Dorris' designs philosophy emerged. Sympathizing with mechanics, he placed two 4 x 7 -inch removable inspection plates, in each side of the 1906 crankcase. Dorris redesigned his 1909 model so mechanics could remove the camshaft without removing the front engine mount. He also modified the cloth housing "So that the crankshaft can be removed by taking off the gearbox only" one trade journal noted. Beginning in 1915, Dorris made the dashboard part of the chassis to consolidate wiring and make it easier to remove the body. It was "another step towards simplicity and accessibility," Automobile noted.

In keeping with the Dorris company's longtime slogan adopted in 1909, "Built to Last," Dorris believed his automobile should be as timeless as possible. Its slogan later became, "Built Up to a Standard–Not Down to a Price." This meant eliminating (in 1914) annual style changes–a wasteful expense for customers and a needless encumbrance for small automakers. Thus after refining his 1906 design, Dorris offered virtually the same engine for two decades, improved and enlarged only incrementally and later modified for trucks and buses.

Similarly, Dorris offered several bodies each year, but only one chassis, which changed little and yet remained modern well into the Twenties. Dorris colors ranged from somber grays and blue-blacks to dazzling bright reds. In 1921, a Los Angeles agent ordered a "mauve purple" sedan. Upholstery for open cars was leather, often dull black, but sometimes more colorful, as in the maroon-and-gray runabout with red leather seats.

As a designer, Dorris had his prejudices: he was a longtime adherent of the three-piece platform spring, for instance. The platform on the Dorris car consisted of two rear springs–one beneath each frame side rail–plus a third cross spring in the rear, connected to the back ends of the other two. "This construction relieves the frame, body and power plant of practically all torsional strains, and consequent squeaking and working of body and other ills," Dorris wrote in 1913. The design also "contributes to the pleasure of the passengers."

Dorris initially made nearly everything it used in its autos, and thus required a trim shop, machine ship, painting and woodworking departments, metal-hardening ovens and nickel-plating equipment. In September 1907, the automaker moved into a new $50,000 two-story factory at 22-28 South Sarah Street at the corner of Forest Park Boulevard, St Louis. The company added a third story to the factory in 1909.

Growth necessitated construction of a $100,000 three-story factory just west of the existing plant across Sarah Street and a half-block north at 4100 Laclede Avenue. Dorris moved into its new concrete factory–300 feet long and varying from 60 to 116 feet wide–in autumn 1912 but continued using its Sarah Street facility. The Dorris factory buildings survive today, the first as a warehouse and the second as condominiums which opened in 1985 as "The Dorris Loft."

Companies that merely assembled cars often employed no engineers. By contrast, Dorris had an entire engineering deportment that conducted many tests and experiments. Acting on buyers' complaints, in 1919, the service department asked Dorris engineers to reduce valve noise. Accordingly, George P. Dorris began work on an overhead-camshaft engine. He traveled to Michigan in September 1919 to show his blueprints to several engineers.

The automaker's executive committee subsequently authorized Dorris to build two experimental six-cylinder engines with overhead camshafts driven by quiet-running fabric gears. An overhead cam would eliminate clanking pushrods and dampen noise by improved valve lubrication, according to internal documents. In a September 27, 1919 memo, Webster Colburn asked Dorris to install the new engines in a pair of test cars. One of the two overhead-camshaft cars became Dorris' personal vehicle, which he later modified in various ways for test purposes. Nicknamed for its red paint, "Rosie" survives in the Dorris family. There is no official record of what happened to the overhead-cam idea, which didn't appear in production Dorris autos.

A surviving four-inch think notebook, "Engineering Data, Dorris Motor Car Co." reveals that Dorris engineers kept a keen eye on foreign and domestic rivals. An undated table indicates the Dorris' compression ration of 3.56 to 1 was unusually low. But another table suggests that a Dorris engine would enjoy a long life because it employed larger engine bearing surfaces than most makers.

Such care paid off. When Colonel C.A. Lundy, the Dorris agent in Reno, Nevada, drove his own 30,000-mile Dorris to St. Louis in autumn 1920, Dorris engineer V.C. Kloepper tore the engine apart. After measuring wear and weighing all reciprocating parts, Kloepper concluded that "considering the sever conditions under which this car was operated, bearing surfaces were in very good condition, and I consider this information of considerable educational value to the Engineering Department in designing of new models." Though the 377-cubic inch Dorris six had large bearings, a September 7, 1923, factory document describes revisions to further increase the crankshaft bearing area by twelve percent.

The factory and its agents publicized the Dorris through high-gear stunts, races, reliability runs, hill climbs, economy contests and long-distance trips.

Early makers believed that the ability to stay in high gear even on hills showed the power and flexibility of an automobile. Thus in 1907, the Dorris company sent on eof its cars south from St. Louis on a 96-mile round trip to DeSoto, Missouri. The route "is made up of a series of the steepest kind of hills, one of which, 'Hell and Damnation' hill, is two miles long, and on an average grade of about 20 to 25 per cent," Auto Review said. Repeating the trip in 1909, Dorris officials later posed at a photographer's studio.

Though the Dorris factory never prepared any special racing cars, agents raced on their own. Duncan R. Dorris, the automaker's brother, and his racing team tore up tracks in the Nashville vicinity. In the November 1909 Los Angeles Dorris agent William Bosbyshell was "one of the most consistent performs along the first leg" to San Bernardino. Though "the fickleness of chance," the car bounded out of a deep gulch and hit a tree near Palm Springs, California bending the front axle and ending Bosbyshell's hopes, according to the Los Angeles Times.

At the April 8, 1910 opening of the Motordrome, a new one-mile board track near Los Angeles, driver Frank Siefert's Dorris was evenly matched with Ray Harroun's Marmon during a 100-mile race. "At the end of ninety miles the Dorris crossed the line one foot ahead of the Marmon," one account said. "Harroun had a second more speed to the mile." the Lost Angeles Times reported, "And just before the finish ran away from the smaller car," beating the Dorris by 18 seconds.

On August 20, 1911, James E. Baker, Dorris chief demonstrator and tester, finished first overall in the 750-mile 1911 St. Louis Automobile Manufacturer's and Dealers' Association Run. With its perfect road score and no deductions in a post-run technical examination, the Dorris beat such names as Buick, Hudson, Marmon and Mitchell. The Dorris won three consecutive victories in its class at the annual Yosemite Economy Run between Los Angeles and Camp Curry, California. Dorris cars averaged 19.40 miles per gallon in 1920, 17.02 mpg in 1921 and 17.60 mpg in 1922.

Long-distance trips offered convincing proof of what an auto could endure. Dorris agents Nick and Guy Hll left St. Joesph, Missouri, on Monday, February 15, 1909 in a 1908 Dorris. During a 427-mile trip to St. Louis, the Halls and helper Fred Helsby tackled roads clogged with both snow and mud.

Unfortunately, Helsby snapped a tendon in his leg while using a fence rail to pry the car out of a mud hole near St. Louis. The Halls, who left the unconscious victim under a doctor's care, ended a five-day struggle by reaching the St. Louis Auto Show on Friday evening, February 19, 1909. The St. Louis Globe-Democrat reported, "Nick and Guy Hall… attracted attention at the show by appearing in their mud-stained clothes and giving warwhoops in the Dorris space."

By March 1911, Dorris had put several thousand miles on a prototype 1,500 pound delivery wagon and was also testing a three-ton truck with a cab-over-engine design. Both were designed for drivers "who may have formerly driven horses," Auto Review said. Indeed, Dorris Sales Manager Fred H. Ehnts began a direct-mail campaign to promote Dorris trucks over horse-drawn vehicles:

You may think when you buy a horse you are getting four legs, but you are not. A horse's front legs are only pillars–to hold his head up. When he is in action he has two legs off the ground, so you pay $200.00 or $300.00 for a horse all you get is ONE HIND LEG.

Many businesses succumbed to this twisted logic. In 1913, a St. Louis department store replaced its 85 delivery wagons with 25 Dorris delivery cars. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch bought 16 new Dorris one-ton trucks for newspaper delivery. In late 1922, Dorris claimed Ford held first place in St. Louis with 5,236 trucks, Dorris was second with 278 and an unnamed "other light trucks" was third at 258.

In a 1934 letter, Dorris said that, during World War I, his factory "built a number of the parts for the Mark VIII tank [], and was employed 100 percent on Army work after April 1917. This to the exclusion of all automotive work. Our complete stock of trucks and cars were purchased at this time and shipped to France."

In early 1919, the St. Louis factory, reprieved a letter from a soldier who drove a Dorris auto 17,433 miles in eight months of U.S. Army service in Germany and elsewhere. "I have driven on all fronts south of the Somme [River, in France], and, standing the hardships which cars have to stand, your cars…have given less trouble than any other make of car used by this division."

In December 1917, the Dorris factory contracted to build a new car–the Deering Magnetic, created by Ray S. Deering of the Magnetic Motors Corporation in Chicago. It would use a Dorris engine and Entz electric transmission (see AQ, vol 36, no. 3), which "eliminates and performs the functions of the electric starter, flywheel, clutch and gearbox," one auto journal stated. The electric transmission produced smooth starts and stops, reducing were on the machinery. karl H. Martin of Chicago, who designed four Deering body styles, also designed a special 1918 Dorris town car painted "Mist-o-Marne" blue.

Preston Dorris Jr. remembers driving the Deering Magnetics produced at his father's factory. "They ran beautifully," he recalls. "Everything else was a Dorris car except the transmission… They built them all one summer–lots of them." Automotive Industries offered a clue to the Deering demise: "The war made it impossible for them to make contracts for parts and accessories."

When Bert R. Parrott learned the Dorris plant might be for sale, the ambitious engineer formed a $3 million holding company, Dorris Motors Corporation, to buy out and merge Astra Motors and Dorris. His plan was to produce 1,000 Dorris trucks, 1,000 Dorris autos and 2,000 Astras annually for the American market.

Parrott had ties to Jackson and Buick and organized Astra Motors Corporation in late 1919. Within 18 months, beginning January 1, 1920, Astra would build 3,000 cars in St. Louis by contract with Associated Motors Corporation of New York, which, Parrott announced, would market the Astra in Europe and South America.

Investors who held 6,429 of the Dorris Motor Car Company's 7,200 shares of common stock agreed to sell for $50 per share. Parrott, however, was unable to sell enough stock in the new holding company to complete the buyout. It appears Astra production totaled just one car; a prototype operated in Buffalo, New York.

In April 1921, Dorris filed for patents on three styles of manifolds designed to eliminate crankcase dilution. The Distillator manifold compensated for the declining quality of gasoline, Dorris wrote in the July 1921 Journal of the Society of Automotive Engineers. Gasoline's most volatile parts–the "light ends"– vaporized easily. Its "heavy ends" did not. Left untreated , the heavy ends washed oil off the cylinder walls and diluted the engine oil.

Dorris cast an air space into an integral intake and exhaust manifold so the air-fuel mixture entered the intake manifold at a cool spot. Exhaust-gas heat directed against the intake ports heated teh air-fuel charge to 175 degrees just before it entered the cylinders. Piping drained the liquid heavy ends–captured by pockets along the lower surface of the intake manifold–to a central "vaporizing still." There, "they are stored until sufficient heat is accumulated to vaporize them." With the Distillator, acceleration and starting improved, Dorris said,

…the engine will run at a constant speed with a good torque within 1 min. after starting. A 4,000-lb car has covered 17 miles on a gallon of gasoline in a straight run at 30 m.p.h. In a 1-gal. test using kerosene as fuel a car equipped with this manifold made 17.1 miles.

The Distillator differentiated the Dorris from other cars and should have been strong selling point. Yet in 1922, Dorris displayed signs of trouble: high-level defections, large price cuts and extravagant claims about good times ahead. First, Webster Colburn resigned as Dorris vice president and general manager. Next, designing engineer V.C. Kloepper left for a similar position at Ford.

On July 1, 1922, in a concerted effort to boost sales, the automaker announced "sharp price reductions" on all body styles. Prices were cut $835, reducing the price of the touring cars to $3,950, and cut $1,440 so that the seven passenger sedan cost $5,750. The new prices meant the factory took a loss on each car it sold. Given the factory's low production level, profit margins were thin even in 1916, when Dorris spent $1,629 in materials and labor–58 percent of the list price–to produce it's $2,785 IB-C model. After paying deal discounts and other costs, the factory earned $417 per car–15 percent of list, according to internal documents. Yet the mid-1922 price cuts amounted to 17 percent on the touring cars and 20 percent on the seven-passenger sedan. So why cut prices? National economic trends dictated the move: the unsettled postwar economy left consumers reluctant to buy large-ticket items. Producers labeled it a "buyers' strike." Jordan, Hudson, Essex, Overland and others joined Dorris in cutting prices to stimulate sales.

In early July 1922, Dorris hired a new sales director, William A. Chapman, who had ties to Dort and , more recently, the Skelton auto (1920-22) of St. Louis. In late July, Dorris announced that, in conjunction with price cuts, it "has increased its production schedule and proposes an aggressive selling campaign," Automobile Industries said. No specifics were forthcoming. In fact, the Dorris factory was looking outside of St. Louis for a bailout.

In May, 1923, a three-way merger of Haynes, Winston and Dorris under the Consolidated Motors Corporation banner appeared to spell financial salvation for all three automakers. Haynes and Winton directors quickly approved the merger. Dorris stockholders followed suit in June but later reversed themselves. "The completion of the merger has been held up because conditions in the stock market make it inadvisable to float the securities at this time," Motor Age said. Dorris stockholders looked at other options instead.

Meeting in late 1923, Dorris stockholders realized the future was decidedly grim for a small automaker. How small was Dorris? Internal records indicate the company produced 3,044 cars over 20 years; trucks production totaled 909 through April 1925. Clearly, large well-financed producers ruled the car and truck market in the Twenties. Thus, "Dorris looks for future prosperity for the company in building motor buses," reported the November 29, 1923, Automotive Industries. In addition, a California bus company ordered 60 Dorris engines. From 1923 to 1926, Dorris built bus chassis in wheelbases ranging from 176 to 224 inches, with seating for between 18 and 29 persons. The company used Dorris engines but bought components and bodies from suppliers. No Dorris buses are know to survive.

When Automotive Industries reviewed Detroit's National Motor Bus Show of November 16-21, 1925, it described at length the new Dorris gas-electric bus in which a Dorris six-cylinder drove a generator that supplied power to an electric transmission built by General Electric. This, in turn, transmitted power to the rear axle. Dorris was among the first to adopt electric drive, preceding similar Fageol, Mack and White designs. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch automobile section:

It enables a bus to start even more smoothly and quietly than a steam car. There are no jolts, no jerks. There is only one accelerator pedal, and the rate of acceleration is entirely automatic. The drive can keep both hands on the wheel at all times… He has no clutch or gear shift to bother with.

While the factory steadily produced buses, the fate of the company hinged upon a turbulent year-long court battle. At its center was H.B. Krenning, who resigned as Dorris president in 1917 when the automaker increased its capital stock to $1 million. Krenning, who remained a director, held all 1,000 preferred shares ($100,000) of the new issue.

By 1923, Krenning was restless. Dorris "paid large profits in the eleven years from 1905 to 1916," but had not paid dividends since, he charged. Dorris lost $97,000 in 1917 and $75,000 in both 1921 and 1922; press accounts projected a 1923 loss exceeding $100,000. Wanting out, Krenning demanded $115,000–his original investment plus deferred dividends. Dorris stockholders voted to liquidate on December 4, 1923, hoping to sell enough assets to pay Krenning yet continue operating. According to Automotive Industries:

[George P.] Dorris attributes the difficulties of the company to the fact… that the company was never adequately financed, that the drop in prices and the high wages following the war, together with the buyers' strike during the period of depression[,] wiped out the surplus of the company and now leaves it without capital to continue business.

Another director, Webster Colburn, who held a substantial share of common stock, sued to block the liquidation, arguing it would benefit only Krenning. A lower court rejected Colburn's claims; the Missouri Supreme Court confirmed the ruling on appeal. Finally after a delay of nearly one-and-a-half years, Dorris stockholders got their wish. Up for auction on April 30, 1925 were the Distillator and other Dorris patents, and all other assets. And the buyer was…H.B. Krenning, who bid $115,000.

Forming a new company, Dorris Motors Incorporated, Krenning made himself president and Dorris vice president and decided to concentrate on buses. Buoyed by interest in the Dorris gas-electric bus, January sales alone "indicate a banner year in 1926 for Dorris buses and trucks," Krenning announced. Just a few months later, however, Bus Transportation reported that Dorris Motors had been declared bankrupt on October 7, 1926. A court-appointed referee would oversee its finances. On December 14, 1926, the 21-year-old automaker announced it was quitting business. The St. Louis Globe-Democrat paraphrase an unnamed Dorris official who "said that… they could no longer fight the competition of the financial giants characteristic of the auto industry today."

After the company folded, George P. Dorris began selling pistons. "Aluminum pistons were a no-no in the automobile business for years," recalls Preston Dorris Jr. "They expanded and squeezed the babbitt out of the rod bearings." Yet Forest Flammang of St. Louis, who began making a trouble-free aluminum piston, "hired Dad to sell them to the automobile industry," according to Preston Dorris Jr. The elder Dorris visited Ford Motor Company:

"He was sitting in the office waiting for somebody to see him and [production chief Charles] Sorensen, who Dad knew from the SAE days, came through the office and said, "What the hell are you doing here, George?" And Dad says "I got a piston I want you to try." And Sorenson said "Come on in."

A Model A ran well on a set of Flammang pistons. After a 40-mile trip, Preston Dorris recalled, the drive reported "'it ran much better than anything I've driven…' And it ran 58 miles an hour when the Fords would never make it over 50." Because Flammang pistons also solved a chronic problem with the early Model A–"they all pumped oil like crazy and it was hurting sales"– Ford bought the rights to produce them, according to Preston Dorris Jr.

Dorris also patented a remote-control gearshift in the center of the dash to leave the floor unobstructed. he attempted to sell the device to large automakers; GM's New Devices Committee rejected the idea without explanation in an August 8, 1933, letter. According to Preston Dorris Jr., "The trouble with it was… part of it was in the chassis, part of it was in the body, and it didn't assemble very well."

In later years, Dorris drove Chryslers, including a 1934 Airflow sedan, "because they were way ahead of everybody else," son Preston Dorris Jr. recalls. Dorris also drove the cars of his own making. In 1946, Dorris and A.L. Dyke drove from St. Louis to an SAE meeting in French Lick, Indiana, a 450-mile round trip, in a one-cylinder 1902 St. Louis. He drove the car on other long journeys– to Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Nashville and elsewhere–into the early Fifties.

In July 1954, Dorris and two brothers set off from St. Louis for a trip to California in Rosie, the modified 1919 Dorris. The Dorris brothers–Duncan, 82, George, 80, and Andrew, 71– made headlines at nearly every stop on their trip to Oakland, California. At Albuquerque, New Mexico, George Dorris did something he'd never done–checked into a hospital. A kidney infection forced him to fly back to St. Louis; his brothers returned in Rosie. They never reached California. To the reporters who met him at the St. Louis airport, George Dorris declared that his rambling days were over. Yet he continued to work until 1962 and, according to those who knew him, Dorris remained alert and active until shortly before his death on November 2, 1968, at age 94.

A number of the pioneer automaker's products survive him, however. Production of the St. Louis auto totaled about 350 cars in St. Louis and probably less than 200 in Peoria, historian Rhoads estimates. Rhoads knows of nine surviving St. Louis autos. He and George P. Dorris III have compiled a list of 15 surviving Dorris autos dating from 1909 to 1923, in various states of repair.

The Dorris name still adorns a St. Louis manufacturer. In 1946, Dorris and three children started the Dorris Company, which makes gear drives for industrial applications. Today, it is operated by brothers Andy and George P. Dorris III, grandsons of the automobile designer. Although the Dorris name was never widely known and few cars survive today, the proud old name still soldiers on in St. Louis.