Only 4,808 DeVaux automobiles were built during 1931 and 1932, the two years the company existed. The economic climate at the time was definitely not conducive to the introduction of a new brand of car.
One of those rare cars, a 1931 four-door sedan, with an “L”-head inline, six-cylinder engine was sold in Marietta, Ohio in April 1931 and 77 years later ended up in New Philadelphia, Ohio.
That is where John Willoughby found the DeVaux via eBay. Willoughby says, “I have always been intrigued by some of the `orphans’ of the 1930s, like Hupmobiles, Nashes, Franklins and Durants.”
He had never seen a DeVaux, but knew of the make and had been looking for one when he saw the 1931 model while searching the Internet on his computer.
“When this car came up for bid, I couldn’t believe the condition of the car, and the reasonable asking/bidding price,” Willoughby says. On a whim he placed a bid. A few days later he was surprised when informed that his was the successful bid.
In May 2008 Willoughby took possession of his 1931 DeVaux. He loaded it on the trailer and towed it the 650 miles back home to Evansville, Wis. There he began a thorough examination of his DeVaux.
The 65-horsepower engine was running flawlessly. The heat generated by the engine is controlled by the 3.5 gallons of coolant. The engine draws fuel from a 12-gallon tank at the rear of the car below the spare tire.
Access to the 6-volt battery is made by lifting the front bench seat and then moving tire changing tools stored there to expose a wooden panel. Under the panel is the battery, suspended in a cradle under the car.
Even though the mechanical four-wheel, internal-expanding brakes are advertised as “steeldraulic,” Willoughby says, “There’s nothing hydraulic about them.”
Standard equipment on the DeVaux includes: oil gauge, speedometer, spark control, choke control, rear view mirror, ignition and coil lock, manifold heat control, electric gasoline gauge, electric temperature gauge, foot pedal headlight control, chrome-plated exterior trim, automatic windshield wiper and steering gear throttle control.
When new the DeVaux sold for $705. Willoughby discovered that shortly before he got the car it had undergone a body restoration. “It was taken apart,” he says, “but apparently needed little in the way of real restoration.”
He reports that there was some dry rot in a bit of the wood skeleton supporting the body. Basically, he says, it was a solid, original car. The body of the car now wears a coat of maroon paint highlighted by red pin-striping. The fenders are painted black.
Willoughby says the brown upholstery was tired and tore very easily, so it was replaced using the original as a pattern. The front doors have storage packets. Above the rear window is a roller shade that can be drawn down for privacy.
When new the car was reputed to have been capable of achieving 75 mph. “I feel most comfortable at about 35 to 45 and it cruises nicely there,” Willoughby says.
The 112-inch wheelbase is supported by 5.00×19-inch tires with wide white sidewalls. Willoughby notes that the headlights flanking the radiator appear almost too big for the car. The headlights also contain the parking lights, eliminating the need for cowl lights. At the rear of the DeVaux only a single combination brake/taillight is on the left fender.
“The story is that the motor has never been `opened up,'” Willoughby says. “It’s just like it was when it came out of the factory in 1931.” DeVaux cars were built in Oakland, Calif., or Grand Rapids, Mich. Willoughby’s DeVaux is a product of Michigan.
The odometer shows that the car has traveled only about 42,000 miles, which are thought to be an accurate account. A cowl ventilator can be opened to admit fresh air into the cabin. If more air is desired then the one-piece windshield, hinged at the top, can be pushed out at the bottom.
A single wiper blade is suspended from above the windshield for the benefit of the driver. “It’s a wonderful vacuum-powered wiper,” Willoughby says, “which occasionally works.”
He says records indicate that fewer than 100 DeVaux cars still exist. “This makes finding parts just about impossible,” he laments.
DeVaux might have given Ford, Chevrolet and Plymouth a run for their money, Willoughby surmises, but 1931 wasn’t the time to introduce a new car. — Vern Parker
Copyright, Motor Matters, 2009