The History of the Auto City Red Top Corporation
By William McIsaac
The year was 1929, the economy was down, prohibition was in full swing, and the government was in recovery mode. Most U.S. manufacturers were done catering the well to do and it was time to start building products for the middle class. The Caille Outboard Motor Company of Detroit was no exception.
It was Caille’s 25th year of making top notch, high end motors. Prime design engineers like Antoine Liberty, Julius Maas and Leroy Holmes had been creating ground breaking inboard and outboard motors for the company almost since it’s inception. The newly introduced Red Head Series spearheaded the next generation of Caille Outboards. Specifically, the Model 79 at a cost of just $79 was to make outboarding affordable under almost any budget. However, for senior engineer Leroy Holmes, the Model 79 wasn’t good enough.
Patented features from Caille like the 1915 recoil and feathering 5-speed propeller put the company on par with other manufacturers like Pierce and Packard. So, an entry level motor like the Model 79 was highly successful but severely understated for them. It was time for a design improvement.
Now almost 1934, senior engineer Leroy Holmes and a young, enthusiastic fresh collage grad named Raymond Spanski headed the operation. The improved features included a recoil starting system to replace the rope start and full 360 degree steering with a position lock for trolling. The improvements added the necessary features to make the motor a true Caille class design. Even the renowned Albert Kahn had a hand in the new art deco styling of the motor. However, the top brass, President Art Caille Sr. and General Manager Theo Smith deemed it to costly to produce. The following year, Fuller and Johnson bought out Caille but after a year or so, gave up outboard production. Thus ending a 36 year era.
Both Leroy and Raymond keep in contact after Caille closed up. Together, they shared a passion for outdoors, boating and outboards. Eventually they ended up working together again at the famed Packard Motors of Detroit. Saving the original plans for his new and improved outboard, Leroy always hoped to bring his design to life.
World War II was coming to a close and again the country was getting ready for big changes. The U.S. ban of manufacturing recreational products was about to be lifted and everyone was gearing up for post war production. Many new entrepreneurs were getting into the game, Leroy and Raymond were no exception. In 1947, gathering a few fellow Packard work mates for financial support, the pair formed a new corporation under the state of Michigan. Thus, the Auto City Outboard Corporation was born.
There was no time to waste. Much of the original Caille tooling needed to be dusted off and recovered from the stagnant old facility in Detroit. Raymond’s long family history in the lakes region of Waterford lead him to find a manufacturing location near Pontiac Lake on M-59 in White Lake Township. It wasn’t long after that production commenced and a retail sales facility was added to the building. The competition from larger outboard manufacturers proved fierce making Red Top production difficult to get off the ground. Records are sketchy, but it is now believed that less than one hundred motors ever left the factory.
By 1951, Leroy and Raymond finally received a U.S. government patent for there outboard motor. But it was to little to late. The dust once again had already reformed on the old Caille tooling.
As of 2015, only 16 Auto City Red Tops Outboards have surfaced. Advertising and company information is even more scarce. The quest for more information about the company continues.
Thanks to Charlotte Spanski (widow for Raymond) for offering her kind words on the colorful history of Raymond Spanski and the Red Top. Sources for information include: Charlotte Spanski, Art Caille Jr., Bob Lomerson, Deane Rogers, multiple Caille articles and advertisements.