Continued from Part 3
Ned Jordan spent July 4th, 1923 at his Rhode Island summer home, watching his daughter Jane perform tricks on a salty pony: “That child could ride—well enough to win prizes at rodeos….
Three days later, on the Overland Limited, bound for San Francisco. A chat, at about dusk, with Mr. Austin, a New York lawyer, in the forward end of the lounge car. We passed some station in Wyoming, too late to catch the sign. Just then a husky somebody whirled up on a rarin’ cayoose…he, acting as if he’d never seen a Union Pacific train. She reminded me of Jane.
“Where are we now?” I inquired, to make conversation.
“Oh, somewhere west of Laramie,” yawned my companion.
I took an envelope from my pocket, wrote down the phrase, and added, as I looked from the window, “there’s a bronco-busting, steer-roping girl who knows what I’m talking about. She can tell what a sassy pony, that’s a cross between greased lightning and the place where it hits, can do with eleven hundred pounds of steel and action when he’s going high, wide and handsome. The truth is—the Jordan Playboy was built for her…”
Artist Fred Cole provided the perfect artwork of the girl on her horse racing a flying Playboy. The job was done.
Imagine how that broadside hit the war-weary public—women especially—at a time when cars were promoted with paragraphs of specifications. “That was no mundane vehicle of a solid sphere,” Ned recalled. “That car was an ethereal chariot, imbued with the spirit of young romance and old boxing gloves….
The letters poured in. A girl in Ohio wrote: “I don’t want a position with your Company. I just want to meet the man who wrote that advertisement. I am twenty-three, a blonde, weight 130. My wings are spread. Just say the world and I’ll fly to you.”
I think the best things are written like that. A man writes as he feels…or, he composes, with an effort, hoping to make others feel….Stephen Foster asked his brother to name a southern river to use in his song…rejected “Peedee” for the name “Suwanee.” Brother knew his geography, Stephen knew rhythm….With the right copy you can get a smile out of the Sphinx.
The best Jordans began with the 1925 Line Eight: 125.5 inches of wheelbase, rakishly low, 74 horsepower, an unprecedented turn of speed, only $1695. Jordan’s best year was 1926: over 11,000 cars, led by the Line Eight Playboy and the senior Great Line Eights.
Ned predicted a good year in 1927, “but no repeat of twenty-six.” Then he made a mistake, one often made in the car business: he launched a small car before its time. The Little Custom expressed Jordan’s traditional goal of lightness, balance, precision and economy. It had chiseled lines, crowned fenders, aluminum radiator, luxurious upholstery, a wicker dash with polished walnut instrument panel. It flopped.
The company ran into the red. “The big volume manufacturers began selling on time payments, financing their distributors,” Jordan complained. “In 1928 the industry produced about 5,800,000 cars. That number couldn’t be merchandized at a profit. The shadow of 1929 was clearly on the wall. We started to liquidate in 1928, finished in 1931.”
Jordan’s health failed along with his marriage after 1927, and his interest waned, though his firm toward the end built its best cars ever. The company went out in style, fielding the ultimate Jordan, the aptly named Model Z. Only fourteen were built (one survives). The rest of the line remained unchanged for 1930-31; In 1932 Jordan’s assets were liquidated.
Were Jordans really any good? “If you want to find out, ask one of the owners,” Ned would say. “There are a few on the road yet. I know one that has gone 400,000 miles. The owner got a lump in his throat when I told him my name. He loves that car—and it’s four times as old as my daughter Kate.”
Ned Jordan never reentered the car business. He remarried in 1940 and joined MacArthur Advertising, where he spun prose for three-dimensional signs in railroad terminals. In the Fifties he enjoyed a comeback. writing a popular column, “Ned Jordan Speaks,” for Automotive News. “I won’t charge you a nickel for my pontifical advice,” he wrote a friend of mine. “It’s always free.”
Jordan died in New York in 1958, the original romancer of the automobile. His “Golden Girl from Somewhere” never aged. Through Ned’s words, she’s still there in our collective memory: “When the Spring is on the mountain and the day is at the door…leave the hot pavements of the town. Then heigh-ho!…for the open road. Five roads to the right, five roads to the left…and you’ll greet the rising sun in El Dorado.”