Chassis No 75
In its day the 1922 Leach was considered one of the sleekest, sexiest cars on the road, preferred by Hollywood celebrities and business leaders alike. Impossibly expensive when new, it exemplified the carefree, youthful persona that Californians of the day had begun to adopt. And while the name was anything but glamorous, the Leach’s outstanding initial reputation gave it a cachet among the new class of wealthy film stars.
Formally known as the Leach-Biltwell, the Leach was an ultra-luxurious automobile manufactured by Martin Andrew Leach, a Los Angeles-based entrepreneur born in 1879 in the gold rush town of Marysville, California. Leach-Biltwell at first limited itself to manufacturing only the bodies of automobiles and also repainting and refinishing existing cars. He could be regarded as the George Barris of his day and his talents were in high demand by the growing class of film stars and motion picture executives who wanted their vehicles customized with new radiators, fenders and wheels.
For the ultimate in year-round, fair-weather motoring, Leach innovated a rigid, non-folding hardtop that could be fitted to an otherwise open touring car or roadster to give it overhead protection from the sun while allowing the sides to remain completely open and free of obstruction for a light and airy look. Often equipped with sliding windows for occasional full weather protection, the rigid superstructures became known as “California Tops”.
Having had experience building entire bodies of cars as well as substantially modifying existing coachwork with the addition of California Tops, wheel-hugging cycle fenders, and step plates that replaced running boards, Leach reasoned that well-heeled buyers would be willing to spend their money on an automobile that, instead of having to have such features added after taking delivery, offered them as standard equipment.
Available as a two- or four-door touring car, or two-passenger roadster – all with California Tops – Leach automobiles slowly began to trickle out of the factory. Aluminum step plates and bicycle-type fenders were naturally a part of the package, but Leach automobiles were also equipped with a combined bumper/trunk rack, a Waltham combination speedometer and clock, and a collapsible steering wheel that could pivot out of the way to facilitate ingress and egress, or be removed entirely for theft prevention. A rear-mounted electric turn and stop signal was one of the earliest such pieces of safety equipment to be offered as standard equipment on an American automobile. The engines were at first made by Continental (no relation to Lincoln) to Leach specifications
Realizing that a chic, expensive automobile needed an engine that was as special as the rest of the car, Martin Leach engaged Harry A. Miller to design and manufacture the ultimate powerplant for his car, a single-overhead cam, six-cylinder engine with a multiple-disc clutch and three-speed transmission. Leach officially designated its engine the Power-Plus Six although it was also referred to as the 999.
At $6500 the Leach was one of the most expensive cars in America, but offered a kind of exclusivity that was difficult to match, even in the custom car realm. But once cars equipped with the new Miller-designed engines got into the hands of customers, they suffered catastrophic failures and it is believed that the factory recalled all Power-Plus equipped vehicles so that their engines could be replaced with the tried and true Continental Red Seal units they had successfully used before. The damage was done though and production came to an end in 1923. Estimates of total Leach production range between 218 and 264, but only one survives. It was secured by one of the Leach creditors as partial payment for his investment and somehow managed to escape the wrecking yards of the 1930s and scrap drives of the 1940s to survive in outstanding original condition. It was once even owned by Bill Harrah of the famous Harrah Automobile Collection and came into the collection that now resides with the Petersen Automotive Museum when it was sold after Holiday Inn bought out the famous gaming mogul’s empire.