For those of you unfamiliar with the REO brand, it’s a direct result of Ransom Eli Olds (hence REO) being ousted from the original company that bore his name, Oldsmobile. Always an innovator, Olds started anew with REO, determined to build cars (and trucks for that matter) to suit every budget. His crowning achievement, the Royale, was designed to compete with some of the biggest names in the luxury car business during the early 1930s, including Chrysler and Packard. Considered Full Classics by the Classic Car Club of America (CCCA), the Royale convertible coupe is perhaps the pinnacle of the brand’s design and engineering prowess. With a unique combination of power and style, the Royale could almost be considered the muscle car of its era.
This 1931 Reo Royale has been comprehensively restored by Reo Club of America historian, John Barker. The color is a deep plum, and before you dismiss it as a fad color from a dated older restoration, please note that it has been very recently restored to match the vehicle shown in original Royal literature of the era. Nowhere is the classic long hood/short deck styling more pronounced than on this Royale convertible coupe, whose proportions suggest great power and speed, and it’s really not merely a suggestion. The short deck houses a rumble seat for two passengers, and it also features accessories like metal sidemount covers, a golf bag door, and dual tail lights. The restoration work was carried out to the absolute highest standards, and as a rare vehicle, such work can be incredibly challenging. The lights in our photo booth don’t capture the depth and finish on the paint, but it is absolutely breathtaking, and this is a car that can be shown without concerns. This is a stunning motorcar.
On any ‘30s automobile, chrome is a critical part of the restoration. This car was so nicely preserved, that much of the brightwork is original, not re-plated, although any item that required restoration received it. The Royale grille is one of the most handsome in the industry, with a trend-setting deep “V” shape and painted shell that didn’t arrive on other marques until several years later. The beautifully shaped headlights have been beautifully refinished, and match the inset profile of the grille. Workmanship on the replating job is exceptional, and you need look no further than the ‘Reo-Royale EIGHT’ emblem at the tip of the grille, which is still clear and legible.
Performance was still in its infancy in 1931, but the Royale put big power in a compact package, thanks to a 358 cubic inch straight-eight making 125 robust horsepower. For comparison’s sake, the new 1932 Ford V8 made 65 horsepower, and a competitive Packard Eight was rated at an even 100 horsepower—the Reo was unquestionably a powerhouse. As much art as machine, the nine-main-bearing Reo engine is finished in gloss black accented by polished stainless hardware like the acorn nuts holding the head in place, and a large chrome valve cover with the Reo-Royale script proudly emblazoned on its side. The restoration is authentic, with correct lacquered cloth spark plug wires in metal conduit, a Bijur chassis lubrication system, and a properly tagged distributor. The Royale was one of the first cars to employ a mechanical fuel pump instead of a vacuum tank, improving reliability and ensuring an uninterrupted flow of fuel under all conditions. Listening to the big straight-eight rumble to life is an experience akin to hearing your first big block Chevy—it rumbles in a way that’s surprisingly modern and suggests great power lives under the hood.
The chassis is conventional for the time—heavy frame rails with rigid axles front and rear suspended on leaf springs. The transmission is a 3-speed manual, with direct drive and a vacuum-assisted clutch that makes gear changes easy, although synchromesh was not available until 1933. One of Reo’s biggest additions, and one that preceded much of the industry, was the widespread adoption of hydraulic brakes. Used by Chrysler and Duesenberg since the mid-20s, most manufacturers remained skeptical of “juice brakes” and Henry Ford resisted until 1938. With surprisingly modern pedal feel, the brakes on this heavy Classic are powerful and reassuring, which, if you’re an experienced driver in cars like these, is a remarkable experience. The fuel system has been fully restored, from the tank and lines, all the way to the pump and carburetor, and the exhaust system uses a correct cylindrical muffler and polished tip. The Royale carries six new 6.50-18 Firestone blackwall tires on the original wire spoke wheels, exactly duplicating the appearance of the Royale convertible coupe in the original brochure.
The buff leather interior also duplicates the brochure model, and beautifully compliments the deep plum finish. The front bench seat offers an unusual center armrest, which was not typically found in front seats of this vintage. The leather is in excellent condition, with no dryness, splits, or tears, and the rumble seat has been upholstered to match. The dashboard is steel, not wood, although the woodgrained pattern is nicely done with a clearcoat finish to protect it virtually forever. The gauges appear to be original, but there’s no way of knowing whether the mileage is correct, and it’s best to assume that it is not. The vacuum windshield wiper motor has been rebuilt, but is not currently connected, and the clock is not functional, as is often the case on cars of this vintage. Door hardware is exquisitely finished, matching the art-deco look of the dashboard, and overhead a tan canvas top fits snugly and folds easily, thanks to freshly chromed landau irons.
Documentation includes period advertising and sales literature featuring this exact body and color combination, as well as an original dealer price sheet. There’s also what we might today call a build sheet, listing the components that went into this car and the shipping date and originating dealership, Sable Motor Company in Portland, Oregon.
A total of approximately fifty Royale convertible coupes were built in 1931 and 1932, and of those, it is believed that only nine still survive, making this an incredibly rare machine. The Reo is widely respected for its advanced engineering and sparkling performance on the road, and as a Full Classic, it is eligible for virtually any motoring event in the world. Always special to see, Royales are not widely known, but it’s rare for someone to become familiar with them and not fall in love. This is a truly special car with a quality restoration by a marque expert in period-correct colors and finishes. It has been featured in magazines, most recently the AACA publication “Antique Automobile,” where it is pictured on page 36 of the May/June 2011 issue. Stunning to see, and impressive to drive, this Reo Royale belongs in the finest collection. Call us today!