The End of the Road for Vaughan Motors
The Story of Singers on the East Coast
One of the many mysteries about Bill Vaughan was why he relinquished his franchise with Singer Motors in the summer of ’54 and ceased importing Singers to North America. Was it his decision or was it that of Singer Motors? Why would either one wish to terminate a contract that appeared to have been mutually beneficial?
We may never know the definitive answer to that question, but a lengthy conversation I had with his nephew, Michael Vaughan, may provide some insight. Michael told me that sometime prior to 1955, his Uncle had a partner that, in his words, screwed him over. Being a young teenager at the time, he was never made aware of whom it was. However, at the time Vaughan only had two business partners of significance. One was Monroe Gretske and the other was Perry Fuller.
By all accounts, the Vaughan/Gretske partnership was working well. Vaughan was the Importer of record and National distributor for Singers in North America. Gretske held the West Coast franchise for the sale of Singers in the entire Western U.S. While Vaughan held a 50% stake in Vaughan Singer Motors of California Inc, Monroe Gretske and Jack Weber held the balance and essentially had a free rein to sell Singers at a wholesale and retail level throughout California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona, Wyoming, and Montana. The partnership worked well in that Vaughan, under the auspices of Vaughan Motors, supplied vehicles to Gretske and never had to set foot in the offices of VSM California. In turn, Gretske and Weber were free to advertise franchise and sell as they wished. In addition, the corporate relationship remained after the Singer franchise was relinquished by Vaughan. Rather than selling Singers, Vaughan provided Gretske with access to the Triumph Mayflower.
The Perry Fuller relationship was quite a different matter. Initially, it appeared to be a marriage made in heaven. Son of Sculptor Meta Warwick Fuller, he was an aeronautical Design Consultant with a lifelong passion for automotive design, according to his nephew Marc Fuller. Sometime around 1952, he finalized the design and construction of a fiberglass roadster body which he wanted to bring to market.
At some point in Fuller’s quest to market his design, he and Bill Vaughan became acquainted. Who approached whom and exactly when in the process is unknown. It’s plausible that Vaughan was aware of Fuller’s project from the outset, possibly supplying the chassis for it. In fact, Singer factory records show that Vaughn had been sent 3 chassis’ in mid October 1952, one of which Fuller could have used to complete his project.
What is known is that their relationship was well developed at least by January of 1953. In an article published in the February ’53 issue of the International Car Review, the Singer SM 1500 was written up in a section of the magazine covering the British Motoring Industry. In that review, it was noted that the SM 1500 could be “optionally obtained with an open two seater ultra modern body of fiberglass, provided by the importer at just $2895 and the regular roadster is $2195“. The article displayed images of the SM 1500 Roadster as well as Fuller’s completed fiberglass roadster.
Clearly Vaughan was offering the re-bodied roadster as a Vaughan Motors option and nailed down the price at a $700 premium over the production Roadster. In addition, Fuller’s car occupied a featured place in one of the several spots allocated to Vaughan at the International Motor Sports Show at the Grand Central Palace in Manhattan in April ’53. The Fuller/Vaughan relationship seems to have continued in the immediate post show time frame, as Vaughan entered and drove the car in the Mecox Trophy Race at Bridgehampton in May, 1953.
Whatever the relationship between the two, it seems not to have been exclusive, at least from Fuller’s perspective. According to Jet Magazine, he ended up striking a deal directly with Singer Motors to assist with the design of their soon to be developed SMX Roadster. Any illusions that Vaughan might have had regarding selling the Fuller design as a Vaughan Motors dealer option or a fully badged Vaughan Singer Motors Roadster would have been shattered. Vaughan was surely angered at Fuller’s end run with Singer Motors, given his long time pursuit of badging a car in his own name.
Whoever the partner was that “screwed over” Vaughan, there appears to have been a motivation to get him out of the way entirely and it was done in a very surgical manner. During Vaughan’s extensive travels, he had collected a couple of interesting antique hand guns. New York had very restrictive hand gun regulations at the time and Vaughan’s partner let it be known to the authorities that they were in his possession and unregistered. Vaughan was convicted of a felony and consequently disenfranchised, denied the right to run for public office and barred from running a Corporation. His wife Laverne subsequently took control of his various enterprises. Very likely this played a role in the termination of the Vaughan Motors franchise with Singer Motors.
It is interesting to note that while Fuller’s design was very evident in one of the first prototypes of the SMX, his name appears never to have been associated with the design. He disappeared from the United States, settled and eventually died in Venezuela.