Duke was founded as an engineering firm in Vancouver in 1919, supplying mechanicals for the long-lost Portland Motor Company. Duke was bought by Portland in 1925, officially becoming their ironwork division (making engine blocks and other cast parts). However, Portland, as primarily a maker of luxury cars, sank during the Great Depression, leaving Duke on their own again. Without any more immediately available contracts, Duke decided to forge their own path in the motoring world, experimenting with various prototypes throughout the rest of the 1930s.
The Second World War saw this experimentation end, and Duke started producing light military vehicles for the British war effort (the US armed forces already had arrangements made with other companies). This move included opening a factory in Manchester, which after the war became their largest production facility. Duke used one of their 1938 prototypes as the basis for a production car after the war; put into production in '47 and simply named “The Duke”, it was popular in northern England due to low shipping costs, but lost the southern market to Melchett, the UK’s largest motor manufacturer, who had been quicker to resume normal services after the war. Duke did not give up, though, and spent the 1950s updating The Duke to be able to compete all over the country. Operations in Canada, meanwhile, were still slow due to Duke’s focus on the UK, but development of an American-market car was underway.
Duke lagged way behind Downton and Melchett, the big two at the time, but was beginning to establish a reputation for making competent, fuss-free, affordable cars. Their big break only came in the 1980s, after the collapse of both Downton and Melchett and once the hype surrounding the other rival, Holborn Motor Engineering, died down. By then foreign rivals were flooding the market, but Holborn and Duke stayed strong, and the latter only grew from that point forward.
Work began on an all-new lineup in 1987- they would be sold worldwide, and their names would be based on their order in the range for simplicity. The first of these models was the Segundo, a hatchback, bustle-back, estate, van and small saloon launched in 1990- it was followed by the B-sector Aprima (1994), D-sector Triad (1995), a small 4x4/MPV called the Quadrant (1995), and the US-market midsize Penta (1996). A larger SUV called the Sextant was to arrive in 2000- notable for being the first Duke to be offered with built-in GPS, but also because in the US it was known instead as the Seismic- Duke’s management perceived the average American to be too unintelligent to understand what a sextant was.
In 2004 two brothers, Eddie and Philip McIntyre, came to the company asking if they could build a sports car. The brothers had tried to resurrect their father’s old sports car company, Phantom, but had had no luck. Duke agreed to give them access to their parts bin and said that if they could have a production-ready car by 2007, they had a deal. This deal produced the Phantom R1, launched at Geneva in 2007 but with more versions to follow.