These are the chronicles of the United States automaker FHL (Fenton Holdings Limited)
(logo after 1967 reorganization of the C Fenton Trunt Company as FHL)
Durand, Michigan (1922 - 1942)
Lansing, Michigan (1943 - )
FHL started in 1922 originally under the name C Fenton Trunt Company after its founder and proprietor, Charles Fenton Trunt (1899 - 1975). Fenton, born States-side in 1899 and who preferred to go by his middle name, was the son of a Scottish immigrant and grew up on a farm in Durand, Michigan. Early on he was mechanically apt and became an expert at fixing farm equipment and motor cars, so much so he started a business out of it at age 23, the original C Fenton Trunt Company.
In spite of its humble beginnings, C Fenton Trunt Company became known in Southeast Michigan as one of the best repair services and grew quickly. Their proficiency particularly with engines and gearboxes soon got them a new sort of business in 1926 at the height of Prohibition in the United States; C Fenton Trunt Company began hot-rodding cars (ostensibly as a customs business) for use by moonshine runners. The subsequently created Fenton Customs division became a well-known and respected name in speakeasies across Michigan and Indiana.
After the end of Prohibition in 1933, Fenton Customs continued to hot-rod cars but also became sponsor and engine and transmission supplier for Indy 500 cars. Furthermore, the culmination of C Fenton Trunt Company’s experience repairs, hot-rodding, and racing engine manufacture led the C Fenton Trunt company to also become an industrial machine maker. Although business was sparse during the Great Depression, C Fenton Trunt company pressed forward.
When the United States entered World War II, the C Fenton Trunt company was called upon to aide the war effort as with virtually every other company. Their mechanical proficiency made them a natural choice to build aircraft and truck engines. The demands of the war necessitated new manufacture facilities and better access to raw materials which caused the company to move its headquarters in late 1942 to Lansing, Michigan, where its headquarters remain to this day.
With the war’s end in 1945, C Fenton Trunt Company naturally lost a sizeable chunk of its de facto business from wartime production. In the face of factories that were under capacity, they needed to once again diversify. Fenton himself made the bold decision to go head-to-head with the Big Three and started the Fenton Motorcars project in 1946. Thanks to postwar boom and the American appetite for cars in the 1950s and 1960s, this solidified C Fenton Trunt Company’s future prospects as one of the Big Four.
1949 Fenton Grand Touring
The first ever production car by Fenton Motorcars was a 2-seater luxury sports coupe simply called the Grand Touring. The car gained immediate notoriety for its likeness to European sports models. Powered by either a 3.5L OHV V8 producing 123 hp or 4.0L OHV V12 producing 140 hp, the Grand Touring also became a prestige machine known for its smooth running and power delivery at nearly all speeds.
The Grand Touring also featured impeccably hand-stitched leather and cloth seats and door panels, hardwood trim and steering wheel, and even a radio. It also had a race-inspired fully independent suspension and a 4-speed manual gearbox, delivering responsive handling and modest but respectable performance when desired.
The Grand Touring was so well received for its comfort, good handling, performance, and styling that Fenton was initially unable to keep up with demand. In order to cut tooling costs, most of the Grand Touring’s production process was not automated in the beginning. To aide production, Fenton Motorcars invested heavily into automating the Grand Touring’s production and by 1952 they were finally able to keep with demands which had only grown. This furthered the Grand Touring’s acceptance into the market.
The car was placed among the ranks alongside makes like Ferrari, Mercedes, and Jaguar. Its success also drew the attention of Detroit, particularly automotive king General Motors who disliked Fenton’s competition against its flagship Cadillac line and the up-and-coming Chevrolet Corvette. GM approached C Fenton Trunt Company in 1953 with a proposal for buyout of the Fenton brand which they flatly declined as the Grand Touring was so profitable, a success C Fenton Trunt Company needed after its military contracts ended in 1946.
All in all, some 33,000 of these cars were produced before its replacement by a second generation in 1960.