Feeling his creativity unnecessarily restricted, Mr. Wills resigned in 1919, cashed in his Ford stock for $1.5 million, and set off on his own, explaining, "I am anxious to do something worthwhile and this seems the opportunity to start."
Taking some Ford people with him, Mr. Wills founded C.H. Wills and Co. and announced plans to build the Wills Sainte Claire, a somewhat futuristic automobile that used state-of-the-art engineering concepts and materials.
Wills St. Claire Northern Goose logo
In 1920, Climax consisted of a president, Brainerd Phillipson, an entire mountain of molybdenum and a huge stockpile, but no market for the metal. Mr. Phillipson soon met Mr. Wills and sold his stockpile to the auto mogul " for next to nothing. "
When the first Wills Ste. Claire Model A-68 rolled off the Marysville, Mich., assembly line in the spring of 1921, virtually every component subject to even minimal stress was made of molybdenum steel, including the crankshaft, connecting rods, camshaft, gearbox gears and shafts, propeller shaft, frame, springs, front axle, steering knuckles and wheels.
Available in three standard colors, "Lady Mary Maroon," "Newport Blue," and "Liberty Green," the Wills Ste. Claire was pure luxury. The Wills V-8 produced 67 hp at 2,700 rpm, more than enough for contemporary performance standards. Criticism focused on the length of the wheelbase and the car's 3,115-lb. 1,413-kg) body - all less than the competing Cadillacs, Packards and Pierce Arrows.
C.H Wills Company Workman's Badge (found in the St. Clair River)
The car didn't do well. A post-war depression and an imposing 3,000 price tag meant a rough start. By November 1922, the Wills Co. was $8 million in debt and forced into receivership.
Refinanced, the company resumed production in 1923, introducing a 6-cyl. engine and new touring and roadster models. This time Mr. Wills made molybdenum a prominent part of his advertising to promote the car's image of advanced metallurgical durability. The Wills Ste. Claire was promoted as "The All Mo-lyb-den-um Car." To make it easier to pronounce and spell, the name was broken into syllables and hyphenated.
At the same time Climax mounted its own advertising campaign, which took advantage of the established link between the Wills Ste. Claire, molybdenum and automotive durability. The company used the Wills Ste. Claire to promote its own molybdenum. Its most effective ad, which appeared in such magazines as The Saturday Evening Post, showed a drawing of a Wills Ste. Claire superimposed against Bartlett Mountain, the "Mountain of Molybdenum." It touted moly steel as the "The American Super-Steel."
The link with the Wills Ste. Claire gave moly steels their first industrial acceptance. In 1925, the U.S. Bureau of Mines published Molybdenum, Cerium and Related Steels, the first government paper to accept molybdenum as an alloy metal. More important, the Association of Automotive Engineers formally recognized moly steels as standard alloys.
By 1925, increasing demand warranted the reopening of the Climax mine and mill.
The Wills Co. didn't enjoy the same success. First, the Wills Ste. Claire was too expensive. Second, Mr. Wills interrupted production to implement every conceivable improvement. The company didn't survive the 1926 recession and was forced into liquidation the following year.