1927 Frontenac Phaeton. Click image to enlarge
Article and photos by Bill Vance
The Frontenac automobile name that honoured Count Frontenac, Governor General of New France from 1672 to 1682, has graced exclusively Canadian built cars in two different eras: the 1930s and the 1960s; neither had a very long market life.
The first Frontenac was produced by Dominion Motors Ltd. located in the Leaside area of Toronto, a Canadian-owned and controlled corporation that rose out of the bankrupt Durant Motors of Canada operation.
Durant Motors of Canada was established in 1921 to manufacture American-based Durant and Star cars under licence from Durant Motors Inc. This American company had been formed by General Motors founder William “Billy” Durant in 1921 after he was deposed as the head of GM for the second and last time in 1920.
Durant Motors prospered for several years in Canada, assisted by being the exporter of all Durant products to British Empire countries where Canada got more favourable tariff treatment than the United States. Although by the late 1920s the fortunes of the American company began to flag, Durant Motors of Canada continued to prosper under the leadership of its very capable president Roy Kerby.
Durant managed to hold on in the U.S. until 1932 when the Depression and the competition forced it out of the car business. Enough Canadian capital was found to take over the Canadian operation in 1931. It was renamed Dominion Motors Ltd. and obtained the rights to continue building Durant-based cars and Rugby trucks.
In 1931, Dominion Motors introduced a new Canadian car called the Frontenac based on a Durant model. It had a six-cylinder engine and was quite stylish with its slightly vee-shaped grille, wire wheels and sun visor.
But the deepening Depression dampened Frontenac sales, and in an attempt to revive interest, in 1932 Dominion Motors brought out a new model based on the American DeVaux. DeVaux had been acquired by Dominion’s engine supplier, Continental Motors Corp. of Muskegon, Michigan, who produced the DeVaux under the Continental name.
The DeVaux-based Frontenac was restyled for 1933 but it was becoming apparent that the end was near. Dominion’s supplier, Continental, was suffering in the car business and decided to return to engine building exclusively. When Dominion production ceased at the end of 1933 the first wave of Canadian Frontenacs slid into history.