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Rare ‘Napoleon’ truck finds its way back home to Traverse City

David Cassleman

When you think about car towns, you might not picture Traverse City. But the town used to be home to an automobile manufacturer. A company called Napoleon Motors briefly made cars and trucks in downtown Traverse City during the late 1910s and 1920s.

Napoleon was originally located in Ohio, but Traverse City officials were able to lure the company to northern Michigan with tax incentives, says Jonathan Klinger. He’s the vice president of public relations at Hagerty Insurance — a company that insures classic cars.

“It was a very exciting time for what was a new automotive industry,” Klinger says.

Napoleons are rare these days, but Traverse City’s Hagerty Insurance owns one. It’s a Napoleon Truck that was made by hand in Traverse City in 1919. The vehicle ended up in Nebraska, Klinger says, and was nearly destroyed in a brush fire. A Buckley man discovered the truck and restored it in the 1990s.

“We only know of two complete trucks in existence,” Klinger says. There are a handful of intact Napoleon cars around, Klinger says.

The truck will be on display on Hagerty's Float during Tuesday’s Heritage Parade at the National Cherry Festival.

Credit David Cassleman
This 1919 Napoleon Truck was assembled by hand in Traverse City.