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Holley History Includes Car and Bike Builds

Holley History Includes Car and Bike Builds


Holley is a name well-known to hot rodders, but what few realize is that Holley made attempts at building a motorcycle and a car, before settling down to supply Henry Ford with carburetors. David Vogel Uihlein, a Milwukee car collector, was married to Margery Holley Uihlein who owns both a motorcycle and a car that her father George M. Holley manufactured in 1903.

The 1903 Holley automobile is a luxurious-looking runabout with red paint, brown leather seats and lots of polished brass trim.

That was the same year that George Holley made his first fuel delivery system. Holley wound up making just a few vehicles, but more than a quarter million carburetors. Holley carbs would be used in everything from the original Model A Ford to racing cars and hot rods to pavement pounding muscle cars. Holley supplied over half the carburetors for World War II military vehicles.

It all began in the late 1800s with two brothers from Bradford, Pa. George and Earl Holley were teen-agers at that time and tinkered with foundry work. They learned how to make wood patterns and green sand castings so they could build a one-cylinder engine. Their first engine was used for a three wheeler that had a top speed of 30 mph. Next came the motorized bicycle or motorcycle.

In 1897, George M. Holley won a motorcycle race from Boston to New York in the then-record time of three days.  

The brothers then put together their four-wheeled runabout. The small, but handsome car was finished in bright red and had shiny metal trim.  It was called the Holley Motorette and its manufacture marked the start of Holley Motor Co. That same year, the brothers switched from automaking to carburetor making on the suggestion of Henry Ford. In 2003, when Ford Motor Co. marked its centennial, Holley was one of four original parts suppliers still selling to Ford.

Holley Motor Car Company was ultimately sold to a group of local investors. They took over in 1904 and called it Bradford Motor Works. Historians believe that they liquidated unused parts by selling them to make cars in kit form. The two-passenger Holley sold for $650. It had a 5-hp vertically-mounted water-cooled single-cylinder engine up front and weighed about 850 lb

In 1917, the Holley brothers were bought out by Ford, but they later re-entered the carburetor business. The firm expanded through peacetime and war time. Holey carbs were used on DC-3 airplanes, Packard powered PT boats and B-25 bombers. In the postwar era, Holley concentrated on filling the demands of a car-hungry public. A repair parts business was also built up.

As hot rodding took off, war surplus carburetors like the famous Holley 94s were found in many lakes cars and streamliners. The ‘50s saw the introduction of the Holley Model 4150 four-barrel on the ‘57 T-bird. It was the beginning of the modular four-barrel of today and was the first true performance carburetor.

The ‘60s saw the Model 4150 become original equipment on cars such as  Z28 Camaros, Chevelle LS6s, Boss Mustangs and Shelby Cobras. This era also saw the introduction of three-two-barrel Holley carbs on Tri-Power Corvettes and Six-Pak equipped Mopars. An American icon was also born in the '60s as the Holley Double Pumper® rolled off the line. The world famous Holley Dominator®  made its debut in 1968. It was developed specifically for NASCAR® racing.

The ‘70s saw Holley's continuation of dominance in racing, with nearly every factory NHRA® Super Stock/Pro Stock racer running Holleys. Holley carbs powered more drag racers than all other carbs combined. The 70's also brought the Holley "Blue" electric fuel pump which dominated drag racing. This era also saw the introduction of Holley aluminum intake manifolds, including the once popular Z-Series developed in conjunction with Chevy’s Zora Arkus-Duntov.

The ‘80s saw Holley's entrance into the fuel-injection market with its Pro-Jection® retro-fit fuel injection systems for carbureted cars were introduced. A wildly popular HP Pro Series of race ready carburetors evolved in the ‘90s, along with SysteMAX® engine kits, new HP Dominator billet electric fuel pumps and retrofit EFI kits that morphed into Pro-Jection 4D and 4Di versions. At the end of the ‘90s Holley acquired Weiand intakes and superchargers, Flowtech Exhaust, Hooker Headers, Earl's Plumbing and NOS Nitrous Oxide Systems.

Holley became the winningest company in racing history. In the new millennium it has introduced Street Avenger, Truck Avenger, Street HP and Ultra HP carburetors, billet mechanical fuel pumps., the Commander 950® ECU electronic fuel-injection system, billet aluminum high-flow EFI throttle bodies, multipoint EFI kits and Stealth RamT EFI kits. In 2007, the Holley 3310 carburetor was honored as one of the top 10 influential speed parts of all time.

The Holley brothers would be proud and Margery Holley Uihlein preserves their early history in a not-for-sale car and bike that carry the Holley name. Both of the vehicles are maintained in excellent condition. The Holley Motorette has a shovel nose front with slanting louvers on the sides and four louvers in front. All of the louvers have shiny brass trim. The bright red finish is set off by other brass trim pieces, too. The single bench seat is upholstered in brown tufted leather.

According to Margery Holley Uihlein, the car runs as good as it looks. “We drove it last year and we were going to drive it this year, but we didn’t,” Mrs. Uihlein said. “It actually runs good, but it doesn’t go very fast.”