Clift Motor Company

From 1913 through the 1930s, the small-scale Clift Motor Company was somewhat remarkable for its longevity.


| May/June 2003



4 HP Clift engines

4 HP Clift engines waiting for final assembly at the Clift factory. An educated guess places this photo at about 1918, when Cliffs small engine sales were booming.

Brass nameplate for a Clift engine. This plate is stamped 5 HP, even though that size engine was never listed. The engine for this plate, if it ever existed, is long gone.

As collectors of stationary and marine engines are well aware, small, low production engine companies abounded across the U.S. in the first half of the 20th century. As the knowledge and usefulness of gasoline engines expanded, so did the number of companies making a bid to enter a potentially profitable industry. Most of these companies, however, were not only low production operations but were short lived, as well.

The Clift Motor Company of Bellingham, Wash., was one such small-scale organization, but it was somewhat remarkable in terms of its longevity. From its beginnings in 1913 and through the 1930s, the firm turned out a variety of marine engines ranging from 4 HP to 100 HP, building as many as 5,000 to 10,000 engines, although the exact figure is unknown.

Clift Engines

Large, multi-cylinder Clift engines featured post construction and were produced in the open crosshead (also referred to as a 'T' head) form. They featured crankshaft splash shields and could be furnished with air starters. In the first five years of production the company emphasized its heavier engine lines, but after 1918 production of its smaller engine line boomed, with smaller engines produced at a rate of approximately 60 units per month. These smaller engines were produced in 4 HP and 7 HP sizes, and cylinders could be doubled to yield 8 HP or 15 HP. Clift engines used Model T Ford pistons, connecting rods and valves. The economy of this practice meant the smallest engines could be sold for $150, including clutch and propeller.

In addition to being sold under the company name, many Clift engines were jobbed out and sold as other marques, such as 'Standard Kid and Fish Skiff Special.' In his advertising for Clift engines, plant manager Comely Clift reminded potential customers that the company deserved credit for having built far more engines than those actually bearing the Clift trade name. As one ad stated: 'We realize further that we have overlooked the advantage in failing to properly identify our trade name in the production of the hundreds of engines now in service.'