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ONE of the standard jokes in the early days of the automobile was about the driver who asked his wife to look at the rear tire on her side and see if it was flat.
|Often it was beautiful and always, as it matured, a marvel of ingenuity. At the threshold of it’s invention, nothing in the archives of humankind had approached it as a transportation device.
The horseless carriage survived because men fell hopelessly in love with it.
Now, after eighty years as of the publication of this article, it stands charged with being the chief contributor to pollution of the ir in the great centers of population of the planet earth.
To take a charitable view of history and invention, the “automobile” first appeared in 1769. A French army officer Nicolas Joseph Cugnot, built a military “steam-car-riage.” It worked. An American, Nathan Read, patented a stem carriage in 1790. On the testimony of Popular Science in 1878, Oliver Evans, another American, inventor of a non-condensing, high-pressure steam engine, said early in the nineteenth century, “I have no doubt that my engine will propel . . . wagons on turnpike roads.” The magazine in 1897 made a pitch for “horseless [steam] locomotives.” They had been tried abroad with limited success. In England, Parliament finally killed them off by law.
All this was overture. In 1877 a German inventor, Dr. N. A. Otto, received a patent for an internal-combustion engine he had built the year before. Unlike the heavy, inefficient steam engine, which converted energy from a source outside it’s cylinders into mechanical movement, the light internal-combustion engine manufactured it’s own power. It burned coal gas on a 4-stroke cycle-suction, compression, burning stroke, and exhaust. This was fine for stationary engines fed with coal gas from mains, but it offered nothing as a peram-bulating power plant.
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| Part 4
Then, in America, a man named Henry Ford began tinkering with a self-propelled vehicle, and for millions of people all over the world, the course of transportation history was changed. A former farmer, now a machinist, Ford had built a tiller-steered, 4-cycle, 2-cylinder “quadricycle” in a tiny shop in Detroit’s Bagley Avenue and exibited it in 1896. No dunce at merchandising, He built a series of racing cars for publicity. In 1903 the ford motor Company offered for public sale it’s first car, a 2-cylinder job, and three years later a 6-cylinder one that sold for $2,500.
That was too costly. It wasn’t what Henry wanted. “The market for a low-priced car,” He said, “is unlimited.” In 1908 He brought out the first–soon to be famous — Model T for $850. That covered controls limited to a hand brake, 3 foot pedals, and an ignition switch. Standard equipment included a folding windshield, collapsible (2-man) top, bulb horn, and kerosene tail and side lamps. It did not include a spare tire or even a speedometer. The suspension was transverse leaf springs, front and rear.
The engine was a water-jacketed, 4-cylinder, 4-cycle L-head with a 3 3/4-inch bore and a 4-inch stroke, developing 22.5 horsepower at 1,600 revolutions. The fuel was magneto-fired. A planetary transmission provided 2 speeds forward and a reverse. The driver controlled the forward speeds with his left pedal, reverse with the center pedal, and a transmission brake with the right one. A left-hand lever engaged low or high speed. Under the steering wheel were spark-advance and throttle levers. The car ran out of breath at 35 miles per hour.
The Model T came in one color. To a convention of dealers clamoring for multi-hued Fords at the height of the model T’s popularity, Henry said jokingly, “You can have any color you want –so long as it’s black.”
Another nineteenth-century hopeful in the horseless carriage business was Alexander Winton. This phaeton was the forerunner of the famous Winton Sex.
| Thus, the “flivver, ” the “tin Lizzie,” with it’s brass radiator, of legend. Before production was closed out in 1927, 15 million had been sold at prices that, steadily declining, reached a nadir in 1923 — $265 for the runabout. Ford’s volume was more than that of all other U.S. car manufacturers combined. More than any other automobile of i’ts time, the Ford put city dweller and farmer alike on wheels. A secondary industry grew up around the Model T. The engine often “kicked” when it was cranked–Henry supplied no self-starter–sometimes breaking a man’s wrist or arm. So a brace of Wisconsin inventors came up with an automatic spark-retarder to prevent it. Another inventor offered a cable-pull ratchet device to rotate the engine from the driver’s seat. (When the oil congealed in the winter, some owners jacked up one rear wheel, in gear and used it’s inertia to help stat the balky engine.) Other after-market suppliers made tidy fortunes cashing in on the Ford’s primitiveness. One offered a “1-man top,” others a rear-view mirror, shock absorbers, rubber running boards, a gas-tank gauge (located, incidentally, under the front seat), and a choke coil for brighter lights when, finally, the Ford acquired electric lamps.
Apart from popularizing the automobile, Henry Ford freed the industry from royalty payments exacted by George B. Selden, inventor of a “gasoline road engine.”
It was ford who arbitrarily switched the driver’s seat to the left-hand side for better judgement of the distance of an approaching vehicle. Th industry followed suit.
Ford’s competitors were not idle. If they couldn’t compete on price, they could produce fancier cars. As Early as 1903 they introduced shock absorbers and sliding-gear transmissions. They replaced acetylene headlights with electric ones. The Locomobile introduced the first electric generator for storage batteries. Demountable rims came in, exorcising that horror of puncture repair, the pinched tube.
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A lot of self-starters had been tried, using acetylene, compressed air, or electricity, but it was not until 1912 that a successful one was put on a car, a Cadillac. It was developed by Charles F. Kettering (“Boss Ket,” the General Motors genius of later years), when a friend of the company’s president was killed cranking a car. Decorative gadgetry such as the Boyce Moto-Meter, a radiator-mounted engine-water thermometer, was a must for the younger set.
| Part 6
Advance styling? A “wrap -around” windishield appeared on the Kissel Kar in 1913, and both Briscoe and Owen displayed convertibles in 1915. The Packard Twin Six — 12 cylinders, mind you–was marketed in 1915. Ford was not the only manufacturer reaching for the low-price octaves. The Saxon sold that same year for $395 f.o.b.
Several, brands of cars offered hand-operated windshield wipers, rear-view mirrors, and even stoplights as standard equipment. The first engine-source heaters appeared in the year the U.S. entered World War I: 1917. And in 1018 Popular Science issued its firs “Motor manual” for do-it-yourself auto mechanics.
In 1920 4-wheel hydraulic brakes appeared. They had external-contracting bands for shoes, and they were forever getting gummed up with oil and dirt.
Car makers were appealing to the sporty set with rakish cars like the Stutz Bearcat and the Jordan Playboy, the latter advertised in a romantic setting–SOMEWHERE WEST OF LARAMIE, said the headline above a winsome damsel and a cowboy galloping in the background.
Unique among the French cars was Peugeot’s Decauville, designed by Ettore Bugatti. It was the first European machine in what later would fall in the “mini-compact” category. For sheer elegance the British Rolls-Royce surpassed anything abroad. At the opposite end of the scale, the Morris was a rough counterpart of the Model T. There were others: the Turner, Vauxhall, Napier, Humber, and Sunbeam among them.
Anything with velocity was bound to spawn races. The first international race for horseless carriages was run between Paris and Rouen in 1894. A French Gobron-Brillie as early as 1904 set a world record of more than 100 mph on 110 hp. A Napier averaged more than 65 mph for 24 hours. A Paris-Madrid race was marked by so many gory accidents that it was stopped at Bordeaux.
In the U.S., the goggled gentry, chanting that a mile-a-minute was attainable, were rewarded when Barney Oldfield, most famous of America’s early racing drivers, in 1903 drove a Ford racer a mile in 55.8 seconds. Henry Ford, himself, eclipsed that in the same racer, innards refurbished. The next year he ripped off a mile in 39.4 seconds. The most ambitious race was one from New York to Paris–the long way around–underwritten by the Paris newspaper, Le Matin, and the New York Times in 1908. Starting at New York City’s Times Squire, 6 cars–3 French, 1 German, 1 Italian, 1 American–drove to San Francisco, went by boat to Alaska, drove to the Bering Sea, boated across the Bering Straits, and drove on across the Asian and European continents. The American entry, a Thomas Flyer, won in an elapsed time of 170 days.
In the beginning the best-publicized U.S. events were the Vanderbilt Cup races on Long Island, N.Y., originated by millionaire William K. Vanderbilt, Jr. Vanderbilt one ran afoul of the constabulary and was charged with “speeding” down New York’s Broadway. When he argued that his car could do no more than 15 miles an hour, said the judge: “You may not think that 15 miles an hour is very dangerous, but for the average man, 8 miles an hour is fast enough.” That was the pace of a horse at a slow trot. Indianapolis’ first closed-course race was held in 1909, and its speedway oval–the famous “Brick Yard”–was dedicated formally two years later. The steam engine, the thing that started the mania for autolocomotion, refused to lie down and play dead in the presence of the internal-combustion engine. Steam did have its advantages. It was almost ghostly quiet and, unlike the IC engine–which had to turn at a smart clip to develop power and needed gears or a substitute therefor to get a vehicle moving–a steam engine produced maximum power right from a standstill.
But its debits far outweighed its credits. It was an anomaly. One of the simplest of prime movers, it demanded a horrendous array of appurtenances to make it run. The sheer weight of its component parts was against it. It took time to generate enough steam to get going. The water-supply tank froze in winter. Boilers leaked, and until the day when a way was found to condense the used steam and recycle the water, steamers had to visit a horse trough too often.
A steamer made by the White Sewing Machine Company in Cleveland was one of the best. A product of two brothers, F.E. and F. O. Stanley–who sold out to Locomobile before the turn of the century–was the most famous. As late as September 1923, Popular Science published details on a steam car designed by a San Franciscan, Abner Doble, that could get up an operating head of steam in a half-minute. Alas for stem’s enthusiasts, it was love’s labor lost. As the internal-combustion engine grew in sophistication, a requiem was read over steam. Less than fifty years later it began to look as though the last rites had been premature.
Above, Thomas A. Edison stands besides the Bailey electric auto of 1912. Powered by an Edison storage battery, the car passed endurance test by running 1,000 miles (with recharging) without trouble.
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More “curved dash” Oldsmobiles were sold in 1904 than any other make. The car got 7-hp from 1 cylinder. Wheelbase was 66 inches, weight 1,100 pounds, price $650.
The car below is the forefather of all Buicks as it appeared in 1904. Already getting muscular, it had a 2-cylinder engine of 16.5-hp.
|Recognize this as an ancestor of anything today? It’s a 1904 Cadillac with 1-cylinder, 6.5-hp engine.
Part 8 STUTZ
Swankiest U.S. car on the road in 1915 was Stutz Bearcat, engineered by man whose name it bore, harry C. Stutz. In mid-1920s, Stutz introduced one of first safety windshields.
|Engine sophistication matched the incredible growth of automobile popularity. Cars had to have at least 4 cylinders. Cutaway of a 1915 Model T engine and its power transmission shows what had happened to engines since the carriage became horseless. Below diagram of a Ford self starter
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Baker electric First car used by a First Lady was an electric. Acquired by the White House at close of the Taft administration, it was a favorite of Mrs. Wilson and was kept until 1928. Above: a model of like vintage.
Another early entrant in autolocomotion was the electric car. As early as 1888, vehicles propelled by motor and storage batteries were humming around the streets of Paris. Electrics were even quieter than steamers (their audible approach a low, barely perceptible whine) and, mechanically, much less complex than gasoline buggies. They were cleaner and more dependable. Ricker, Waverly, Columbia and Rauch & Lang electrics sold in the U.S. in modest numbers during the first fifteen years of the century, mostly to sedate elderly gentlemen and timid ladies (crowned by vast, imitation-flower hats) who were quite content with 20 mph. A range of only 40 miles between battery charging was par for the times.
The electrics did leave a legacy to Gasoline Alley. They were the first closed cars. Their coachwork was exquisite. And, as with the steam car, the electric’s funeral may have been a bit premature. That corpse, too, leaped up later.
Still another type of vehicle–the cycle-car–appeared on U.S. streets and highways before the first two decades of the century were closed out. Roughly the counterpart of the French Decauville, it was short-lived–succeeded by the Smith Flyer.
|The Flyer, made first by A. O. Smith in 1917 and later by Briggs & Stratton, was a buckboard with five wheels on the ground. The fifth wheel supplied the power. Mounted on the stern, it carried its own one-lung engine bolted directly to it. The engine, the Smith Motor Wheel, had been invented five years before as a power unit for bicycles. A “shift” lever up front raised the motorized wheel clear of the road.
A Flyer driver cranked his engine into life, lowered the wheel, and was off and running. To stop, he stomped on a pedal that pressed a brace of brake-lined fenders against the rear wheels of the car. That also stalled the engine if he had failed to use the sift lever.
True motorcycles, their engines integral, were a boisterous improvement on the Smith Motor Wheel. They were legitimate descendants of a steam velocipede made in the late 1860s by Sylvester H. Roper in Roxbury, Massachusetts. Best-known were the Indian and the Harley-Davidson.
A phenomenal growt in automobile output and ownership was matched by endless rhetoric on motoring in the press. In 1914, P. G. Heinemann, a doctor of philosophy at the University of Chicago wrote in Popular Science that automobiles could contribute to the public health by: (1) bringing improvement of streets and roads thus reducing the amount of germ-laden dust in the air, (2) eliminating horses and stables from neighborhoods of human habitation, with a consequent reduction of germ-carrying flies.
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Boss Ket thought it was not too much to predict that “some day we may have a carburetor that can start an engine smoothly and quickly in the coldest weather.” That transpired, but he was far off target when he said we’e be getting 80 miles from a gallon of gas by 1939.
In 1900 the U.S. boasted 8,000 cars. In 1919 this has grown to 6 million, a 750-fold increase. Though the automobile had been born in Europe, America’s vast distances–and the fatter paychecks of its workers–soon made a U.S. the land of its development.
In the U.S. the specter of a gasoline shortage plagued motorist and industry. As early as 1913 the car manufacturers offered through the International Association of Recognized Automobile Clubs a prize of $100,000 for a substitute for gasoline began appearing in the press: WHAT WILL WE DO FOR GAS? One answer already was at hand –“cracking” crude oil to get more fuel palatable to a car engine. Simple distillation had been producing little gasoline and a great volume of heavier by-products.
Science had other tricks up its sleeve–the hydrogenation of coal to produce synthetic gasoline, polymerization of light gases to make refinable heavier hydrocarbons, and a catalytic process invented by Eugene Houdry of France to improve crude’s gasoline yield and its ignition point.
In the end, refiners found rich new pools of oil.
A fuel fright of a more intimate nature swept the U.S. in 1925. Tetraethyl lead had been added to gasoline since 1923 to improve its anti-knock quality. At a Standard Oil of New Jersey refinery, 5 workmen exposed to the stuff died and 36 other were hospitalized, several “showing symptoms of insanity.”
The U.S. Bureau of mines after 10 months of investigation, reported Popular Science, said the danger to the public of breathing exhaust gases from “ethyl” gasoline was seemingly remote. In late spring of 1926 the U.S. Public Health Services annonunced that its own investigation showed the compound was dangerous only in concentrated form and could be used safely in automobiles.
Dr. Yandell Henderson of Yale, an authority on the action of gases on the human body, disagreed. Breathing the exhaust of ethyl gas, he claimed, was a public menace. He called the turn, as events forty years later would prove. By the mid-1920s the elements that launched the Gasoline Age were well in mesh . An incredible 17.5 million “pleasure cars” were under registration in the U.S. alone. The legal speed limit in most states was 10 mph; Michigan allowed 25.
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The automobile was becoming a marvelous piece of mobile machinery. Synchromesh transmissions soon obviated the clashing in shifting gears. Balloon tires, reducing the air pressure from 65 to 35 pounds, softened the ride. Pumps had begun to replace gravity fuel feed to engines. As early as 1918 Popular Science ran a contest for devices to improve automobile operation, and firs prize went to C. A. Butterworth of Newton Center, Massachusetts, for a gear-shift system actuated by solenoids. A driver merely pushed some buttons on the steering column. Second prize was won by P.C. Hass of Ann Arbor, Michigan, for a solenoid-assisted steering design.
Streamlining was in vogue. Body shells were shaped to imply speed. On closed models, lifts straps on the windows were replaced by cranks. The granddaddy of today’s power steering was invented. Francis W. Davis, a New England Yankee, toured Detroit’s automobile plants in a Pierce-Areow roadster trying to interest the industry in his system for turning a steering wheel with a fingertip. It was no sale. Hypoid gears were adopted, lowering the drive shaft and permitting lower bodies. One-shot lubrication, automatic windshield wipers, shatterproof windshield, internal-expanding brake, and vacuum-assisted braking all arrived in a space of four years.
A beleaguered Henry Ford sat down and took stock. He closed down his production lines.It was six months later, in 1928,before a new Ford car was announced. The Model A, it was an immediate hit. Its 4 cylinders turned out 40 horsepower that could drove the car 65 mph. Three synchromeshed forward speeds gave it snap at takeoff. Hydraulic shock absorbers erased bumps. But the Model A was only a stopgap. Henry had something else up his sleeve. In 1932, smack in the Great Depression, he gambled with his first V8, a flathead of 65 hp. For the first time it brought within reach of the stroe clerk, the dirt farmer, and the factory hand a car powered by an engine theretofore reserved to citizens who counted money by the yard. Its lowest f.o.b. price was $500. Ford again was off and running. In the decade before the U.S. was catapulted into World War II, sophistications in the automobile trod on one another’s heels. Front wheels got independently sprung. Steel tops for safety became universal–twenty-five years after Daimler introduced them in Europe. “Overdrive provided a gear above “high” for the open road. Engines acquired hydraulic tappet clearance adjusters. They were mounted flexibly to insulate their vibration from the car body. Walter Chrysler interposed a fluid coupling in his drive train to soften the transmission of power to the wheels. In an excess of zest Cadillac produced a car with 16 cylinders. Vents on front windows supplied draft-free ventilation.
The car below, is Chevrolet’s 5-passenger routing car was only a mild threat to Ford’s dominance of low-cost field in 1923. Ford’s cheapest, a runabout, was $265, and you could pa $5 a week toward a car for delivery in 53 weeks.By 1924 Detroit stylists began to soften boxy lines by streamlining cars. Ford’s coupe (below) had bigger rear window,deeper cushions.
Below,Ford’s assembly line was wonder of the industrial world. For benefit of the Prince of Wales, it turned out a complete automobile in 26 minutes. Other companies adopted Henry’s manufacturing techniques.
A good many stabs had been made at a fully automatic transmission. Between 1907 and 1916, the Cartercar sported a clutch-less friction drive with an infinite number of gear ratios. In 1917 the clutch-less Owen Magnetic used an electric generator to produce a magnetic field. This acted on a shaft connected to the driving axle of the car. Varying the intensity of the field controlled the car speed.
In 1930, Studebaker ballyhooed “freewheeling”–gearshifting without clutching. It was promptly adopted by 16 other brands. In 1935, the Hudson and Terraplane had an “electric hand”–fingertip gearshifting–on the steering column. Reo had a nominal success with an automatic transmission in 1934.
Then, in 1939, General Motors bravely put a combination fluid coupling and planetary gears (shades of the model T!) into some production Oldsmobiles for its 1940 model. The device jerked in upshifting and downshifting but, wholly automatic, Hydra-Matic, as it was called, was a portent of developments to come. Other things were happening. Sealed-beam headlights vowed in. Cord put out a front-wheel drive. While FWD was no novelty in Europe, in the U.S. it had, among other drawbacks, too high a price tag, and in eight years the Cord
END OF PART 12