Category Archives: Auto photos 1885 – 1920
Fourteen years after the founding of the company and only seven after the discontinuation of the highly successful Curved Dash models, Oldsmobile offered three distinct automobiles. We have already covered the Limited, the largest car in the lineup, so today we present the other two, the Autocrat and the Defender. Both were powered by T-head four cylinder engines with the cylinders cast in pairs, as was the common practice of the day. Transmissions were of the four-speed sliding gear type that received power through a cone clutch.
The Defender’s $3,000 cost placed it solidly in the middle price range of the day. Its 471 cubic inch powerplant developed 35 horsepower in a 116 inch wheelbase chassis. An Oldsmobile-designed float fed carburetor was one feature that the buyer got for his money if he chose to step up to an Autocrat. He also got an engine that was 204 cubic inches larger and 5 horsepower stronger than the Defender’s. The longer 124 inch wheelbase also smoothed the ride somewhat. Total production of all three models was only 1,075, making them exceedingly rare today. Color illustrations courtesy of Alden Jewell. Photos courtesy of The University of North Texas Libraries.
George N. Pierce formed his own metalworking company in 1878 and began by manufacturing birdcages, iceboxes, and bathtubs before starting to produce automobiles at the turn of the century. The first production car built in 1901, a small Pierce-Motorette, used a single-cylinder De Dion-Bouton engine. In 1904 after several years of production of the first small car, a larger and more modern Pierce Great-Arrow featuring a front-mounted four-cylinder engine was introduced.
Perry Pierce won the first Glidden Tour held during 1905 in one of the new four-cylinder cars. Following that fine showing, the company’s cars then went on to win the event for the next four years in a row, putting them in the enviable position of being one of the leading American automakers.
The first Great-Arrow six-cylinder came along in 1907; a 40-HP six was added in 1908, it was then followed in 1909 with a name change to Pierce-Arrow, and a lineup of three sixes that included 38, 48 and 60-HP models. Featured in the top photo is a circa 1909 to 1911 48 or 60-HP model. The image is courtesy of the New-York Historical Society.
The Automobile, September 2, 1909 issue, contains a complete accounting of the 1910 models titled: Six Cylinder Form and Three Horsepowers. Shown above from the article are three views of the big Six-Sixty Six engine, Pierce rated it at 66-HP and it is listed as having a 5.25-inch X 5.50-inch bore and stroke. This “practically redesigned” big six now featured cylinders cast in pairs. Take note of the pump-supplied oil tank at the top of the engine that stored the lubricant for gravity-feed to the lower end bearings.
Above L to R: The engine-driven air pump for inflating tires, the rear-mounted acetylene tank for the headlamps and the cowl mounted sidelamps. Below L to R: The four-speed transmission, the three six cylinder models offered in 1910 and the braking equipment. Many more Pierce-Arrow photos and information about the car can be found here on The Old Motor.
The Chief of the Detroit Fire Department in his 1910 Model “L” Runabout, “Cycle and Auto Trade Journal”, May 10, 1910
Like many early automobile manufacturers, the Detroit Electric Car Company got its start in the carriage trade. Milton, Ontario native William C. Anderson began building buggies in Port Huron, Michigan in 1884. A relocation to Detroit in 1895 to be closer to his largest market and a partnership with financier William A. Pungs and fellow Canadian William M. Locke led to eventual expansion into the manufacture of automobile bodies and consideration of producing a complete car. It was to be an electric and was designed in collaboration with Anderson’s chief engineer, George M. Bacon. Motors and sophisticated controllers were supplied by Elwell-Parker.
The first Detroit Electric appeared in 1907 and by the end of the year, 125 cars had been produced. The company name was chosen because “Anderson” was already being used by a number of other builders. They quickly established a reputation as well built, easy to drive cars. Sales grew in each succeeding year peaking at 4500 in 1914, after which their numbers began to decline, a trend widely attributed to the success of Charles Kettering’s electric starter for gasoline engines. An advertising slogan of the day stated the Detroit Electric would “take you anywhere that an automobile may go with a mileage radius farther than you will ever care to travel in a day” to allay customer fears of being stranded with dead batteries.
1932 Detroit Electric Model 99 photo courtesy of Alden Jewell
After the First World War, the firm concentrated on their more successful line of commercial vehicles which would remain very popular in larger cities, although limited numbers of private cars would be produced in the ensuing years. Starting in 1920, they assumed a more conventional appearance like the 1932 Model 99, above. By the time the company closed its doors for good in 1938, it had become the builder of the most popular and long-lived, electric vehicles ever to be sold in the United States. You can see more interesting electric vehicles on The Old Motor.