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Category Archives: Auto photos 1885 – 1920

The 1912 Colby Underslung, an Attractive Flash in the Pan

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  • The 1912 Colby Model L 30-hp. Touring Car

Iowa businessmen William Colby entered the automobile game late in 1910 after having run a number of successful ventures. Right from the start, the car was well promoted with three models being exhibited in the 1911 Chicago Auto Show; a team of racing cars was also assembled to keep the Colby name in front of the public in the Midwest.

In 1911 the Mason City, Iowa automaker got its start with a new five-story factory and the guidance David W. Henry, an experienced automobile man. He supervised the design of a conventionally built mid-sized 40-hp touring car that was on a 121-inch wb. The attractive Colby Underslung was soon to follow.

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  • Mechanical details can be found in the “Motor”, December, 1911, above left

Using the basic design of the popular American Underslung, Colby added the attractive Model L Underslung late in 1911 as a 1912 model; it was produced for only one year. The sleek car used a lightweight 116-inch wb. chassis with 36 x 4-inch tires, it was powered by a 30-hp. L-head four that was backed up by a three-speed transmission.

Like many other small automotive ventures at the time it soon was in financial trouble. After one failed buy-out it was acquired by a group of Iowa bankers and called the Standard Motor Company, but that effort also failed and Colby was soon out of business in 1913, after producing perhaps one thousand cars. You can look back here on many recent posts covering the underslung car.

Posted in Auto photos 1885 - 1920 | Tagged , , , , , |

The James Scripps Booth BiAutogo – A “Motorcycle Car”


Over one hundred years ago the course of the automobile had been fairly well charted out, but this did not discourage free-thinking individuals like James Scripps Booth who would continue to design new variations of mobile transport. And he could well afford to do so as he was an heir to the Booth family fortune that had originated from publishing the Detroit Evening News. Born and raised in the Motor City, he was educated in private schools and also developed his artistic abilities.

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Booth also had a keen interest in mechanical engineering and automobile design, which led to him laying out the Biautogo sketches in Paris, France around 1910, while studying art there for a time. He did not intend to turn it into a production vehicle, but rather to use it as an engineering study and for promotional purposes at the 1912 New York Auto Show.


The project was not completed in time for the New York show, but it was soon finished and featured in an article in The Automobile, in 1913. And what a vehicle it was – the aluminum-bodied machine was powered by the first V-8 built in Detroit, a 332 ci. Scripps-Booth engine that produced 45 hp. A steering wheel and shaft actuated the springer type of front fork by the use of a chain and bevel gears. The chain-driven rear wheel was suspended by parallel semi-elliptic springs. It rode on large 37 x 5.5-inch tires and a long 140-inch wheelbase.


One would assume that a vehicle of this type would be stabilized at low speeds by a powered-gyroscope, but instead Booth fitted drop-down balance-wheels for that purpose. It has been reported that above twenty mph the front and rear wheels would keep it upright by the same principals used for the bicycle. Other features were: a four-speed transmission, an air starter, a very distinctive surface-mounted radiator of copper tubing, and seating for three passengers.

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Full details of this of this unusual vehicle are in a two-page article that can be seen above, which was featured in the August 28, 1913, issue of The Automobile. You can also learn about the JB Rocket Cyclecar produced by Booth and covered here earlier on The Old Motor and the later Scripps-Booth Car here.

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In person, the BiAutogo is a genuine delight to see, and you can do just that by visiting with the Owls Head Transportation Museum, in Owls Head, Maine. At the museum, you will find one of the most diverse collections (a small sampling is above) of primarily pre-1920 automobiles, aircraft, motorcycles, stationary engines and bicycles in the country. You can visit with them here at the Owls Head Transportation Museum.

Posted in Auto photos 1885 - 1920, Motorcycle photos, Pre-War Contemporary Photos | Tagged , , , , , , |

The Amazing Edmond Rumpler Designed Tropfenwagen

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  • 1921 Rumpler Tropfenwagen at the German Museum of Urban Transport

Edmond Rumpler, a brilliant Austrian aircraft designer, introduced his unprecedented Tropfenwagen at the 1921 Berlin Auto Show. The teardrop-shaped body (tropfen translates to drop), with its curved glass greenhouse, produced a very low drag coefficient of only .28, which is on par with the aerodynamic cars of today. In addition to the shape of the body, the minimal horizontal fenders and the belly pan helped to achieve this figure.

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  • Left and center: Rear views of the 1921 Rumpler Tropfenwagen. Right: 1923 Rumpler Tropfenwagen on exhibit at the German Museum of Technology

It appears that between 80 to 100 Rumpler Tropfenwagen’s were built in the four years that they were in production. Only two examples are known to have survived and both can be seen above: the German Museum of Urban Transport car built in 1921 has the earlier shorter style of passenger compartment; the 1923 German Museum of Technology Sedan features a longer cabin with the rear top-section of it used for storage.

The cars seated four or five passengers in the center of the body resulting in a very comfortable ride. A convertible version was also produced and can be seen in a line drawing below. That version with four passengers aboard weighed in at 3,000 lb. with the sedan at 3470 lb., both were capable of speeds above fifty mph.

The interesting video above shows a period film of a Rumpler Tropfenwagen being driven in several different scenes, possibly on the streets of London. Two things to note while watching it are: The fitted luggage and its compartment, and the trafficators Rumpler fitted for use as turn signals.

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  • Chassis and drivetrain -”Automotive Industries” October 27, 1921

The car utlized a W6 Siemens & Halske-built, 157 ci. (2,580 cc) 36 hp. overhead valve engine. Three banks of paired cylinders were used, all working on a common crankshaft. Note one of the unique three connecting-rods units at number four in the image above.

The engine, clutch, three-speed transmission, and the final-drive were all together in a unit power plant. The rear swing-axles were suspended and located by angled cantilever leaf springs, while the beam front axle was suspended by a pair of parallel leaf springs of the same type.

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  • Illustrations and a line-drawing -”Motor Age” November 10, 1921

The novel design of the car and the potential for a light-weight and excellent handling racing car attracted Benz chief engineer, Hans Nibel. The resulting Benz Tropfenwagen racer seen at the bottom used a Rumpler chassis with a 121.5 ci. – 80 hp. (1,991 cc) dohc straight-six. The cars that were built handled extremely well but were uncompetitive and were dropped after three years. The basic design was used later by Auto Union for its racing cars, VW and Porsche. Many other streamliners can be seen here on The Old Motor.

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  • Construction details – “Automotive Industries” October 27, 1921


Posted in Auto photos 1885 - 1920, Pre-War Contemporary Photos, video | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , |