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The Adams-Farwell – A Truly Unique Early Motorcar

Jay Hubbard demonstrates the radial engine in the world’s only surviving Adams-Farwell.

In Dubuque, Iowa in June of 1883, Eugene Adams purchased an interest in the Roberts and Langworthy Iron Works and became secretary and manager two years later. Renamed the Adams Company in 1892 when his brother Herbert joined the firm, they specialized in the manufacture of machine castings. The business would eventually grow to include milling and general foundry equipment in it’s offerings. Fay Oliver Farwell, a prolific inventor with thirteen patents already credited to his name for items as diverse as a camp chair, a combination vise and anvil, and a molding machine would join the enterprise in the late 1890’s as the factory superintendent.

AE1The simple and ingenious design of Farwell’s powerplant can be seen in the schematic above.

Development of an automobile began in 1898 with the one-off experimental Model One, a front-engined machine with a Farwell-designed air-cooled three cylinder rotary engine installed in an express wagon. Other prototypes produced in 1899 and 1901 further refined the design. By 1904, the revolutionary Adams-Farwell was deemed ready for sale to the public. It received high praise at the 1905 Chicago Auto Show where The Chicago Chronicle declared it “one of the most attractive cars at the auto show and one which has found perhaps the maximum of purchasers.”

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Their 1909 Model 9 and it’s engine are described above in great detail in an article from the Cycle and Automobile Trade Journal of September, 1908. Adams-Farwell continued to produce automobiles until 1913 after which the Adams brothers saw a brighter future for the company in the gear-cutting business. Fay Farwell stayed with them until the early 1920’s and then moved on to other interests. You’ll find almost 300 pages of items from the earliest days of motoring on The Old Motor. The remarkable 1906 Adams-Farwell featured in our video is on display at The National Automobile Museum in Reno, Nevada.

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  • An advertisement  from the “Horseless Age” of June, 1906

13 responses to “The Adams-Farwell – A Truly Unique Early Motorcar

  1. Another unique feature of the first Adams-Farwell production models was the choice of driving position. The 1905 Adams-Farwell Convertible Brougham was equipped with two sets of driving controls–one set in front for a gentleman’s chauffeur, who sat in the open, and another set inside the enclosed rear passenger compartment for the more adventurous of owners . Iowa State Senator Allison was one such owner who preferred to drive himself from the rear seat.

  2. My initial impression is that the engine’s design is “complicated”, yet in the same space “simple.” But, no matter how sophisticated in its engineering, ingenuity and execution, with 50-horsepower to boot! Wish more examples could have been built.

    I would have liked to have seen the transmission and power-train transition to the driving gears and wheel mechanism(s).

    Thanks for posting Dave!

    • I wonder if, with all the swirling mass, there was a torque reaction? The use of a rotary (Le Rhone) in first world war Spads enabled them to turn and bank like crazy to the left, but was almost impossible to bank to the right.

      • The SPAD used conventional engines. Rotaries were used in Nieuport, Sopwith, Hanriot, and some DeHavilland and Fokker aircraft.

        Unlike these engines, those had no intake system. The carburetor was installed on the crankcase and the intake valves were in the pistons. Because gasoline would dilute petroleum, castor oil was used.

        I read a history of these cars many, many years ago. I remember two things from that article. Starting was accomplished by a lever in the driver’s compartment, though one could also grab a cylinder and spin the engine directly (not recommended when the engine was warm!). Also, the horizontal spin produced a gyroscopic action that was reported to make these cars incredibly stable for a buggy-wheeled horseless carriage.

  3. One of my old publications from the 70s, I think Road and Track did an article on the car back then. It was probably the one that was in Harrah’s but my memory has it as a 1913 which was reportedly the last year of production. Although it is claimed that it was the only one, the Smithsonian has a 1906 model. I would have to believe that there are still a few remaining that are stuck away somewhere. As people pass away and their possessions get into the hands of a younger less interested generation of the family there amy be some that begin to surface. I deal in older vehicles and am still finding cars/parts that were believed to be all gone. I think the scrap drives during the war probably consumed a lot of older iron, and odd vehicles are likely considered to be many of those scrapped…I’m not so sure. It has been my experience that vehicles that people have no knowledge of get tucked away until someone realizes what they are. That may be the case with this car, especially since it is so unusual. Someone may think it’s something that was converted to an airplane engine at some point since early vehicles were maintained with all sorts of creative engineering by the owners. That was a time when cars weren’t the consumer item they have become, people bought them to keep and not until the next years model came out.

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