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The Doble Model A & B Prototypes

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  • Abner Doble at the wheel of his Model “B” roadster

The Doble brothers’ dedication to the use of steam power in automobiles bordered on the fanatical. Long after others had abandoned the concept, their continued devotion to the type would eventually result in some of the most remarkable steamers ever produced.

Our article today deals with their earliest efforts. Together, they assembled the little buckboard seen below between 1906 and 1909 while still in high school, using components salvaged from a wrecked White but incorporating an engine of their own design.

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  • Brothers Warren and Bill Doble in their earliest steam car

With the assistance of his brother John, Abner completed his Model “A” in 1912, seen below, after dropping out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The second prototype, the Model “B”, incorporated many innovative features. The use of a honeycomb radiator to re-condense used steam virtually eliminated water loss, dramatically reducing the need for refills.

A twenty-five horsepower engine enabled it to reach a top speed of 75 miles per hour with a zero to sixty time of 15 seconds, a blistering pace for a road car at the time. The full mechanical details of this car can be found in The Automobile magazine at the bottom of this post.

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  •               The Doble Model “A” made in Waltham, Massachusetts

Abner drove a Model “B” from Boston to Detroit in 1915 with the goal of attracting investors. He was able to raise $200,000 with which he established the General Engineering Company to produce a new car in 1917, the ill-fated Doble-Detroit. The design incorporated still more advanced features including simplified controls, electric firing, and a very rapid start up.

It was initially well received but issues with quality control and production are said to have kept it from living up to its potential. It was Doble’s contention that war time material shortages contributed to these failings. You can find more steam related information and photos on The Old Motor. Photos courtesy of The Bancroft Library.

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  • Articles above from “The Automobile” of April 9, 1914 and September 17, 1914

16 responses to “The Doble Model A & B Prototypes

  1. If anybody is interested in a short potted history of Abner Doble, his background and his cars, they could look on our website where in 2005 we did some basic pioneering research as a result of our Help Pages receiving a photo of a ‘Rolls-Royce – looking’ car taken in England and requiring identification. Abner lived in England for a while and worked for Sentinel Wagon Works.

  2. If I recall correctly, the Doble company provided a steam engine for use in the Besler steam airplane of the early 1930s. Very quiet in operation, and the aircraft could land and stop in a very short distance, due to the ability to quickly change prop direction.

    Tom M.

  3. During the 60’s there was an elderly gentleman who lived in Kansas City near the Country Club Plaza who used an early 30’s Doble Coupe for transportation! I always wondered who he was and what happened to the car? Do any of the readers know about that automobile?

    • This caused a chuckle from me! I was born in 1967 and at the time, my father, Richard Hempel, was 47.

      Heather (Hempel) Wilson

      ps~ I’d be happy to answer any questions I can about “Growing Up Hempel” =o)

  4. Other than the hood being a bit long we think it is very exclusive looking, and would be interested in knowing who the coach-builder was. The windshield is just very low and quite sporty.

  5. The elderly KC gent was Dick Hempel, and his Doble was E-20 which the Nethercutt Collection acquired from him; it is now owned by Jay Leno.

    • Tim! Thanks for the answer. I didn’t think I would ever find out!
      That was a wonderful old car (brown in color) I used to see it at least once a week. Thanks again!

      • Dick Hempel owned at least three Dobles, at least two of which were operable, E-20 (now owned by Jay Leno) and E-24. E-20 was originally owned by Howard Hughes, E-24 was Abner Doble’s personal car until 1936. Doble had it with him in New Zealand and England and sold it there. Most recently E-24 was owned by Stan Lucas in California.

        Dick Hemple’s letter and pictures describing his ownership of Dobles E-20 and E-24 appeared in THE STEAM AUTOMOBILE Vol 7 No 2 Summer 1965 issue page 14.

        Hemphill says there: “I purchased E-24 in 1954 from McCulloch Motors after they and Mr. Doble were through with it (he was with them then). I drove the car about 3,000 miles around Kansas City and had a lot of fun with it. “

        Here is a link which has a number of pictures of E-24 when it was in New Zealand with Abner Doble.

        • Such fun for me to find these links today (April 12, 2016) on what would have been my father’s 96th birthday!

          Heather (Hempel) Wilson

    • That car, E-20, ended up in Emmett, Idaho when the Hempels moved west. I had the privilege of getting a personal tour of Mr. Hempel’s barn in the late ’70s when this car had a ’13 Mercer Runabout and, as I think/remember, an ’08 White steamer as it’s stablemates. Mr. Hempel was a very kind and epitomized the term gentleman. He spotted my ’30 Model A Ford Roadster in a grocery store parking lot in Emmett one summer afternoon. He waited by my car for me to return and took me to his home where he gave me a personal tour of his house (formerly owned by a local fruit growing baron) and his barn out back where the Mercer and Doble were housed. Wonderful man. And very knowledgeable about steam. People like Dick Hempel were the real pioneers of the old car hobby. And they are greatly missed.

      • It warms my heart to read this. I spent a lot of time learning about steam engines, but even more sleeping on the carpeted boiler top
        Heather (Hempel) Wilson

  6. I recently spoke with the son of McCulloch’s chief engineer during the time they owned E-24. They purchased it in England and had it shipped to California in the early fifties. Doble was working for them under contract to help develop a steam engine for the Paxton Phoenix project. He recalled Doble remarking that his car’s operation wasn’t nearly as refined as he remembered.

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