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The F. R. P. – Finley Robinson Porter’s Masterpiece

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  • The sole surviving F.R.P., a 1915 Touring car can be seen at the Seal Cove Auto Museum on Mount Desert Island, Maine

Finley Robinson Porter left his mark on the automotive world forever with his creation of the sensational T-Head Mercer Raceabout in 1911. That car soon became a legend while chalking up countless wins on the race track. By 1913, Mercer Automobile Co. management knew they would need to design an up-to-date replacement for the T-Head, but choose not to go with Porter’s designs for it. The Trenton, New Jersey company instead hired Eric H. Delling, the former chief engineer for the Stanley Motor Carriage Co. to design the new L-Head Mercer which was introduced in 1915.

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  • Seal Cove Auto Museum F.R.P., photos courtesy of Supercars.net

After leaving Mercer, Porter went to work to build his vision of the ultimate car, which he named the F.R.P. using his initials. And what an exceptional car it came to be, considering that it and the T-Head Mercer before it, had both been designed by a man without any formal engineering training or a degree.

Reading the following specifications and figures and putting them in context with other cars being built at the time, show just how remarkable it was: a 454-c.i.d. four-cylinder engine, vertical shaft-driven s.o.h.c. cylinder head with hemispherical combustion chambers, gun-drilled cam and crankshafts, tubular connecting rods, an output of 100-hp. (listed at 145 brake-hp. in The Motor), construction of chrome vanadium steel, and magnesium-aluminum alloy, 88 mph top speed and a five-thousand dollar chassis price.

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  •  “The Automobile”, November 12, 1914

Three models were initially announced: the Series A 110-inch w.b chassis, as seen above with a racing body, the Series B with a 130-inch w.b., and the 140-inch w.b. Series C.

It was an outstanding achievement at the time, but in spite of having designed the ultimate American car, Porter was unable to move forward due to lack of finding the financial backing necessary to begin production; in addition, introducing the car only a few months after the start of World War I and the threat of possible involvement by the United States came at the worst possible time.

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  • Full details of the F.R.P.,”The Automobile”, November 12, 1914

David Gooding has reported in his excellent article on the F.R.P. in Automobile Quarterly Vol. 31 No. 34, that supplies and parts for forty chassis’ were initially ordered. Exactly how many were built at the Port Jefferson, Long Island, New York facility, may have only amounted to somewhere between five and ten. Coachwork for the cars could have been built by any of a number of fine builders in the Tri-state region specializing in such work.

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  • “The Automobile”, November 12, 1914

With the involvement of the U.S. in World War I, the government took over the F.R.P. facility for its use during the conflict. Porter with his engineering talents spent the war years in Dayton, Ohio, in charge of testing Liberty aircraft engines. After the war he choose not to build any more of the cars, but instead stayed in the aircraft industry, working as chief engineer for the Curtiss Engineering Corp. in Garden City, Long Island.

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  • “The Automobile”, November 12, 1914

There is more to the story, and we will return to it at a later date with the Porter-Knight cars prepared for entry in the 1915 Indianapolis 500. They were equipped with a sleeve-valve racing engines that Porter’s friend John North Willys built. The post-war Porter car built in Bridgeport, Connecticut, will also be covered. It used the remaining parts left over from the F.R.P. and was overseen by Porter’s son Robert Brewster Porter who became the chief engineer for Porter.

If any of our readers can point us to any more information or photos covering the F.R.P., the Porter-Knights and the Porter please let us know.

12 responses to “The F. R. P. – Finley Robinson Porter’s Masterpiece

  1. David,

    Very Interesting stuff. Do you know if the design of this engine predates the arrival of the MB 1914 OHC GP engine ? I think Depalma’s arrived in late July 1914, but details may have been known after the French GP on July 5. I am curious about the enclosed valvegear, inspection plates and the offset rockers. Any more photo’s of the cylinder head ?

    Paul

    • Paul, I don’t know when he started on the design of this engine, but to bring it to the point in 1914 so that he could be testing it he must have started on the design a year or two earlier.

      No sorry, I don’t have any other photos showing more details of the engine. In “The Motor Age” 5-31-1917 issue it was announced that the head was going to be changed to 16-valve unit, although we do not know if this was ever accomplished or not.

  2. David,

    Many thanks for the article, and posting the photo of the Museum’s car.

    You can find out some more about the car in Dean Batchelor’s book, “Harrah’s Automobile Collection – One man’s tribute to the great automobiles of the World.” The F.R.P. was at the top of Harrah’s most wanted list and Batchelor’s account of the search for, and purchase of, the car makes for a good read. Harrah’s acquisition of the F.R.P. was so important that a full page feature article about his “most sought after car” was published in “Harrahscope.”

    The F.R.P. eventually made its way to Richard Paine and the Seal Cove Auto Museum’s collection after Harrah’s death in 1978.

    We have some fabulous automobiles at the Seal Cove, but my absolute favorite is the F.R.P.

    Cheers,
    Roberto

  3. Amazing technology; thank you for this great post. I am confused on how the emergency brake could work with many 2 1/2 inch diameter drums. Where are they? I assume the linkage visible in the picture is for the service brakes. Any enlightenment?

  4. I have many FRP photos about 40, and also a catalog. I have always found it a most interesting car! Walter

    • Walter, are those period photos??? If so, it would be a great service to have David post them.
      This is one of the most heart-breaking ‘what might have been’ stories in American automobile history. Had Mercer management embraced Porter’s OHC design, the future of both Mercer and Porter might’ve been very different. Instead, Porter boldly forged ahead on his own, but already the industry was consolidating and outlier companies were culled.

  5. There were many stories I heard from him daughter Ella about how Finley haunt the Garden City Ploice Dept when he drove back and forth from the FRP showroom in Mahatten ,n.y.
    Becouse he drove the FRP touring his personal car throw Garden Coty and the local police wanted to stop him for speeding and give him a ticket but they couldn’t catch him so when he went back and forth Finley called the Garden city police and told them what time he was going to go threw town and said ” try to catch me if you can”
    Another story was he was going to use the car for a wedding and someone wanted to know if it could go fast so on a dirt road in Port Jesserson he took the touring and with the great power of the car spun the wheels until it sat on the rear axle.
    Finless car was in a collision in Smithtown by his daughter and her boyfriend in the early 1920’s and was put in a garage on Water St behind Alleson Vandells butcher shop until 1925 When Alleson bought the car and raced in in the 1925 Port Jefferson Hill climb up East Bradway against the 1924 Pikes Peak campion car a 1924 Lexington Minuet Man six and won a prize of $1000.
    I have the timing device used on this hill climb which I got from Allison Vandells back in the 70’s when I interview him.

  6. Along with the FRP car that was being made in the Port Jefferson Sta. then called ECHO the factory owned by the Loper Bros. next to the L.I. RailRoad tracks there was Finley’s friend John North Willys who in the same building was working on his sleve-valve engine which he and Finley installed in some of his Model A F.R.P. Chassis and took them out to the 1915 Indianapolis 500 mile race of the year..I had contacted the speedway years ago and they said that there records show only that the cars had come out there that year but failed to qualify but because if the engines got enough oil to the sleaves so they didn’t seized up the plugs would get fowled with oil and couldn’t get enough speed to qualify..so they came home..Some where around you can find a picture taken before they left for Indy taken by A.S Greene a local photografer of two FRP Model A chassis with Sleeve valve engines taken in front of the Ardencrig Hotel in Port Jeff Village on Jones street which is now Main St.

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