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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.