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Turn your Tin Lizzy into a Limousine – Ustus Side Curtains

Automobile side curtains Model T Ford

The advent of the Model T Ford helped to give birth to the automotive aftermarket. The car was so basic, and so many of them were manufactured, which in turn gave inventors and manufacturers a ready market for selling accessories to the Ford owner. The Ustus Limousette was a set roll-up side curtains that could be added to a touring car or roadster. In under an hour the devices that worked under the same principal as the old-fashioned window shade could be installed to make your Ford as snug as a bug in a rug.

Great idea, but we can see a few negative points: It is likely that the top could not be put down after the installation; the transparent portion was probably made of isinglass, a semitransparent material formed by cleaning and drying the air bladders of fish; this material and early forms of clear plastics used for side curtains had a short life and soon became brittle and cracked resulting in a short life for the curtains. Ads promoting the curtains were found between the years of 1919 and 1923. You can view more Model T Ford accessories here.

Automobile side curtains Model T Ford

20 responses to “Turn your Tin Lizzy into a Limousine – Ustus Side Curtains

  1. I thought, they used celluloid for the transparent parts, According to the book ‘American Plastic – A Cultural History’ (p.28), celluloid was ‘clear as glass’ and ‘flexible and tough as canvas’. Celluloid film was developed initially for the photographic industry end of the 19th century.

    • Yes as I mentioned “early forms of clear plastics” like celluloid had a limited life in this kind of use (exposure to heat, cold and sun light).

      The other thing to think about is a curtain had to be rolled up every time someone entered or exited the car and this continued flexing would be likely to fatigue the plastic.

      You got me curious and I found this at Wiki under a search for celluloid: “Many sources of deterioration in celluloid exist, such as thermal, chemical, photochemical, and physical. The most inherent flaw is as celluloid ages, the camphor molecules are ‘squeezed’ out of the mass due to the unsustainable pressure used in the production. In detail, that pressure causes the nitrocellulose molecules to bind back to each other or crystalize, and this results in the camphor molecules being shoved out of the material. Once exposed to the environment, camphor can undergo sublimation at room temperature, leaving the plastic as brittle nitrocellulose. Also, with expose to excess heat, the nitrate groups can break off and expose nitrogen gases, such as nitrous oxide and nitric oxide,[10] to the air. Another factor that can cause this is excess moisture, which can accelerate deterioration of nitrocellulose with the presence of nitrate groups, either newly fragmented from heat or still trapped as a free acid from production. Both of these sources allow for nitric acid to accumulate, a main component of acid rain that leads to corrosion of the environment. Another form of deterioration, Photochemical, is severe in celluloid because it absorbs ultraviolet light well. The absorbed light leads to chain-breakage and stiffening”.

      • You guys are barking up a way wrong tree.
        My dad to;d me about the isinglass curtains on his dad’s Franklin, which were made of mica.

        Isinglass: Thin transparent sheets of mica called “isinglass” were used for peepholes in boilers, lanterns, stoves, and kerosene heaters because they were less likely to shatter than glass when exposed to extreme temperature gradients. Such peepholes were also used in “isinglass curtains” in horse-drawn carriages and early 20th century cars.

          • Right, but they were both called isinglass. The fish product, however, is water-soluble.

            More famously referred to as muscovite, isinglass is a type of mica that is usually found in sheets. Isinglass is a mineral which is found in various natural formations, along with granites and gneisses. Its versatile properties led to the employment of mica sheets within the windows of furnace and oven doors and in lanterns. Its restricted flexibility conjointly led to its use as windows in the curtains of horse carriages and early automobiles.

            My previous quote was from Wikipedia under “mica.” The above is from innovateus under “what is isinglass.” A mica window is also described in an article on coachbuilding in The Hub of January, 1911.

          • Much better description of mica windows on page 12 of The Motor Way, January 7, 1905.

            “the entire front was closed in with a special curtain, the major portion of it being a large mica window. This, while stopping the wind, scarcely interfered with the operator’s or passengers’ field of vision.
            The unhindered vision of the front seat passengers resulted in the extensive use of mica for side curtains, until now the biggest touring cars with canopy tops, have their entire sides and front enclosed in large sheets of mica. This substance is well suited to the purpose. The danger of breakage is not to be considered, and its heat-radiating qualities are much less than those of glass. Of late many very excellent tops have been seen in which this material figured almost entirely for side protection. Its use allows of as good a range of vision as when the top is not used, and its texture readily lends itself to all body curves.”

  2. The nitrocellulose you mention was used a propellant in cartridges. Also, I remember an old timer telling me they had celluloid shirt collar when he was young and that they were real flammable.

  3. I found a tidbit of an original 1913 Metz windscreen. It was celluloid and, of course, badly deteriorated. If not exposed to sunlight, however, celluloid is quite long-lasting. It’s been used for key tops in organs since the mid 19thC, and these are often in good shape. How they figured to use camphor as a stabilizer, I don’t know, but if you rub or abrade celluloid, it smells like Vicks Vapo-Rub.

  4. Many people aren’t aware of how many Model Ts were produced. To put it in perspective, Volkswagen didn’t break Henry’s record for the most units of a single model built until 1973.

    When I imagine all the Beetles I’ve seen, and add the ones sold globally, it’s staggering how many Tin Lizzies once roamed the Earth, albeit even more slowly. Of course many of Ford’s originals were soon scrapped or modified for other uses, but so were Bugs, yet it’s hard to imagine a future time when VWs are rare as Model Ts.

    While the Model T put America on wheels, the Volkswagen got us where we had to go cheaply. As for limousine conversions, who hasn’t seen the VW with a Rolls Royce grille? haha

    • Good point Johnny, there were some thirteen million on them manufactured.

      I remember watching the evening news the day that VW passed Ford’s production mark. At one of the test tracks in Germany the company used a single Model “T” driving low on the track that was circled by hundreds of Beetles passing it.

  5. According to a January 1920 issue of “Popular Science”, the Ustus Limousette cost $30 for a roadster and $46 for a tourer. The Ustus Limousette was manufactured by the Dafoe-Eustice Company of Chicago. The company had 30 distributors across the United States.

  6. Don’t believe mica could have been used in the Limousette side curtains, since these had to be able to roll up, like a window shade, and mica isn’t that flexible.

  7. My grandfather and great grandfather owned the Dafoe-Eustice company, but I didn’t know until now that it was originally in Chicago.

  8. My Mama, who will be 100 on Monday said her Pa’s car had side curtains that snapped on. When going for a ride and it started to rain, they would have to stop and snap on them on.

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