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Nothing New Under the Sun: The Birmingham – A Car with no Axles

The story of the Birmingham begins when M.E. and C.C. Blood, brothers from Kalamazoo, Michigan, manufactured an automobile bearing their name between 1902 to ’06. Following that, the pair went into the business of manufacturing universal joints and other automotive components and began selling them directly to automakers.

Becoming an automaker once again in 1913 the Blood Brothers Machine Co. designed and began producing the Cornelian Light Car which featured a four-wheel independent suspension system. The new vehicle was introduced at the end of the cyclecar craze (1912 to ’13), and it has been reported that less than one-hundered of the little cars were produced before production ended in 1915. If the Brothers had prevailed and continued on, and were able to inspire other automakers to use a similar type independent suspension, they would have benefitted greatly by selling more of their universal joints.

The lead photo is courtesy of Antique Automobile Photographs.

  • Photo of a Cornelian Light Car from an article in the March 30, 1914 “Horseless Age”magazine.

  •                   Specifications of the Cornelian Cycle Car -December 1913 “Horseless Age” magazine.

Before the Cornelian Light Car went out of production the Blood’s built another version of the the vehicle with an advanced body using monocoque construction and their four-wheel independent suspension design, with rack and pinion steering. Powered by a small Sterling 103 c.i. four and weighing in at less than 1,000 pounds, it caught the attention of Louis Chevrolet who modified the car and entered it in the 1915 Indy 500. The veteran speed demon was able to qualify the unique little car for the race with a speed of 81 mph. Chevrolet always raced at ten-tenths and may have pushed the engine too hard for after covering 77 laps the car was eliminated from the competition when the motor suffered a broken valve.

  • The Cornelian at the 1915 Indianapolis 500 race – photo courtesy Ivan Wheaton.

The story continues on in the late-teens when C.E. Weaver, who had earlier worked at the Franklin Automobile Company in Syracuse, New York, and later as an Instructor of Mechanics at the University of America in Washington, DC, began designing a new car that he named the Birmingham. For the suspension, he purchased the patent rights for the four-wheel independent system from the Blood Brothers.

Weaver had connections in New York State and found support in Jamestown by Samuel A. Carlson the Mayor of the City, who helped form a trust to fund construction of the new automobile. The Wright-Fischer Engineering Co. updated the suspension system which Weaver then patented. The application drawings also show the Michelin disc wheels used on the vehicle. A Continental L-head six was chosen to power it and the balance of the components were purchased from specialty manufacturers.

  • Patent drawings for the Birmingham two spring front and three spring rear independent suspension systems.

The Library of Congress image below shows one of the snazzy-looking Birmingham demonstration cars in Washington, DC with the coachwork covered by Dupont “Fabrikoid” in an alligator skin pattern and it is fitted with a removable “California Top.” Deep splash aprons and channel section running boards similar to those used by Marmon help to stiffen up the light-weight channel section frame without adding a much of weight.

Whether or not this new offering in the automotive field would have been a success will never be known. After a small fleet of the cars had been constructed to show off its attributes to the public, and to help sell stock in the new company it was reported in the financial press by political foes of Mayor Carlson who claimed that the Company was selling “worthless stock” by mail. A resulting ten-month long investigation of the matter by the US Post Office ended up proving that the allegation was false. Despite an attempt by the Birmingham Co. to follow up and generate favorable publicity for the distinctive car, unfortunately, the firm soon became insolvent and failed.

  • 1921 Birmingham demonstrator press photo below taken in Washington, DC.

1920 Birmingham with four-wheel independant suspension 1

7 responses to “Nothing New Under the Sun: The Birmingham – A Car with no Axles

  1. I am always impressed by how many early inventors came up with novel innovations and devices to improve automobiles in the first two or three decades. So many did not have formal training and, of course, none had the aids of a computer,, CAD CAM, etc. that we take for granted today.
    Lots of examples of Nothing New Under the Sun. The radiator of the Birmingham looks very much like that of the Roamer–which was built in Kalamazoo, home town of the Blood brothers. Allegations of stock manipulation would later doom the Tucker. The allegation itself: an early example of “fake news”?

  2. The front end reminds me of Sizaire et Naudin car circa 1907, The radiator Rolls Royce. The whole reminds of me of the lyric from a Tom Lehrer song “plagiarize; let no ones work evade your eyes”

  3. Thank you for this very enlightening article. I too marvel at the engineering that took place in this era, all with the help of the slide rule.

  4. Engineering autos loaded with advanced innovations which later proved to be the better approach litter the early years of the automobile. As superior as those different approaches later became recognized, bringing them to market earlier and successfully was the larger challenge. Thanks for this informative feature.

  5. The suspension looks a lot like the L&E of Los Angeles. The inventors produced 7 autos of various makes, in order to promote their 4 wheel independent suspension. A Franklin based version was sold in Art Austria’s Auction in the early
    ’70’s. A friend bought it and the last time I saw it, it was rotting as a chassis in the desert. My friend was a buyer for Bill Harrah. He had a large quantity of literature on the manufacturer.

  6. Part of the features on this car, (above) were utilized on all early Fords: “The 1/4 elliptical spring” : Actually, “2 springs in 1” , center-anchored, — to become: 2 separate springs — transversely mounted on each axle , becoming 4 (compact ) springs that were utilized on many of the Ford products from: Before Model “T”‘s — until 1948! (That was the good news .) The bad news was: from wear and/or lack of maintenance ! (Not Ford’s fault!) , which created a set of: “Strange conditions” in vehicle stability” If: “Quarter Ellipticals” are maintained, the “conditions” are not present! As far as: “Both axles driving” goes— the invention and later Mass Production of: “Rzeppa (“Constant Velocity”) Joints” and their later improvements , which included: keeping them (better) freed from mud & dirt — (and to keep lubrication in) — allowed today’s (common) FWD & 4WD systems . Edwin W.

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