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A Micromobile by James V. Martin – The 1928 Dart

Foreshadowing the more successful American Austin, pioneering pilot and inventor Captain James V. Martin and engineer Miles H. Carpenter built three prototypes of this six hundred pound pipsqueak between 1926 and 1929. While the drivetrain was said to have been quite conventional, notwithstanding the modified inline four cylinder air-cooled Cleveland motorcycle engine, it’s springing was decidedly not.

Martin drew upon his aircraft background and used “aviation cord” (similar to today’s Bungee cords) as the springing method on the independent front and DeDion rear suspension, a product commonly used on aircraft landing gear of the day. He claimed they would last for 25,000 miles and cost only twenty cents apiece to replace.

He had planned to sell his baby car for $200 plus $50 freight by mail order (slightly less than the Model “T” Ford of the  day) and have them shipped direct to the customer by rail. The new owner could then use the shipping crate as a garage. At least that was the plan, but it never came to fruition. A deal with the M.P. Moller Company of Hagerstown, Maryland, manufacturer of the Dagmar automobile and taxicab and station wagon bodies, to produce his petite project fell apart, and the Dart died aborning.

This little coupe almost seems like the missing link between the earlier cyclecars and the aforementioned American Austin. The Lane Motor Museum in Nashville, Tennessee, has an original, informative and illustrated four page brochure covering the 1928 Dart.

But perhaps his most spectacular achievement was his Aerodynamic , variously reported as a 1928 or 1932 model. Again inspired by aircraft construction methods, this highly advanced automobile eschewed conventional body on frame construction, instead using a four inch thick platform made of wood, aluminum and fabric bonded together as a foundation. It could reportedly reach 110 miles per hour.

His last unconventional automotive idea began in 1932. It was a mid-engined three wheeler that used a transversely mounted American Austin engine. This begat his 1948 “Martinette”, assumed to be the same car, but re-motored with a Hercules inline four. Most sources report that this car was rebodied in classic “woodie” style, and was rechristened the “Stationette” in 1950. Martin was nothing if not imaginative, and our automotive history is that much richer for it. Photos from the November, 1927 issue of the Cycle and Auto Trade Journal.

7 responses to “A Micromobile by James V. Martin – The 1928 Dart

  1. Once again, TheOldMotor has brought to the forefront another remarkable pioneer “baby car”. James Martin’s little Dart, with engineering by Gustave A. Ungar and body by Miles H. Carpenter, deserved a better fate. But in September 1929, a financing deal with William B. Leeds (head of a syndicate that handled the interests of Sears, Roebuck and Co., and the DuPont Company) fell through. As financiers discovered that Martin was prone to anger and law suits, they were unwilling to risk their fortunes on what they considered to be his unstable mental state. Meanwhile, he struck a deal with the city of Waverly, New York, to build a factory in which he would produce a cab-over-engine version of the Dart called the Martin Motor Truck. When one of the two prototypes was wrecked during demonstrations, the city withdrew its support. The deal with the M.P. Moller Company, mentioned in TheOldMotor article, would not have produced the Dart. It would have produced a somewhat larger car called the Victory, which was nearly produced by the Wright Flexible Axle Automobile Company outside of Montreal, Canada. It, too, was designed and constructed under the guidance of Carpenter and Ungar. Three stylish three-passenger prototypes were being constructed, including a coupe, cabriolet, and delivery car, when the Canadian government stepped in and ended the project. The partially finished cars were then transported to Moller’s plant where they were completed and paraded down the streets of Hagerstown, Maryland. This time, labor strikes and poor sales of American Austin (the Victory’s only competitor in the bantam class) kept financing away, and temporarily ended Martin’s four-wheel automotive endeavors. After World War II, he made a deal with a small company called American Motors (not the familiar company of the same name that came later) to produce an updated version of the Martin Motor Truck, called the Delcar. Delcar prototypes included a woodie wagon and panel vans. But production never took off. The confusion over Martin’s Aerodynamic is easily resolved. It was designed in 1928 but construction was completed in 1931 in time for its debut and the 1932 New York Auto Show. It is properly considered a 1932 model. It was unveiled along with the American Austin-powered three-wheeler, which was called the Martin Aerodynamic Autoette. The Autoette’s single entry door was the front of the car, Isetta-style. The next iteration, the Martinette, was a proposed update that would have been slightly longer to incorporate side-entry doors and a porthole window in the rear quarter panel. The Martinette chassis was constructed, but the body was never built. Instead, Martin engaged in negotiations with the Disabled American Veterans group on a plan for that organization to build and sell a revised woodie version to be called the Stationette, which was mentioned in your article. The deal came surprisingly close to fruition, and for many years, the DAV’s annual reports listed Stationette stock options among its assets. But once again, the deal fell through. But that wasn’t the end of the Martin story. Martin then engaged with Washington lawyer Harry Payne, who had convinced the US Army to work with American Bantam in 1940 to develop the original ‘jeep’ prototype. Together, Payne and Martin attempted to interest the military in a three-wheel Martin ‘jeep’, and the abandoned Martinette chassis was tested for ‘jeep’ purposes at Fort Knox, Kentucky. In the end, the contract was awarded to another company which simply modified Willys jeeps into the three-wheel configuration for close-quarters work aboard aircraft carriers. Undaunted, Martin engaged with Bassons Industries to produce a fiberglass version of the Stationette, in panel truck form. Again, financing issues emerged and Bassons dropped their plans in favor of distributing an alternative, sportier three-wheeler which they called the Star. Payne and Martin continued to pursue their three-wheel passion, and in 1956, unveiled the Tri-Car, designed by H. Ray Jaffe. Unfortunately, Martin had grown elderly and frail. His death put an end to the Tri-car. Payne pushed forward and developed the Roustabout, which was a civilian version of their three-wheel ‘jeep’ idea, powered by a two-cylinder Kohler engine. Payne sold his concept and his company to a Pennsylvania firm, which redesigned the Roustabout and marketed it as the Trivan three-wheeled pickup. Roughly 112 Trivans were built, but were found to be underpowered with too little traction. The truck was hastily redesigned as a four-wheeler, but it was too little, too late. When the last Trivan was built in 1962, Martin’s automotive dream was finally laid to rest. Today, you can find Martin’s Aerodynamic, Aerodynamic Autoette, Stationette, and Trivan on display at the Lane Motor Museum.

  2. Thank you for this little piece of knowledge, about my grandfather, although l never met him l do remember images of the martinette in my early child hood presumably from magazine and paper cutting

    • Hallo, how nice to find some evidence of my grandfather’s work, l had knowledge of him but never met him. Thanks, yours happily Theodore

    • Hello! I have happily found this information regarding my grandfather, who died the year of my birth. I have always been so interested in his amazing works and am trying to learn more. Nice also to find my brother Theo, above, has been doing some research. I was told in my early years about my brilliant grandfather, I always wished I could have met him as I have always been in awe of machinery, cars an bikes and in particular, aviation.
      Many thanks
      Melody.

      • Melody, My grandfather, John Rix, worked with your grandfather on these autos. I just sent the Lane museum a bunch of photos and sales brochures on them. I would love to visit with you about their history and how their paths crossed. They both worked in aviation as well. I know it’s been a couple years since you posted your comment. I hope you stumble across mine and look me up. I’m the only James Rix in Wichita.

  3. I am very interested in learning more of James V. Martin, my grandfather was Issac Newton Martin from Pennsilvainya area, but all the Martins in my family are car enthusiasts.

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