American Car Spotters Guide - 1901

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American Car Spotters Guide - 1901

On early American low-powered vehicles the weight of the bodywork posed a considerable problem, and, to minimise this, the majority of vehicles were open. To provide protection from the weather, buggy-type tops were fitted, often complete with fringes and occasionally supplemented with drapes that would have done credit to a Victorian drawing room. Although by the late 1800s motor vehicles. had assumed a distinct form of their own, separate from the horse-drawn carriage, occasionally people still had conceptual problems in differentiating between the motor vehicle and the horse and cart.

A particularly interesting tractor which provides an example of this was made in America in 1901. This was a three-wheeled vehicle with a 10 hp steam engine, designed to be attached to a buggy or a cart in place of the horse. It was even controlled by reins, which not only steered it but controlled the speed, stopped it and reversed it. Wheels at this time were basically of the cart type. Road conditions demanded that they be large enough to traverse innumerable pot-holes. American roads were notoriously muddy also, and this meant that the wheel had to be narrow enough to force its way down to the bottom of the mud onto more solid ground, and large enough to keep the car and its mechanics from grounding.

In 1888, John Boyd Dunlop devised an air-filled tyre for his son's bicycle. This was so successful that it won itself a monopoly among bicycle tyres and was also used on motor cars. With the introduction of Dunlop's pneumatic tyre and parallel improvement of the roads towards the turn of the century, automobiles were fitted with smaller and wider wheels. Thus, the body height was reduced, and the additional thickness of the wheels gave cars a more substantial look. By this time, there were numerous small cars about, most of them open. Nearly all were highly individual and definitely had nothing to do with horses. Steering was either by tiller or wheel, and many of the mechanical components were exposed. Seats usually faced forwards, although it was by no means uncommon for them to face sideways or to the rear.
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