I’m sure that many of you have far more wonderful and harrowing experiences teaching your children to drive but I would like to tell you ours. Most families seem to go to the nearest shopping centers to let the youngster learn the art of driving a car. Our three daughters had a slightly different training, along with going to the shopping center.
We always seem to have lots and lots of wood to move, both the kind you burn and the kind you build with, and we all had our share of moving it. It’s a great source of conversation when we all get together! One of the ways we moved the endless stacks was with our old one ton Ford truck.
We had a large field that was nice and flat, and was not obstructed with any buildings. We would fill up the old truck, putting the oldest daughter then 12, behind the wheel, and let her “move” the wood. Keeping it in low gear, she had a great time getting that pile of wood from one location to the other. Of course, the move took three times as long, but each one of our three daughters had the opportunity to feel trusted to drive the truck, and we had lots of fun watching.
When it came time for the girls to actually go out on the road, we found that their driving experience behind the wheel of the truck had paid off, and the job of teaching them the rules of the road was far easier. Since the Driving Ed classes were only teaching on automatic cars, we insisted that each daughter learn how to drive a standard shift. They all took that lesson on our 1948 Studebaker column shift car.
Each daughter also had their general maintenance training in the driveway with Dad, learning how to change a tire, check the oil, water and battery. The girls are all good drivers, and now can drive just about anything their husbands set in front of them.
One-cylinder cars weren’t unusual. Many great marques began that way – like Cadillac and Olds. Two cylinder cars were a natural follow up. There are a number of both in the club. Three cylinder cars were less common but you can think of a few: Older ones like the Compound, newer ones like the Saab and GEO. There are all kinds of examples of four cylinder cars… and at least one person in the club has a five cylinder Mercedes. The inline six cylinder car has probably been the world’s best… think “cast iron wonder”. And then there are seven cylinders, which we will skip for the moment. Eights are everywhere, inline and “V”… and then there is the nine… or is there? Ford has the ten, BMW and all the oldies have the twelve, and there has been the occasional sixteen. But what about the 7, 9 and 11? Apart from radial engines, which you are probably thinking of right now, you probably can’t identify a car with that number of cylinders.
Today’s Motoring Moment will change that because there was a car using one of those “odd-numbered” engines. The place was Maywood, Illinois and it was 1927. The guy was Durward E. Willis and the vision was a nine cylinder engine. This unusual creation was cast in blocks of three and was timed somewhat independently with a firing order much like a radial engine. In February of 1927 a Chicago laboratory bench tested this departure from the usual and rated it highly. Durward then acquired a Gardner sedan, changed the radiator shell and had a new Willis. He incorporated the Willis Motors Corporation and a full line of Willis cars (all nine cylinder models) were projected… up to $5400 in price. Willis also had plans for three and five cylinder cars ready for future use.
Research in the Standard Catalog of American Cars mentions Willis, his cars and their fate. The Catalog tells us that in 1963 Mr. Willis returned to the market with a three-cylinder car under the corporate name of Cougar Motors. The new sporty car would be the “Cub”. As the Catalog suggests: “production was doubtful”. So, there was a nine cylinder car… sort of a Willis / Gardner. VAE Member Bob Jones had a Gardner that you might remember – a “Radio Special” but it wasn’t a “9”. Now – what about the seven and the eleven? Keep us posted.