Food for Cars – Motoring Moment

This “moment” may be food for thought… but more exactly it’s food for the car. Food for most cars is gasoline and today we are going to give this wondrous stuff some thought. Well, not really the gas so much as the way the vehicles gets its “food”. Most of the early cars with their “up-draft” carbs got gas the Newtonian way… gravity. The gas tank was located in a higher plane than the carb and the gas ran downhill to the vaporizer. Fords kept this primitive practice probably longer than any other major brand with the Model A gas tank located in the top of the cowl right in front of the front seat passengers.

A plus was the fuel gauge… it was a float gauge right in the tank sticking through the dash and visible right there above the other instruments. Although simple there were other problems with the gravity system: Steep inclines often defied gravity… or actually they didn’t and the climbing car would have to turn around and back up the hill as the tank was usually behind the engine. Higher quality cars… read that as more expensive… solved the problem another way: They pressurized the fuel system. The tank was sealed and from a small hand pump in the dash, the operator “pumped up” fuel pressure, usually 2 or 3 pounds.

The only way out for the gas was up (or down) the fuel line to the carb. After the engine was running, a small mechanical pump driven by the camshaft would take over for the dash hand pump and the car would generate its own fuel pressure. This system, like Rod Rice’s Cadillac and many other cars of the teens and twenties, required 3 fuel lines, pumps, tight seals, etc. Stewart Warner discovered the vacuum tank. This marvel was loved or hated by the majority of car owners lasting slightly longer than the pressurized style.

The vacuum tank was a clever tank within a tank that mounted on the firewall of your car. Most cars were still “up-draft” so the vacuum tank was well above the carb. Running off vacuum from the intake manifold, the vacuum tank sucked gas from the cars main rear tank and stored it in the bottom of the vacuum tank. Then it was Newton again as gravity fed the lower carb, controlled by the carb float and needle and seat. Using our esteemed mentor, Rod Rice, again, he threw the vacuum tank from his quality Stevens into the bushes and put on an electric fuel pump. Others too have had “vacuum tank problems”. A certain Willys Knight in the club for years doesn’t have enough manifold vacuum to assure not running out of gas… and it often does.

Recognizing that all these systems could be improved on, most manufacturers by the end of the twenties were installing mechanical diaphragm fuel pumps. These units would suck gas from the tank and push it up hill to the newer top-of-the engine mounted downdraft carbs. They were pretty trouble free and you have one on almost any US made new car today. (Proof reader notes that current model vehicles use electronic fuel injection instead of a carb.)

I did mention that some cheats have installed electronic fuel pumps on their older cars. Largely a European idea… Jaguar even mounted two of these electrical wonders in the gas tanks of some of their cars… and doesn’t Saab continue to do so? JC Whitney will sell you a 6-volt electric fuel pump and you can hide it under the backseat of your old car… but the clicking sound as it builds up pressure will give you away. How do cars eat? Pretty much as we’ve mentioned… the way they were brought up… just like peopl

1915 Cornelian – Motoring Moment

1915 Cornelian
…in some people’s blood… witness stock car racing as the world’s largest spectator sport. How about “blood” being in racing?

In 1915 Howard E. Blood got into American auto racing big time. To get his new cycle car off the ground, Howard had big plans for his little car. The car was the Cornelian, a cycle car of 500 lbs displacing 103 cubic inches (powered by a Sterling engine).

The big part came as Howard got Louis Chevrolet, recently of the Chevrolet Automobile Company and a seasoned and successful race driver, to agree to race the new car. The cycle car was well made and sported a uni-body, independent rear suspension and a “suicide front axle”.

Undaunted by it’s size and power, Louis qualified for the 1915 Indy 500 with Howard’s jewel. With a qualifying speed of 81 mph, the Cornelian was in. History reports that Louis was having a great, albeit little, ride when on the 77th lap he broke a valve and had to retire. It is interesting to note that the Chevrolet car grew out of the Little Motor Company… and that the little Cornelian grew out of Chevrolet’s race.

Post-race orders looked good for Howard and his petite product but after production of 100 units, the writing was on the wall and the Cornelian dropped from sight. Should you doubt this story, check the museum at Indy Speedway. The smallest car that ever raced at the Brickyard 500 is there, uni-body and all.

Stirling Engine – Motoring Moment

1820 Stirling Engine DiagramDo you think that modern technology can tease 200 horsepower out of 57 cubic inches of displacement? Wow, how fast would it have to turn and could you do it on standard fuel and would it pollute? Almost 200 years, around 1820 it was done… by a Scottish minister named Robert Stirling.

You may have heard of man and engine but to fully appreciate both read on. The Stirling engine is not an internal combustion engine… it is an external combustion (think heat) engine. Here is what Sam Julty had to say about the Stirling in 1974… long before there was the fuel and pollution problems of today.

“Unlike the Otto-cycle engine found in todays cars, the Stirling engine thrives on external combustion. That is, consumption of fuel takes place outside the combustion chamber where the power impulses are born. Thus when a constant fire is going at a steady rate, pollutants are already drastically reduced. The engine is noiseless and vibration free. It has no carburetor since fuel is fed to a separate firebox. It has no valves since fuel is neither introduced nor removed from the piston area. It has no flywheel since the engine has two crankshafts, which are turned by movement of the pistons. It has no muffler since combustion is silent and it occurs in a separate chamber.

The principle behind the Stirling engine involves the use of expanded and contracted gas working on the pistons. The gas may be steam or vapors from some exotic element. Each cylinder has two pistons, one above the other. Each cylinder has a small pipe, which runs from the top end of the cylinder to a point below the upper piston. When the lower piston, called the power piston, just completes a power stroke, it is in its lowest position in the cylinder.

The upper piston, called the displacer, is in its highest position in the cylinder. The gap between the two pistons is a fixed volume of gas, which is at a fairly low temperature. As the power piston starts to move upward, some of the gas is forced into the small tube and is piped to the head of the displacer. There, the gas is headed and in expanding, forces the displacer downwards. This forces more gas to the top of the displacer where it is headed and expanded.

At a certain point, the displacer blocks off the passageway to the small pipe, and whatever gas exists between the displacer and the power piston is trapped. As the displacer is forced further downward by the expanding gas, it pushes the power piston down to turn the crankshafts. The cycle then repeats. Note: There are no explosions driving the pistons. Rather there is merely a fixed volume of gas, which is heated and cooled. A 4 cylinder Stirling engine CAN produce 200 horsepower from 57 cubic inches.” Wow again.

BUT, you say, But is this really a steam engine? Not necessarily. Steam probably in 1820… but today we can get heat pretty quickly and efficiently from a variety of sources: atomic, chemical or electrical. I wonder who will be first to put a Stirling performer in their product? GM could use a boost.

Tires – Motoring Moment

Today’s tenuous transportation topic is tires. You probably know quite a lot about tires… there are at least 4 to the average car and really necessary for a number of reasons. Depending on your personal auto interest, and the older your car, the more you know. Tires by design and manufacture have greatly improved in the last 100 years.

Self-propelled vehicles began with traditional wagon or buggy wheels and most were hard rubber rimmed. I have never had such a vehicle personally… but there are several in the club. Some years ago Kip Mathews, sometimes VAE member, did and had tire trouble. The Amish came to his rescue I believe. This group still believes in hard rubber and they do great work. I did have a Model “T” once with hard rubber “tires” but that’s another story.

After riding on hard rubber for a fairly short time somebody invented pneumatic tires. There were a couple of experimental flexible wheels tried but the air filled tire won out. From early on there were 3 types of tire “beads” that would allow the tire to be attached to the rim – removable to repair the inner tube or to replace the tire itself.

The 3 types were: plain clincher, quick detachable clincher, and straight side. If you are a Ford, 490 Chevy or Overland person, you are familiar with the clincher rim and “Clincher tire”. The tire in cross section looks like a horseshoe with the ends bent back up. These bent up ends secure themselves in a rim permanently mounted to the wheel. This rim looks like the letter “C” lying on its back. You changed tires and repaired leaks with the one-piece rim/wheel right on the car. At least it was held steady.

In order to be mountable, the plain clincher tire was quite flexible and could be man handled onto and into the rim. The quick detachable clincher tires were hard, not flexible and were supposed to be a lot tougher. With luck they also mounted easier as the outer side of the clincher rim was bent so as to allow two lock rings to fit together to hold the outside tire bead after the tire was slid onto the rim.

The inner bead and rim stayed on as the plain clincher and now all you had to do was get the darn rings into place and quickly get some air into the assembly. If not properly seated, lock rings could (and would) blow off and inflect serious damage. Remember that tire pressure in the old days often ran to 80 pounds or more.

Straight sides came next… thank goodness. These tires looked pretty much like today’s with the tire bead forming just a regular horseshoe shape in cross section. Straight-sided tires needed to fit quite closely into a “U” shaped rim. By now rims were pretty much demountable… and collapsible. The split rim came off the car’s wheel and then folded in on itself to decrease the diameter and allow the straight-sided tire to be easily mounted.

With the tire in place you expanded the rim, which snapped together in a perfect circle – you hoped – and with air you were back in business. All this has passed, however, and today we enjoy the “drop center” rim, a straight-sided tire is started over the rim, which is now the entire wheel as well. The mounted edge falls into the valley of the rim allowing more tire to be available to be stretched over the other side of the rim.

This works great and for the last 75 years has been what we’ve used. More on tire sizes later… and that is another “tired” motoring moment from your old car club.

Cylinders – Motoring Moment

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.

Differentials – Motoring Moment

Differential diagramHistory tells us that the mechanical marvel of a geared differential preceded the automobile by many years. Some really ingenious guy “thunk” up the differential and made working models in the middle of the 19th century. Here was a great “future problem solver” with no great immediate use. When the horse pulled the wagon there was no need to appropriate power to speed and distance. The horse had his own internal differential. It wasn’t long after self-propelled stuff began turning up that the differential really came into its own.

Consider the problem of belting or direct-connecting just one rear wheel to the engine. You may have made a soapbox type rig in your youth like that and will agree that one-side drive isn’t great. The single driven wheel spins easily and the vehicle handles poorly. Enter the differential.

You need charts or a cut-away model to fully grasp this clever item. But what it does is to allow both wheels to receive power. And that power is proportioned to the amount of resistance the wheels are receiving back up from the road.

When a car is under power and is going around a curve, the outside wheel has to travel much further than the inside one. But there is more resistance on the inner wheel. Both wheels need power for smooth performance and good handling – and the differential does this. As the wheel resistance increases, spinning gears in a small cage attached to one axle, allows the axle speed to change in relation to the other axle. “Compensation” is the best word to explain the theory but you’ll need to look at some diagrams.

Or better yet, go down to the junkyard and give the guy $2 bucks to let you pull the cover off an abandoned differential. Oh, take the charts and diagrams with you. It isn’t real complicated but the darn thing is so clever that you will be a few minutes sorting it out.

The Heine-Velox in Hemmings – Motoring Moment

It might be assumed that many old car “enthusiasts” probably see, and at least scan, Hemmings Motor News on a fairly regular basis. You may have caught the ad in the July issue on the top of page 501. Some person at a ten-digit phone number was offering a Heine-Velox for sale. The ad says it’s a 1921, 148” wheelbase, one of five made and it is “to restore”. He’ll trade for pre-war cars or trucks. Interesting ad. Heine-Velox – it sounded familiar somehow but how?

1921 Heine-VeloxMemory (senior moments aside) and some research recalled that the Heine-Velox was an early example of hydraulic brakes by Lockheed and probably why the name was a little familiar. Sort of like Rickenbacker, Jordan and some other early “juice brake people”.

But – the Heine-Velox story itself is really a lot more interesting than Lockheed brakes. It seems like the Heine Piano Company of San Francisco was doing well in 1903 when its owner got the car bug and became one of the first Ford dealers on the west coast.
In 1904 he added “Queen” to his agency and announced that he would build a car of his own design as well. In the next couple of years he planned cars priced from four to eight thousand dollars (what were his Fords selling for I wonder?) Actually he did manage to build and sell a few of the less expensive ones – and planned a big production run of 50 cars for late 1906… now called the Heine-Velox.

God stepped in and the great San Fran earthquake wiped out his plant, production and plans. The piano factory was lost as well and Mr. Heine went back to the key product, rebuilding the piano factory but having set aside his auto interests.

Time passed and it was now 1921. The Heine-Velox returned. This time it was no Ford or Queen… or even the earlier Heine-Velox. The new version was a 12 cylinder by Weidely to Heine specifications on a huge 148” wheelbase. Not only big… but this was an expensive car. The sport model was priced at $17,000 with the custom built versions priced up to $25,000! Wow – this was 1921 and the US was struggling with post war depression. According to the Standard Catalog of American cars only 6 of these giants were produced… a sporting Victoria, 3 sedans and an unfinished limo.

Mr. Heine gave away these cars… never keeping one for himself – he probably couldn’t afford it. In 1923 the Heine-Velox company was dissolved.

And now… here is a Heine-Velox in Hemmings on page 501. You could trade a pre-war car or truck and have an example of the most expensive American car offered for sale in 1921. If it were the sporting model it would be the biggest 4-passenger car offered as well. Boy… would you look slick at Shelburne and Stowe. Could the Hemmings car be the only “sport model”? Do you want the phone number? As May West said… “He who hesitates is last.”

Another motoring moment brought to you by your old car club.

The Martin Wasp – Motoring Moment

1925 Wasp Touring CarDo you ever bet? Do you ever win? If you bet that the Martin Wasp was the only automobile ever produced in Vermont you might win – or lose.

Yes the Wasp was produced in Bennington, Vermont for a number of years by Karl Martin. But – there was also the Lane and Daley Steam vehicles produced in Barre, and this was much earlier (1901 and 1902).

The Wasp Was the Barre vehicle and automobile? Do we count it as one? The pictures I have seen of the vehicle show it transporting people and the info on the back says “as fast as 15 miles per hour”.

The last time the writer of this bet stood up for only the Wasp. And agreed to lose when presented with the Lane and Daley photo and info.

This lead to a more complete investigation of what might have been made in Vermont anyway. Early Vermont registration data for “automobiles” shows at least a dozen registrations prior to 1020 with unrecognizable names.

These turn out to be cars built by “enthusiasts” like us for their own personal use. Further research has turned up some data on a couple of these…

There was a guy in Poultney who build a car he registered as a Mahana. It was 1910 and the car was 16 horsepower and 4 wheel drive. He mentions that it worked well in the farm fields as well as going to town.

Then there was the Gore in Brattleboro, steam, in 1837. It ran well for years unlike its successor Al Gore. Or the Hooker in St Johnsbury, the Archer in Rutland and the Spear in Windsor.

Who says that Vermont didn’t have “enthusiasts” early on? They made their own fun. Oh and be careful what you bet on!

You can see a Wasp at the Bennington Museum. More info by phone at: 802-447-1571 or online at:

The Seldon Patent – Motoring Moments

Selden Motor Vehicle Company
In 1877, a lawyer named George Baldwin Selden (1846-1923) of Rochester, NY designed a “road engine” that would be powered by an internal combustion gasoline engine. A patent (number 549,160) for the engine was applied for in 1879. Due to legal technicalities, the actual issuing of this patent was delayed until 1895. History claims Selden kept that patent pending until more internal combustion engines were on the road. During this delay, a number of automobiles companies were already using the engine design.

The Selden patent specifically covered the use of an internal-combustion engine for the sole purpose of propelling a vehicle. The patent eventually wound up in the hands of the Electric Vehicle Company of Hartford, Connecticut. In 1900 this electric car company had started producing gasoline-powered cars with Selden’s engine patent. They agreed to pay Selden $10,000 for the rights of the patent and a royalty for every car based on his design.

To protect this patent, the Association of Licensed Automobile Manufacturers (ALAM) was formed. Several major manufacturers joined this group including Cadillac, Winton, Packard, Locomobile, Knox, and Peerless.

Henry Ford initially applied for membership, but ALAM rejected his application. The Electric Vehicle Company attempted to control all gasoline car manufacturers and did so for a few years while the case went through court. Due to the delay in issuing the patent, the original rights did not expire until 1912.

Several leading automobile companies took licenses under the patent, but others, led by Henry Ford, refused to do so. If you own a car made in the early 1900s, you may find a small brass plaque somewhere near the engine that reads “Manufactured Under Selden Patent.”

You will not find this plaque on any Fords. The case against Ford and other auto manufacturers dragged through court from 1903 to 1911. Few people had heard of Henry Ford, but the exposure the nine-year trial gave him helped sell his Model T. A final decision ruled that Selden’s patent was not being infringed upon because it was valid only for an automobile driven by a Brayton-type engine of the specific type described in the patent.

Selden had yet to build a car aside from his 1877 prototype model. While going through the courts, he did manage to produce two vehicles. The first car was put together by Selden in Rochester, NY. A second car was assembled in Hartford by the Electric Vehicle Company. These two cars currently exist. The Rochester vehicle can be seen at the Henry Ford Museum and the Hartford car is on display at the Connecticut State Library.

The Selden Motor Vehicle Company was officially formed in 1906 after taking over the Buffalo Gasoline Motor Company. “Made By The Father Of Them All” was the company’s advertising slogan. The first Selden vehicle was seen on the road in June of 1907. This four-cylinder car sold for between $2,000 and $2,500. Today, a nice looking Selden has a value of $25,000.

In 1911, Selden received the news that his patent was declared unenforceable. His factory also had a major fire that summer. In the fall of 1911 the company was reorganized with Frederick Law, who had designed the Columbia gas car for the Electric Motor Company, on board as the new Selden designer.

Selden cars had a small following and the company did well producing 850 cars in 1908; 1,216 in 1909; 1,417 in 1910; 1,628 in 1911; 1,211 in 1912; 873 in 1813 and 229 in 1914. The last Seldens were built in 1914. Seldens came in Touring, Runabout, Roadster and Limousine models. All cars were powered by a four-cylinder 30 to 40 horsepower engine