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Aspects of Motoring History # 17

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SNAPSHOT 138: 1905 Duryea

Our picture this week was published in 1905 in a British magazine, expressly to illustrate the remarkable side-entrance arrangement on the coachwork of the car.  There was no article – only this caption: ‘A NOVEL SIDE ENTRANCE.  By tilting the front seat forward, access is obtained to the rear seats.  The car is a new type three-cylinder 12 h.p. Duryea, recently supplied to a medical man in the North of England.’

Duryea cars have a strong claim to be the first petrol cars in America.  The brothers Charles E Duryea and J Frank Duryea were both mechanically minded: Charles sold and repaired bicycles and Frank was a toolmaker in Massachusetts.

There has always been much argument as to who designed the first Duryea car, but it is generally thought that Charles designed the car at the beginning of the 1890s and then left in 1892, frustrated by the lack of progress with Frank’s development of the car, to set up his own business in Peoria, Illinois.

Frank managed to get this first car running in 1893, and by early 1896 his third attempt formed the basis of a production car.  Several models were made from 1896 to 1898.  He   later made the Hampden car, which later became the Stevens-Duryea.

But it was Charles who founded Duryea Manufacturing Company in Peoria, to make a car with a 3-cylinder engine, epicyclic transmission, and a single front wheel steered by tiller.

In 1900 Charles moved to Reading, Pennsylvania, and made the first 4-wheeler in 1902. Our picture is one of these cars: it had a 3516cc engine with water-jacketed heads, mounted transversely at the rear and driving via a 2-speed power drum alongside the engine.  Tiller steering was used because Charles liked the fact that it occupied only one hand, the other being free to hold a passenger’s waist, a good five-cent cigar or, on a rainy day, an umbrella.

We first wondered how such a car could be imported into Britain – but we now know that these three-cylinder Duryeas were made under licence in Coventry from 1902 to 1906 by Henry Sturmey, who was also editor of The Autocar.

Charles’s Duryea company went into receivership in 1907, but he continued to make cars until 1914 in companies with various Duryea names, and in 1915 to 1916 under the names Crowther-Duryea and Duryea Gem.

Charles Duryea wrote many technical books and articles until his death in September 1938, and was for 15 years the technical editor of Automobile Trade Journal.


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