On 23 December 1906 R.R. Owen and a party of three left New York on a ‘pathfinding’ trip to Ormond-Daytona Beach in Florida. Their Oldsmobile ‘A’ 35-40 H.P. Touring Car (“of stock design”) also carried 600 lbs of luggage. The run of over 1,400 miles was completed by 12 January 1907 after encountering appalling road conditions. So bad were they that the report in Motor Age nicknamed the car ‘Mudlark’. Other proofs of the toughness of the car were a perfect score on the Glidden Tour, a 505-mile non-stop run from Bretton Woods to New York City, the delightfully named New York to Poughkeepsie and St. Catherines to Toronto “High-Speed-Lever-Sealed-In” runs (whatever that means!) and the Detroit, Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland and St. Louis non-stop tests. Oldsmobile was clearly determined to show that its cars were, as it claimed in an advertisement, “The Best Thing on Wheels”.
It also proudly claimed that the four cylinders of its car, with dimensions 4½” x 4¾” (if that was reported in the conventional order of bore and stoke, that makes 302.18 cubic inches or 4,952cc), were “ground and polished by special machinery” and that pistons were “ground into cylinders with powdered glass”.
Oldsmobile was founded by Ransom Eli Olds in 1897, in Lansing, Michigan. It was the first US manufacturer of mass-produced petrol-powered automobiles, although Columbia Electric was producing larger numbers of electric and Locomobile of steam-powered cars. In 1901 Olds produced 425 cars and in that year the Oldsmobile Curved Dash became the first mass-produced car. It was produced on the first automotive assembly line, an invention often incorrectly credited to Henry Ford. Ford was the first to manufacture cars on a moving assembly line, while Olds used a stationary assembly line with workers moving from one car to the next. In 1899 the company moved to a new plant in Detroit. By March 1901, Oldsmobile had a whole line of models ready for mass production – but a massive fire destroyed all the prototypes except for a Curved Dash, which was wheeled out of the factory by two workers. The last Oldsmobile Curved Dash was made in 1907. General Motors purchased the company on 12 November 1908 and platform sharing then began with Buick.
Oldsmobile was known for many new technologies and firsts, including:
- 1901 – The first speedometer to be offered on a production car (on the Curved Dash)
- 1901 – The first car company to procure parts from third-party suppliers (no doubt forced upon them by the fire)
- 1902 – The first mass-produced vehicle in America
- 1902 – The first American car company to export an automobile
- 1903 – The first purpose-built mail truck.
Photo courtesy of The Richard Roberts Archive: www.richardrobertsarchive.org.uk
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