Sunday, June 13, 2010

Early 4x4 Arrives at Museum

by Nancy DeWitt

Willy discovered this 1918 Duplex flatbed truck at the LeMay Museum last year. I was only mildly impressed with it, until I started doing some research on Duplex history. Based in Charlotte, Michigan, the Duplex Power Car Company built its first 3/4-ton, 4-wheel drive trucks in 1906. Though not America's first 4WD automobile, the Duplex is considered to be the first commercially viable 4x4 truck.

Early Duplex trucks were powered by a 14 hp 2-cylinder engine mounted under the driver's seat. In 1915 Duplex introduced the 2-ton Model C and the 3-ton Model D. In 1916 they built a 3.5-ton, C-cab truck (which is what we have), moved to Lansing and changed their name to the Duplex Truck Company.

The new model was powered by a 4-cylinder 40 hp Buda engine with a 4.25" bore and 5.5" stroke. The transmission had four forward speeds and reverse. Both differentials had power locks, allowing the truck to move if only one of the wheels had traction. Brakes could be applied to all four wheels via a foot pedal or hand lever. The Duplex had a carrying capacity of 7,000 lbs and could reach a maximum speed of 25 mph on a good road (without a load, I assume).

Willy and a few of our volunteers moved the Duplex out of storage and over to the museum last week. It looks a lot better outside than it did tucked in storage. Note the wooden artillery wheels ("made from second-growth hickory") and solid rubber tires. Is that a gas tank between the steering wheel and the hood?

It appears that very few of these early Duplex trucks have survived, so don't miss an opportunity to come see this piece of automotive history and the other great vehicles we have inside the museum.

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