Monday, September 24, 2012

The Unusual Compound Automobile

by Nancy DeWitt, Historian
Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum

It's easy to overlook our 1906 Compound (#168) as just another Brass Era automobile, but in my opinion it is one of the most interesting cars in the museum. Its color isn't very exciting and it lacks flashy brass fittings, but underneath the hood is a design that was quite innovative for its time. In fact, you could say the Compound was one of the first "green," internal-combustion automobiles.

The Compound was named for its unique engine that expanded--or compounded--the exhaust gases through two stages. Compounding steam engines date back at least as far as 1781, while a limited number of internal combustion compound engines were patented or built later in the 19th century to run mills, boats and streetcars. In 1903 the Graham-Fox Motor Company exhibited a prototype automobile called the Graham-Fox Compound Engine Car. The following year it went into production as the Compound under the Eisenhuth Horseless Vehicle (E.H.V.) Company in Middletown, CT.

The Compound's engine has three cylinders, but note the size difference. The outer two, 4-cycle high-pressure cylinders "explode alternately" and exhaust into the larger, 2-cycle low-pressure cylinder rather than into the atmosphere. Here the exhaust gas expands further and drives the piston down before exiting through a small muffler. This compounding of the exhaust gas allowed for more complete combustion that allegedly resulted in a cleaner, odorless and very quiet final exhaust. It also increased fuel economy.

According to Willy, this is a car that requires lots of attention from the driver, from starting to applying the brakes. "First, if you follow a series of minor details, the car starts rather easy, much more so than you would expect. Once you step into the car you need to stay focused on what you and the car are doing. As you select a gear (it has a sliding gear transmission, with the pattern to shift being in a straight line), one must be very careful not to miss a gear or you could cause some damage. The engine does not like to idle for long periods, as it tends to load up the center cylinder. Then when you put the car in motion and speed up the engine, it will smoke a little and begin to give a little pop from time to time until it clears the center cylinder. At that point it becomes very smooth and you can feel the power increase. All in all, this is a rather fun car to drive and exciting to see and hear run."

Dennis Gage from the Speed Channel drives the Compound
while filming an episode for "My Classic Car"
Of the 300 Compounds produced, this Light Touring Car is the only one known to survive. It is also one of the few cars in the museum whose provenance can be traced all the way back to its original owner, John Unser, chief engineer at the E.H.V. Company. After Unser sold the car in 1934, it passed through a number of owners, including Henry Austin Clark (Long Island Automotive Museum), Harrah's Automobile Collection, General William Lyon, Bill and Doug Magee, and Carl Schmitt. While at Harrah's, it received one of their famed Gold Star restorations.

Another unique feature of the Compound is its power brakes, which operate on pressure from a small engine-driven air pump. Also, the rear section (tonneau) of this Compound can be removed and replaced with a "tuxedo," or rear deck and trunk. This simple operation converts the Compound from a tourer to an open roadster. Despite all of its novel features, production of the Compound automobile ended in 1908 after a brief, final run under the Eagle Motor Company.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Kirkland Concours d'Elegance

by Willy Vinton

Wow, what a weekend we had in Tacoma, Washington at the Kirkland Concours d'Elegance! For Alaskans, the weather on Friday and Saturday was really too warm for comfort, with temperatures over 80 with not a cloud in the sky. We had to wonder if we were truly were in Washington state. Sunday (the day of the show) brought the type of weather we relate to the Seattle area, with overcast skies and a hint of rain in the air.

A big thanks to Barb Cerny, our historic fashion curator, for being such a good sport and dressing the part. She helped the 1918 Biddle Model H Town Car win the Best Presentation award. The Biddle is a stunning car that will be a great addition to the museum when it arrives here.  (Speaking of "additions" Tim... hint hint...)

Here is the trophy we received for "Barb and the Biddle." Maybe we can make a song about that? It was a thrill to win this award, and it was well deserved if I do say so myself. The folks at the Kirkland Concours were all great and very friendly, making it a good show to be a part of.  Thank you to our class host, Jim Tate, for taking care of us and making sure we were where we needed to be at all times.
Once again our 1919 McFarlan Touring took top honors in the Antiques Class. If you've been following our blog or Facebook page,  you know the McFarlan also won Best in Class at the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance last month. This is a stunning car, and it always attracts a crowd of admirers. Both the Biddle and McFarlan have such a presence that you cannot walk past them without stopping to admire the beauty of their designs and the quality of the restorations.

This is the First in Class trophy that we received for the McFarlan, which we will put on display when the car arrives in Fairbanks.

Many thanks to Murray Motor Car for helping us get the cars ready and transporting them to Tacoma. Here's wishing Bats MotorSports a safe trip up the Alaska Highway to bring these two jewels to us. Let's hope we can take them out for a drive around town before the snow flies.

Top photo courtesy of Kent Ramsey

Monday, September 10, 2012

1931 Cord L29

by Willy Vinton

Our museum is fortunate to have a well-preserved, 1931 Cord Series L29 Cabriolet (serial #2929409). The Cord was America's first production front-wheel drive car. The exceptionally long hood was needed to house the 299 cubic-inch Lycoming straight-eight engine, transmission and differential--with the latter two sitting in front of the engine. The chassis sits unusually low due to the absence of a conventional rear-wheel driveline.

This Cord is one of the jewels of our collection. It has so much character and style, as well as being a mechanical marvel for its time. Besides being the first to bring front-wheel drive to mass production, the Cord was a design masterpiece. The low profile and long fenders gave the car a racy look, while the sharply veed grille, elegantly curved fenders, split bumper and oval cover on the front transaxle assembly made a Cord instantly recognizable. 

Our Cord L29 had been parked for a year, so we took it out last week for a shakedown run to see if any new problems needed to be addressed. Lo and behold, we found a couple. The left front brake grabbed rather violently, which got my attention rather quickly as we don't want to cause damage to any of the cars. It appears that the inner seal leaked differential lube into the brake drum, which caused the brake to grab. Add this to the list of projects to address this winter. There is never a shortage of work to do on the cars! After a little work on the door to get the linkage free and working like it should, the Cord is now back onto the floor until we're ready to do the seal replacement.

The Cord was one of the very first cars museum owner Tim Cerny purchased for the collection, which now includes over 80 vehicles. Tim finally got a chance to drive the Cord for the first time last week. Like most of the cars, it put a smile on his face and for a few moments took his mind off all the stresses of life. Old cars do that for you.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Presidential Wheels

by Nancy DeWitt

With the country's attention focused on the upcoming presidential election, I couldn't help but think about the evolution of official presidential vehicles over the past century. The current presidential car, known as Cadillac One and The Beast, is a highly customized, armored limousine built by Chevrolet and badged as a Cadillac. For security reasons, the doors are 8 inches thick, the windows are made from bulletproof, 5-inch thick glass and the entire car is sealed against biochemical attacks.

1907 Model G White Steamer
President Taft's 40-hp, 7-passenger
Model M White Steamer
Cadillac One is a far cry from the presidential carriages and open cars of the early 1900s. William McKinley was the first president to ride in an automobile, a Locomobile steam carriage driven by F.O. Stanley in November of 1899. Theodore Roosevelt was the first president to take a public automobile ride when he rode in a Columbia electric car in a 1902 parade. Although he preferred horses and always rode in carriages for state business, Roosevelt also rode in two White steam cars the Secret Service had borrowed from the Army in 1907. Perhaps one of these was a White Model G like the one in our collection?

William Howard Taft, Roosevelt's successor, was the first president to use automobiles exclusively for transport. After convincing Congress to allocate $12,000 for a White House automobile fleet, he purchased a 1909 White Model M steamer (identical to the sixth automobile to arrive in Fairbanks) as his first official car. Taft also bought two Pierce-Arrows and a Baker electric, and then converted the White House stable into a four-car garage. Taft and his White steamer are featured in this year's White House Christmas Ornament.

Photo courtesy of Candy Waugaman
Taft's successor, Woodrow Wilson, was also a fan of Pierce-Arrows, no doubt appreciating the smooth ride of these big, powerful cars. Our museum has two Pierce-Arrows that were built during Wilson's term (1913-1921), including a huge 1917 Model 66 A-4. Warren Harding was the first president to ride to his inauguration in car (a Packard Twin-Six) and unlike his predecessors, he knew how to drive an automobile. Harding rode in at least one Packard during his 1923 Alaska visit, including the 7-passenger touring car in Juneau pictured here.

Cadillacs were a favorite among several presidents, including Calvin Coolidge and Franklin D. Roosevelt. President Herbert Hoover bought a 1932 Cadillac 452-B V16 Imperial Limousine just before losing his reelection battle in 1932. It is identical to the one on display in our museum; in fact, for many years some thought that ours was the former Hoover V16 Cadillac. Many presidents purchased their official cars, and Hoover kept his limo when he left office. For security reasons, presidential cars today are completely destroyed when they are replaced. Fortunately, many of the earlier limos are on display in museums.