Monday, June 30, 2014

Owen Magnetic Update

by Nancy DeWitt
© Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum

In the fall of 2012 we sent our 1917 Owen Magnetic Model M-25 touring car south to Murray Motor Car in Monroe, Washington, for some work. The Owen Magnetic was one of the most unusual and technologically advanced cars of its time, and was essentially an ancestor to today’s hybrid cars. It was most notable for its attempt to defeat the problem of shifting gears by means of an electromagnetic transmission designed by Justus B. Entz.

The Owen Magnetic’s drive mechanism had no direct connection between the internal-combustion engine (A) and the rear wheels. Instead, the engine powered a generator attached to the rear of the engine's crankshaft and caused a horseshoe-shaped magnet (B) to spin. This imparted energy to a steel armature (C) fitted into the air space inside the whirling magnet, causing it to spin via magnetic imbalance. This in turn induced current in the armature (E) of a conventional electric motor (D), which provided the energy to turn the drive shaft and propel the engine's rear wheels.

This continuously variable transmission produced an unlimited number of forward speeds, leading to the Owen Magnetic being marketed as “The Car of a Thousand Speeds.” The transmission, which also served as an electric starter, regenerative brake, and battery charger, was controlled by a small lever on the steering wheel. Speed was regulated by a separate lever.

The Owen Magnetic was one of the most expensive U.S. automobiles produced at a time when the average car cost about $1,000 and a Ford Model T cost less than $400. Its exceptionally smooth, quiet ride and beautiful coachwork by Baker, Rauch & Lang appealed to wealthy clientele, especially those who had trouble shifting. Celebrities, including Italian opera star Enrico Caruso, were drawn to the elegance and smooth operation of this “aristocrat of motor cars."
What color should we paint the wheels?

The top of the block on our Owen Magnetic was cracked into the water jacket, so we sent the car back in the truck that delivered our Biddle and McFarlan. We figured while it was in Al and Paul Murray's hands we'd have them repair some body cracks and repaint the car a dark gray. By the time they are finished it will be in show condition, and we plan to display it at the Pacific Northwest Concours at the LeMay Museum before sending it back north.

Of the 974 Owen Magnetics built from 1915 to 1921, only about a dozen are known to survive. We acquired this one from J. Parker Wickham.

Coming to Fairbanks to see the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum and other area attractions? Support the museum by staying right here at Wedgewood Resort. All guests receive half-price admission to the museum!

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