How the Automobile Developed

The early automobiles had only one or two cylinders. They ran with a loud chug-chug that sounded much like a long series of small firecrackers going off. They had no windshields and, of course, no windows. To start them, you had to get in front and turn a crank. The tires were very poor in quality, and you could seldom drive more than ten or fifteen miles without having a “puncture”- a hole in the tire that would let the air out. Then you would have to stop and change tires, which was a very hard job then because the tire had to be forced onto the wheel.

The springs were stiff, shock absorbers had never been heard of, and the roads were bad, so passengers were bounced unmercifully as they rode along. Most cars had no headlights, but some used acetylene gas lamps that burned with a dim, flickering light that made it very hard to drive at night. If an automobile could go 12 miles an hour, that was pretty good, and 25 miles an hour was breezing along at a great rate. Here is how the familiar parts of an automobile were developed over the course of the years: Engine.



The early one- and two-cylinder cars soon changed to four- or six-cylinder cars. Henry Ford built a six before he changed to the four-cylinder models (the “Model T,” from 1908 to 1926, and the “Model A,” from 1928 to 1931, that were the biggest- selling automobiles of their time). After a while, manufacturers came to think that the more cylinders, the better the car. The Packard “Twin-Six,” a twelve-cylinder car, and several eight cylinder cars, came out in the 1920s. In the 1930s, Cadillac made not only a twelve but a sixteen. Finally, manufacturers settled on six or eight cylinders, especially eight, as the best number to deliver power and not burn too much gasoline. C l u t c h. There was not much change in the clutch for many years.

The early clutch brought together a revolving disk connected with the motor and a disk connected to the driving wheels; while the two disks touched, they would revolve together and the power from the motor would turn the driving wheels and make the car go. But gradually the disks would wear down and the car would need a new clutch. In the 1930s, Chrysler introduced the “fluid clutch” that used oil, which cannot wear down, and by the 1950s the power could be transmitted from engine to driving wheels by automatic transmissions that required no separate clutch.

By 1954 it was becoming unusual for an automobile to have a “clutch pedal” at all. T r a n s m i s s i o n. The transmission of an automobile, for more than thirty years, was a “gear box” in which there were different gears that would cause the car to go at different speeds. The lower the speed, the greater the power. Most cars had “three speeds forward and one reverse,” which meant that the driver could choose whether to go forward at first or low speed, second or intermediate speed, or third or high speed. Some cars had four speeds forward. Driving in reverse (backward) one always had to go at the same speed. The driver could choose his speed by moving a lever (the gear-shift lever).

At first, this lever was outside the car, on the running board. Then it stuck up from the floor next to the driver’s seat. Then, about 1937, it was mounted on the steering wheel. The Model T Ford used a “planetary transmission” and had only two forward speeds, “low”.and “high,” which the driver chose by pushing in the clutch pedal for low and releasing it for high. After World War II, automatic transmissions (under such trade names as Hydromatic, Dynaflow, Fordomatic, and so on) began to replace the older types, and it became unusual for a car to have a gear-shift lever at all. Horsepower and speed. It was mentioned before that the first automobiles were doing well to go 12 miles an hour (which, after all, was better than a horse could do for a long distance).

Twenty horsepower was high for an engine of those days. Both speeds and horsepower increased gradually through the years. In the 1920s it was a fast car that would go 60 miles an hour-only the most expensive cars would. In the 1930s, most cars would go as high as 70 miles an hour, and expensive cars had 100 horsepower. The automobiles of the 1950s ranged from 100 and more horsepower for the cheapest cars to well over 200 horsepower for the most expensive cars, and the fastest cars could go much faster than anyone in his right mind would ever want to go.