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. You had to get in front and turn a crank to start them. The tires were inferior 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 tough 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, making 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 an automobile’s familiar parts were developed over the years: Engine.



The early one- and two-cylinder cars soon changed to four- or six-cylinder vehicles. Henry Ford built a six before he switched to the four-cylinder models (the “Model T,” from 1908 to 1926 and the “Model A,” from 1928 to 1931, which 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 vehicles, emerged 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 to the motor and the driving wheels. In contrast, if the two disks touched, they would revolve together, and the power from the engine would turn the driving wheels and make the cargo. 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 the 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 on. For more than thirty years, the transmission of an automobile was a “gearbox” in which different gears would cause the car to go at different speeds. The lower the rate, the greater the power. Most cars had “three speeds forward and one reverse,” meaning the driver could go forward at first or low speed, second or intermediate speed, or third or high speed. Some cars had four rates ahead. Driving in reverse (backward), one always had to go at the same pace. The driver could choose his speed by moving a lever (the gear-shift lever).

Horsepower and speed. 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, etc.) began replacing the older types. It became unusual for a car to have a gear-shift lever at all. It was mentioned before that the first automobiles were doing well at going 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, a fast car would go 60 miles an hour, but only the most expensive cars would. In the 1930s, most cars would go as high as 70 miles an hour, and costly cars had 100 horsepower. The automobiles of the 1950s ranged from 100 or 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.


Alcohol scholar. Bacon fan. Internetaholic. Beer geek. Thinker. Coffee advocate. Reader. Have a strong interest in consulting about teddy bears in Nigeria. Spent 2001-2004 promoting glue in Pensacola, FL. My current pet project is testing the market for salsa in Las Vegas, NV. In 2008 I was getting to know birdhouses worldwide. Spent 2002-2008 buying and selling easy-bake-ovens in Bethesda, MD. Spent 2002-2009 marketing country music in the financial sector.