|The origins of custom
coachbuilding can be traced back to about 1450 in Hungary, where the
first reported carriage coach was built. Constructing horse-drawn
coaches for the aristocracy and landed gentry, the "carriage trade"
became an honored and profitable business, one often handed down from
generation to generation. The profitable aspect of the trade eventually
caught the eye of the powers that be, resulting in England's King
Charles I introducing, in 1637, what was likely the first in a long
line of taxes to be imposed on coachbuilding.
Most of the famous classic automotive coachbuilders can trace their roots to the horse-drawn era. At the beginning of the twentieth century, there were approximately 400,000 carriages in England, and virtually every large town boasted at least one coachbuilder.
The advent of the automobile opened a new world to those coachbuilders savvy enough to realize that in the future, horsepower would have an entirely different meaning. One who lacked such foresight was Alexander Henderson, president of the Institute of British Carriage Manufacturers, who commented in 1897 that, despite the motorcar's popularity, "Most people would still prefer for private use the lifelike animated appearance of well-appointed horse-traction to any dead mechanism however smoothly it glided along."
As early as 1895, French poster artists were extolling the virtues of the horseless carriage for auto expositions. One year later, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec became the first major artist to use the automobile as a subject in his lithograph, "L'Automobilist."
Those early automobiles looked so much like their immediate predecessors that they quickly became known as "horseless carriages." They would remain so until Henry Ford and his followers began to mass-produce cars that owed their designs more to mechanical and financial necessity than to any sense of aesthetics. This is not to say that Ford was unaware of the importance of the designer in the automotive equation: "Design will take more advantage of the power of the machine to go beyond what the hand can do and will give us a whole new art."
From the early 1920s to the beginning of the Second World War, the automobile began a transformation as dramatic as that of a caterpillar to a butterfly. Inexpensive cars like the Model T Ford, with its boxlike bodywork, were being turned out by the hundreds of thousands. In fact, it was mass production that helped pave the way for coachbuilding's golden age. People of wealth and position needed automobiles that complemented their lavish lifestyles. For them, the "T-square" and its automotive counterparts gave way to the type of flowing lines found on Ettore Bugatti's creations.
"The car was born with a faulty structure," observed Sergio Pininfarina, the renowned Italian coachbuilder. "In a certain sense, it was born old, let us say baroque or gothic. It was up to us to impose some kind of order."
Some say that coachbuilding, regardless of the artistry employed by the designer, is no more than a highly elevated form of craft. But few can argue that the influence of the fine arts, particularly the Futurist and Art Deco movements, is readily apparent in much of the best work, as noted by Swiss sculptor Max Bill:
"Whether they like it or not, those who create new forms succumb to the influence of modern art....Comparison between an automobile and the sculpture of its time will show how close the relationship is between works of art and the forms of useful objects."
This relationship had about it an element of "chicken and egg" when it came to who actually was influencing whom: Were the Futurists responsible for the changing aerodynamic shape of the automobile? Or had they fallen under the automobile's spell, as suggested by British artist Wyndham Lewis, who called their movement "Automobilism"?
By the 1920s, representations of automobiles in the arts were no longer cause for comment. In fact, the car had become both a symbol of modern industrialized society and a means of artistic and personal expression for designers and owners. Cars were not only legitimate subjects for artists, but had themselves become art through the work of the best coachbuilders, who had begun presenting their "collections" to an eager public at annual motoring salons. Fashionable women were now buying cars, and the last thing they wanted was to be seen in anything square. Automobile manufacturer Gabriel Voisin hired artist-designer Sonia Delaunay and famed architect Le Corbusier to help with his marque's designs for a client list that included flamboyant celebrities such as Rudolph Valentino and French singer-actress Mistinguett.
Looking at these cars today, one can easily imagine the excitement, and often shock, that accompanied their appearance at the major automobile salons of yesteryear. While some, particularly the British firms, were working with refinements of earlier, more conservative styling, the French were exploding with all the passion that accompanied the great movements in modern art.
"The nearer the automobile approaches its utilitarian ends, the more beautiful it becomes," said French Cubist painter Fernand Léger. "That is, when the vertical lines (which contrary to its purpose) dominated at its debut, it was ugly, and people kept buying horses....The necessity of speed lowered and elongated the car so that the horizontal lines, balanced by the curves, dominated: It became a perfect whole, logically organized for its purpose, and it was beautiful."
That beauty, epitomized by Jean Bugatti's masterpiece, the 1938 Type 57SC Atlantic, is still inspiring artists to this day, including painter Alain Levesque, who works with brush and canvas, and designer Bob Hubbach, who works with steel.
Inspired by themes that recall not only the Type 57SC, but Touring's Alfa Romeo 8C2900B and various Figoni et Falaschi creations, Hubbach and the rest of the Chrysler design team created the 1995 Chrysler Atlantic, beautifully executed by the (dare we say) coachbuilders at Metalcrafters. Tom Gale, Chrysler vice president of product design, acknowledges their debt to the past: "You probably can't find a period in history like the late '30s with a stronger statement of incredibly elegant, romantic, image-leading coupes."
If only the people who reintroduced the Bugatti marque with the EB110 several years ago had exhibited the sort of vision that produced the Chrysler Atlantic.
While beauty is always in the eye of the beholder, there is no doubt that the firm of Figoni et Falaschi created some of the most beautiful coachwork ever seen. But there are some dissenters: Jaguar founder Sir William Lyons categorized their work as "positively indecent;" another stiff upper lip referred to Figoni et Falaschi as "Phony and Flashy."
Born in Piacenza, Italy, in 1894, Giuseppe Figoni moved with his family to Paris when he was three. While still a boy he was apprenticed to a wagon builder named Vachet. By the time Figoni founded Carrosserie Automobile in Boulogne-sur-Seine near the Longchamp racecourse, he had adopted the name of Joseph. Although his early commissions included Bugattis, Ballots and even the odd Duesenberg, it was his rendering of designs utilizing the French Delage chassis for which he became famous.
Figoni's stylistic signature coupes and cabriolets had large, flowing, cycle-type fenders that seemed to grow out of the bodywork the way wings swept out of aircraft fuselages. It must have been a Figoni design that inspired Sir Peter Ustinov's sly remark: "One drives, of course, an Alfa Romeo; one is driven in a Rolls-Royce; but one gives only a Delage to one's favorite mistress."
Figoni's aerodynamic design of the 1932 Alfa Romeo 8C 2300 won the Le Mans 24-Hour Races in 1932 and '33. His next sporting body was on the new Delahaye 18CV. Introduced at the Salon de Paris in 1933, it was an immediate hit, making him the coachbuilder of choice for most Delahaye customers. Figoni was, according to fellow designer Philippe Charbonneaux, "very much an artist...a master of curves and elegant lines."
In 1935, Figoni went into partnership with fellow Italian Ovidio Falaschi, who had the capital Figoni needed to expand. Falaschi was also well versed in the automotive business and had his own strong ideas about styling. "We really were veritable couturiers of automotive coachwork," Falaschi recalled, "dressing and undressing a chassis one, two, three times and even more before arriving at the definitive line that we wanted to give to a specific chassis-coachwork ensemble."
One of the first designs to carry the Figoni et Falaschi name, a Delahaye Type 135, featured all enveloping fenders, or "enveloppantes" as Falaschi called them. These fenders, typical of many Figoni et Falaschi creations, were formed from as many as 48 hand-hammered pieces of steel that were butt-welded together, section by section, until they gave the appearance of having been sculpted. This design concept is said to have been inspired by famed automotive artist Geo Ham's modernist paintings in the French publication L'illustration.
During the occupation of France by the Germans in the Second World War, the Figoni et Falaschi works was requisitioned for the manufacture of aircraft parts. At war's end the company resumed coachbuilding, again using the Delahaye T135 chassis most frequently. In 1948 and '49 the firm produced its last great designs for Delahaye and the Talbot Lago Type 26.
A French Racing Blue Delahaye, a 1948 135MS, discovered languishing in a furniture storage warehouse, was purchased by its present owner, Dana Reed of Greentown, Pennsylvania, in 1956. Believed to have been Delahaye's display car at the '48 Paris show, it has been lovingly restored to its original condition. A 100-point car (the ultimate accolade in the rarefied world of classic car collecting), it has been seen at most of the major concours d'elegance in the United States, including the Pebble Beach and Burn Prevention Foundation invitational events. The mileage on this perfect example of the marque is 30,000.
With fewer customers able to afford their work and fewer automobile manufacturers willing to sell bare chassis, Ovidio Falaschi chose to retire in 1950. He recalled his decision in a letter published in Automobile Quarterly. "So all the customers who used to keep the coachbuilding industry alive slowly but surely turned away from custom-built bodies. They turned away in droves in the immediate postwar period, when mass-produced car bodies began to improve in line, comfort, luxury, and class. And thus French coachbuilding died and was buried, and with it all of the world's greatest coachbuilders, including Figoni et Falaschi."
Figoni, in partnership with his son, kept the business alive, working on Simca, Bentley and Citroen chassis, but the magic was gone, and in 1955 they ceased production.
Jacques Saoutchik was another equally flamboyant coachbuilder; his firm closed the year before. This Russian expatriate, who began as a cabinetmaker, founded his coachbuilding firm in 1906. By the 1920s, he was established in the top ranks of the profession, commanding as much as $40,000 for his convertible sedans and town cars. Over the years he made cars for the kings of Cambodia, Siam, Egypt and Norway, the emperor of Ethopia and the Shah of Iran.
Saoutchik survived the Depression but, like his Paris contemporaries Figoni et Falaschi, he suffered a decline during the postwar period. It was a decline in the number of commissions, not in inspiration, as Noel Thompson's 1948 Cadillac three-position, drophead coupe clearly shows.
Restored to the original purple and lilac color scheme ordered by New York furrier Louis Ritter, the car is as distinctive today as it was when new. In the words of another great designer-coachbuilder, Howard "Dutch" Darrin, Jacques Saoutchik was "definitely a man with his own ideas."
In nearly 30 years, Joseph Figoni and Ovidio Falaschi, together and separately, produced about 1,150 coachbuilt bodies. That's less than a day's output for a modern giant like General Motors, which turns out millions of cars a year. Proof, if needed, that the impact of Figoni et Falaschi, Saoutchik and other top coachbuilders on automotive design bears no relation to the number of bodies they made.
What had begun as an orderly retreat soon turned into a rout. Fifty-seven coachbuilders had displayed their wares at the 1929 London show. By 1959, that number had dropped to 13. The world's remaining coachbuilding firms could read the handwriting on the wall; it was handwriting that must have seemed more like rude graffiti.
"With steadily rising costs pushing the price of a special body ever higher," lamented Motor Magazine two years later, "with onerous taxation leaving the rich with ever less free income to spend, the traditional British coachbuilder has been crushed between the upper and nether millstone until at the 1961 show only James Young survives as an independent coachbuilder."
By 1967, James Young and Co. had disappeared as well.
Fortunately for those who love these wonderful automotive creations, many of the finest examples have survived into the 1990s; survived and prospered, judging by current restoration costs and auction prices. Some Figoni et Falaschi examples bring upwards of $650,000, while other marques, such as Duesenberg, fetch as much as $2 million.
Each spring, the Burn Prevention Foundation presents a concours d'elegance in Reading, Pennsylvania. The event, one of many of its type held each year, is typical of the worldwide interest in these beautiful machines. In honor of the 1951 MOMA exhibit, the 1994 show was called "Rolling Sculptures." It displayed many fine examples of coachbuilding from firms that are legendary to aficionados of the art form, including Rollston, Chapron, LeBaron, Darrin, Murphy, Deitrich, Brunn, Letourneur et Marchand, Van Vooren, Barker, Fleetwood, Gurney Nutting, Kirchhoff and Lavocat et Marsaud.
If there is any single characteristic common to these and other great coachbuilding firms, it's that their best work was the vision of one, or at most two, men. One of the best explanations for this comes from Frank Hershey, the man who designed the original 1955 Ford Thunderbird.
"You never heard of any of the great artists working in a committee," Hershey noted. "They were all single guys. All the great architects were single guys. And all of the great automobile designers were single persons. Sometimes people forget it. You know that old story that a camel was designed by a committee. You design a car with a committee, and you get what you get. You get a camel. I am not kidding you."
One example of a car that is definitely not a camel is the 1934 Packard 1108 Sport Phaeton by the Connecticut coachbuilding firm of LeBaron. This 12-cylinder Packard, one of the most beautiful ever produced by an American coachbuilder, is one of approximately 1,800 designs developed by LeBaron during its 20-plus years of operation. The Sport Phaeton design has been attributed to Alexis de Sakhnoffsky, onetime designer of Van den Plas of Brussels, Belgium, and Edward Macauley, then Packard's design chief. The example pictured on page 236, owned by Ray Bowersox, was de Sakhnoffsky's personal car and is one of only four in existence. LeBaron, founded in 1920, was best known for its work with automakers Packard, Chrysler, Lincoln and Stutz.
Although it ceased operation in 1941, LeBaron was purchased by Chrysler in 1948, thus keeping the LeBaron name alive. While a modern production-line car is not necessarily the reason that a legend survives, the original car is just that--a legend that lives.
Ken Vose is a novelist, screenwriter and television writer whose work often features automotive themes.
"Design Sells the Car, But Comfort Keeps It Sold." – The Principles of Herman A. Brunn
1932 SAE Hermann A Brunn Speech
You Cannot Cut A Piece Off the Passenger
Recently I sat in the rear seat of a very smart dose body, but when I tried to cross my I found it impossible to do so without wiping my shoes on the back of the front seat. …When I sat in this close coupled body, I thought it would be a wonderful job if one could remove his legs and lay them in the bottom of the car. Do not forget that you cannot cut a piece off the passenger. This remark has made many of our patrons laugh, but it is true nevertheless. The owner wishes to get in his vehicle and take all of his anatomy with him, and it is probable that he would like to take some luggage. Soft cushions and lazy backs are of little use in an ill proportioned seat. In fact, I would prefer a hard seat and back of the right design to a soft cushion and back which are not proportioned properly. I am sure you have all enjoyed sitting in a correctly fashioned Windsor chair which had no upholstery at all.
A truly comfortable cushion and back must not be too soft. It is one thing to sink into a very soft cushion when the car is sitting on the show room floor, but the question I want to ask is, "How do you feel after riding a hundred miles without arising?" Naturally, good style breaks down selling resistance, but comfort is the thing which keeps it sold.
It seems to be only a matter of time when all bodies will be built with adjustable seats, both front and rear. Passengers vary so as to their physical dimensions, that it is quite impossible to make permanent seats which are comfortable. An adjustable seat practically insures a comfortable seat for either large or small passengers.
We always begin by laying out the chassis, in full size, on our blackboard, showing the steering column, foot pedals and gear shift levers in their correct position. There must be a certain distance allowed for the springs and hair used to provide the lazy back. This method locates the panel against which the front seat back will rest. We have a certain distance we must allow to the face of the lazy back, to the front edge of the cushion, and a certain distance from the floor to the top of the cushion at its front edge. Naturally these dimensions may vary somewhat, but not to any great extent. Another important factor which enters into comfort is the location of the seat frame on which the cushion is to rest.
We give as much attention to a chauffeur’s seat as we do the owner’s; for there is no one who will put the skids under an automobile more rapidly than an uncomfortable chauffeur.
Great care should be exercised to have the seat frame the correct height from the floor, and we should be assured that it has the correct amount of slant or slope. This is especially true regarding the rear seat frame. All of the blame for uncomfortable seats must not be placed on the bodybuilder. We often encounter a chassis so constructed that we are supposed to build a comfortable seat for the occupants of the rear seat over the top of a good sized dish pan, which projects two or three inches up into the bottom of the cushion.
No matter what cushion springs are used, it is practically impossible to make a comfortable seat over a pan such as I have described.
Hour Glass Cushion Springs
For many years we have used an hour glass type of woven wire mattress construction. We have experimented with many other types, but none have given such complete satisfaction; yet even this type of spring will fail to give satisfaction unless you have sufficient height for the spring. They must also be made of the proper gauge wire, of the proper steel, and the cushion must also be made by a competent workman. Very few lazy backs give support in the proper place, which we think is in the hollow of the back. Invariably, you can feel the top and bottom wires used to construct the lazy back. For work which we build, we have long since discovered that the finest curled hair obtainable is the most economical in the long run.
Sound insulation is one of the topics suggested to me. This is a tough proposition, and if I could solve it wholly or even partially 1 am sure you would nominate me for the hall of fame. In my estimation the composite body, that is, one with a framework of ash, covered with aluminum panels and castings, and which has a leather top and leather side quarters, is less susceptible to the noises which arise from the chassis. The fabric body is better in this respect, but has many other objectionable features.
As the great mass of bodies are made almost entirely of steel, including the floors and steel pans, they magnify all of the sounds coming up from the chassis. In an all steel body, vibrations of the chassis are magnified many times. If dashes, floors, seat pans, etc. are to be made of steel they should be of heavy material and re-enforced to reduce vibration as much as possible. Floors of wood covered with heavily padded carpet help considerably. You undoubtedly know the best material to use is a pad between the chassis and the body. It is up to the chassis engineers to do all in their power to build power plants which have as little vibration as possible.
SAE Hermann A Brunn Speech to a 1932 SAE Conference
"How did the manufacturers order special bodies?" someone asked.
"Ford Motor Company, Lincoln Division, would specify at the start of the season," Brunn started. "You'd get an order for about 20 town broughams and build them up in the white. They'd give you specifications for five of them to go to New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco. There were four shows, but sometimes a dealer would have a special customer (like in New York) who wanted one before the show was over. Normally, a customer had to wait until his car was built. He had to pick his colors and materials from the dealers' sample books. The dealer would then send these ISOs (Irregular Specifications Order) as we called them to Ford for their instructions before we'd build the car.
"This is what happened on the Packard," Brunn said. "On the touring cabriolets in the late thirties, we got pretty good size orders. But the bodies just hung around until a customer ordered one and that's what killed you… you did not get paid for that stuff right away. You'd machine them out, build them up in the white and there they'd sit.
"Originally in the teens, as I recall it, the customer would walk up off the street and even discuss with my father what chassis to use," Brunn explained. "But when Ford Motor Company got into the Lincoln, it became more appropriate to do business the other way… with the manufacturer."
Then someone asked which he preferred.
"The only thing was that if the dealer couldn't get his commission out of it, he wouldn't monkey with it," said Brunn. Toward the end of it… this is what really killed it, because they got more profit than we did… thirty per cent. And if they didn't get the thirty per cent, why, they wouldn't bother with us. That kind of merchandising hurt us."
"Like landau leather… there's a car out there today that doesn't have the right landau leather. I think you know that. The leather used in those days was much deeper embossed and had a higher luster.
"You see, those hides used to come from Germany," said Brunn. "They were 90 square feet in size. They had cows in Germany that were kept in barns and never let out on the range. They treated them like members of the family and fed them until they got that big."
"Not only did they get that big," someone added, "they had relatively few wire scratches or blemishes from twigs and things like that."
Brunn continued, "The average hide today is around 40 square feet and that means they aren't large enough to cover the center area of the top on the landaulets."
Due to quite a bit of interest, Brunn added, "It was quite a job putting those landaulet hides on because they were pretty thick. As a kid I used to walk around and watch the trimmer put the tops on because they were so tough."
"Didn't they have to be soaked first?" someone asked.
"Yes, you had to wet them to shape them around the curves on the flesh side," explained Brunn. "If you didn't watch out, some guy would pull too hard and stretch them too much. The grain would flatten out. This would give you sort of a smooth finish in one spot.
"Being a trimmer in those times was a real muscle job. The leather wasn't cut to a particular size, it was trimmed after stretching.
"When I was still working for Ford, we equipped a few show cars with padded tops, but we used vinyl because the leather was no longer available," Brunn said. "It didn't look exactly the same, but it was sure a lot easier to work with. "
Herman C. Brunn Speech
There were quite a few firms in the Middle West that supplied bodies for some of the low-production, medium-priced cars of the period. A few of these, as discussed earlier, even built complete automobiles by assembling chassis out of readily available components and fitting their own bodies to them.
Hugo Pfau - The Custom Body Era
Needless to say, nearly every production body builder and many automobile manufacturers had what were called "experimental shops" in which prototypes for future production were built. These shops also served as the source of special vehicles for company executives and a few favored customers, usually large stockholders.
Their quality was frequently quite up to the standards of the custom builders, since the craftsmen who could produce such work had often been lured away from the custom shops by higher pay and other incentives. It is very difficult in many cases to identify the source of any such bodies that survive. At the time they were built, nobody was thinking about posterity and they were simply a convenient way to work out new ideas, or to satisfy some VIP customer.
Hugo Pfau - The Custom Body Era
Interesting Plant – Utica Sunday Journal – Sept 17, 1899
Of all Utica’s industries that bear promise of great fruit for the future, while in the present it is reaping a moderate harvest for its owners, not one has brighter prospects than the building of automobiles. Everything necessary for a horseless carriage, as it is properly called, is manufactured in this city, excepting motors by which the power is supplied. Within the next year at least one of these modern conveyances will be in use on Utica’s streets. It is probable that there will be several, for only the inability of companies to manufacture them as fast as the orders come in, is to blame for their absence from the fine boulevards in all parts of the city, and on the splendid roads of the surrounding country. Locally the last impression Uticans got of the twentieth century conveyance was not a good one. It was in connection with a the trip which a man and woman were making through this part of the State on their way from New York to San Francisco. The carriage broke down several times within hailing distance of this city. It was remarked at the time that the “things” were merely in the experimental stage. This was not believed by well-posted people, however for in the larger cities the automobile is a common sight. It is not used alone for pleasure driving although this is the use to which the greatest number are put. Heavy trucking, running of hansome for public use, and of big omnibuses, are also done by the unseen power.
Quite recently it was suggested, by a man who knows what is good and progressive in the fire department, that an automobile fire engine or truck would be a good thing for the fire commission to consider when the next piece of apparatus is ordered. The mere suggestion carries with it and idea of advantages of such a piece of apparatus. It would always be ready for use. The lightning-like work of the department in hitching up, fast as it is, would be outdone. The apparatus could go at a speed no horses could attain in such heavy work; and could travel a long distance at a rate that is not even attempted by the drivers of the department knowing that such usage would kill their horses.
All over the world the automobile is coming in general use. Of all the forms of propulsion, none has reached the perfection that electricity has attained.
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A visit to the factory where they are made will explain this better. A few hours spent there will convince the most skeptical that a high grade carriage is like everything else of high quality – worth just what is asked for it.
The factory is in the plant of the old carriage company on Turner St, or just across from the Masonic Home. It is run by the Willoughby-Owen Company – the firm which is no working on two orders, of 75 and 60 carriages respectively. Not half so skilled as the carriage maker is the man who builds a house. There are some resemblances in the tow occupations, however. In both the work is first planned and from the plans the finished product is made.
The designer at the works is E.M. Galle, a graduate of a technical school in Dresden, where he also worked at the trade. When he came to this country he studied still further, and in 1892 was chief instructor in the Technical School for Carriage Draughtsmen and Mechanics in New York. He knows more about carriages of the old world and the new, of this century and of centuries past, than could be told in several editions of a paper. The part of his knowledge, however, that is used most in the making of automobiles is architectural and artistic. As the milliner knows what styles of a decade ago will be in force again, so he knows just how the styles in carriages will change. Eight years is about the time allotted for the longest season of popularity which any one style of carriages enjoys. This is the life of the vehicle which is built on square lines. It is remarkable that the uncompromising square lines now in vogue last twice and sometimes three times as long as do the more picturesque curved lines. It cannot be said that the curved lines in a carriage are always appreciated more by artist in the trade, for men who are most skilled and knowing in the art acknowledge that they like the square lines.
In the draughting room are made the plans. Patterns are cut and from these patterns the work is done. The lumber used comes from the saw mills, as the finishing is all done at the factory. Four-inch timber is the heaviest that goes into the shop. This is used only in the frame work. Ash seasoned by four years exposure and poplar, or white wood, as it is called, seasoned by two years exposure, are used. The lumber is all selected. In the machine shop, on the saws, planers, etc., the work is blocked out. The wood cut in proper shape is then piled in the dry kiln, where thirty thousand feet of lumber can be tried at one time. The kiln is heated by steam and in it the last of the wood’s natural moisture is taken out. If in a big piece of the wood there is left a tiny spot not thoroughly dry, that spot will show in the carriage. When the wood parts are sent into the body room for one carriage they make a pile which originally represented 1,000 square feet of lumber. It is almost impossible to see this pile of wood and believe that it is all put into the neat and compact carriages that are seen in the showroom.
In the body room the wood assumes shape under the tools of the men who, after years of labor, have become expert enough to do the finest work in their trade. The fit the joints of the frame with a nicety that allows not the divergence of a hairbreadth from the plans. Between the joints there is no visible space. Water would soak through the wood as quickly as through the seam, and air could find no space where the ends of two pieces of the ash meet. Screws hold the frame together. The panels are glued on. So far as the appearance of the body is concerned it is completed when it leaves the woodworker’s hands and goes to the blacksmith. In the blacksmith shop it is reinforced with iron, at points where the greatest strain will come. The springs and gear are put on and it is ready for the paint shop. In the paint shop the guide coat is rubbed off, and with sandpaper, pumice stone and all other methods known to the trade, the surface of the wood is made smooth. Coat after coat of paint is used, until when the last coat of varnish is applied, it is the eighteenth time that the painter’s brush has gone over the carriage. It shines like a mirror when the last coat is dry and it is sent to the trimming shop. Here the upholstering and other trimming is done. In the seats and other upholstering the best English goat skin is used. The leather in one automobile costs $60, before a knife has been touched to it. The cushions are stuffed with gray drawings or curled hair. This costs 50 cents a pound. Thirty pounds are used in one carriage. The finishing touches are put on the carriage. It next appears in the show room.
Here the conveniences for the first time are appreciated. The finishing brougham, hansome or other style of vehicle is longer by a few feet than its brother which is drawn by horses. In the hansome the driver sits behind just as he does on the carriages now in use. Where before he had the appearance of being about to droop off the main part of the vehicle, he is now supported beneath by a box about three feet long and eighteen inches high. In this box is put the storage battery. The wires run from the battery to the motors, which are attached to the rear axles, just as the motors on a trolley car are attached to the truck. The motors not alone turn the wheels, but they also run the various appliances. The driver, from his perch on the box with his hand on a lever, makes the automobile go fast or slow at will. With a foot on a spring he can turn on the electricity which will reverse the wheels immediately. With his other hand he steers the vehicles. This steering is one of the features of the new carriage. The back wheels only turn. With a touch so light that it takes no effort more than the writer uses in lifting his pen, the wheels may be turned. Much has been said about the difficulty with which the automobile is managed. The difficulty is that only a light touch is needed where a heavy hand is often used.
When the carriages go from the works on Turner Street to the factory of the Columbia Automobile Company of New York they are ready for use except only that they must have the storage battery slipped in the box and the motors attached to the axles. This work is done in New York, where the motors are made. All the patents on motors, no matter what may be the
Ever no more than the bicycle monopoly did. Wherever there is so great a demand for the article there is always competition in the sale. Automobiles within the next ten years will be common sights in this city. A horse will be an oddity; just as at present a horse-car is almost unknown where but a decade ago thoroughly progressive cities owned them.
The automobile described above is only one of the many patterns made. They vary just as much as do carriages drawn by horses. At present they are a fad. The smart set in the larger cities use them because they cannot be got by the masses of the people. They are so useful and cheap after the first price is paid, that if the output where ten times what it is there would be no automobiles standing in showrooms. Their best features are summed up as follows; The automobile does not eat, it costs less than a cent a mile to run it., it is consuming nothing when not in use, its original cost is but little more than a fine carriage and an ordinary span of horses. It cannot run away, it can be run as safely by a child or woman as by a man, it can be run by an ordinarily strong-minded person after but two days of practice. The points in running are: How to start, to increase the speed, to use the brake, to stop the carriage and to ring the gong which gives warning of its coming. All these things are done by hand and foot levers and the only danger lies in the loss of personal control when quick action is needed. Women have become as expert as men in their use and it is not an unusual sight to see in the larger cities such a picture as is described below:
“Her hands were on the nickel-plated levers that curved gracefully up from the carriage floor, while one foot rested on the brake bar. She wore none of the tense, exerted expression of the driver of horses. A gentle turn of a neatly gloved wrist increased or decreased her speed by several miles per hour, a twist of the other and the vehicle cut to one side with a pleasant whirr and passed a lumbering bus; a pressure of her thumb and the electric bell rang a warning. It was all without effort, graceful and deliberate.