Locomobile Company of America

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Locomobile Company of America
Industry Automobile
Fate Purchased,
marque used until 1929
Successor(s) Durant Motors
Founded 1899
Defunct 1922
Headquarters Bridgeport, Connecticut, United States
Key people John Brisben Walker,
Amzi L. Barber,
Francis Edgar Stanley and
Freelan O. Stanley
Products Vehicles

The Locomobile Company of America was an automobile manufacturer founded in 1899. For the first two years it was located in Watertown, Massachusetts, but production was transferred to Bridgeport, Connecticut, during 1900, where it remained until the company's demise in 1929. The company manufactured affordable, small steam cars until 1903, then production switched entirely to internal combustion-powered luxury automobiles. Locomobile was taken over in 1922 by Durant Motors and went out of business in 1929. The cars were always sold under the brand name Locomobile.

History[edit]

Model circa 1900
Sectional view showing parts and details, circa 1900
1907 Locomobile Type E Touring

The Locomobile Company of America was founded in 1899, the name coined from locomotive and automobile. John B. Walker, editor and publisher of the Cosmopolitan magazine bought the plans for an early steam-powered vehicle produced by Francis and Freelan Stanley for a price they could not resist: US$250000 (with all of one car built, but 199 more ordered), promptly selling half to paving contractor Amzi L. Barber. Their partnership lasted just a fortnight; Walker went on to found Mobile Company of America at the Stanley works in Tarrytown, New York, while Barber moved house to Bridgeport, Connecticut, as Locomobile, the Stanley twins named General Managers.[1] The Stanley twins founded the Stanley Motor Carriage Company in 1902, becoming the sharpest rival to Locomobile.[2]

Locomobile began by producing steam cars. The steam Locomobiles were unreliable, finicky to operate, prone to paraffin fires, had small water tanks (getting only 20 mi {32 km} per tank[3]), and took time to raise steam; Rudyard Kipling described one example as a "nickel-plated fraud".[3] Initially, they were offered with a single body style only, an inexpensive Runabout at US$600[4] Nevertheless, they were a curiosity and middle class Americans clamoured for the latest technology. Salesmen, doctors and people needing quick mobility found them useful. Over four thousand were built between 1899 and 1902 alone.[3] In 1901, Locomobile offered seven body styles at prices between US$600 and US$1,400. Most Locomobiles had simple twin-cylinder engines (3x4", 76.2x102mm; 57ci, 927cc) and a wire wrapped 500 psi flash boiler burning naphtha. Typical of the product was the 1904 Runabout, which seated two passengers and sold for US$750[5] The two-cylinder steam engine was situated amidships of the wood-framed car. By now, the car had improved boilers and a new water pump, manufactured by the Overman Wheel Company in Chicopee Falls, Massachusetts. This company itself built a steamer, the Victor Steamer.[6]

1905 Locomobile logo
Steam powered Locomobile, from January, 1901 advertisement

During the Boer War, Locomobile did establish a new mark of sorts, becoming the first ever automobile to be used in war; it was a generator and searchlight tractor and catering vehicle, with the useful ability (in British eyes, at least) of being able to brew a cup of tea by tapping the boiler.[7]

This was, unfortunately, not a sure way to guarantee commercial success, even in Britain, and Locomobile started experimenting with gasoline internal combustion engines in 1902, starting with a four-cylinder steel-chassis model designed by Andrew L. Riker. This encouraged the firm to drop steam vehicles the following year, selling the Stanley brothers back their rights for US$20,000.[7]

Switch to internal combustion engines[edit]

The 1904 internal combustion Locomobile Touring Car had a tonneau, space for five passengers, and sold for US$4500, quite a change from the low-priced steam buggies. The front-mounted vertical water-cooled 'straight-4' engine produced 16 hp (11.9 kW). A 3-speed sliding transmission was fitted, as on the Système Panhard cars it competed with. The angle steel-framed car weighed 2200 lb (998 kg).

Locomobile 7 passenger Touring Car from 1920 magazine advertisement

Like other early marques, Locomobile entered motor racing, contesting the 1905 Gordon Bennett Cup with a 17.7-liter (1080ci) racer; after suffering a transmission gear failure, and with no spare available, driver Joe Tracy only managed two circuits of Auvergne before the transmission packed up entirely. Tracy did better for the company at the Vanderbilt Cup, placing third.[7] A 90 hp (67 kW) 16.2-liter (989ci) F-head was sabotaged by tire trouble, so Tracy failed again in the 1906 Vanderbilt, but in 1908, George Robertson (wearing #16) took the win in this car, ahead of fellow Locomobile pilot Joe Florida in third, becoming the first United States-built car to win in international competition. This would be the high water mark for Locomobile racing, and they soon faded from the scene, though Orin Davis did score a win in the Los AngelesPhoenix rally in 1913.[8]

On the strength of this, Locomobile soon became known for well-built and speedy luxury cars. The 1908 Locomobile 40 Runabout was a 60 hp (44.7 kW) two-seater and sold for US$4750. (nearly $100,000 in 2006 dollars)

Model 48 and the Durant years[edit]

The most important model for the marque became the impressive Model 48. Introduced in 1919, it had a very conservative, perhaps dated, concept. It had a conventional but huge chassis with a wheelbase of 142 in. Its engine was a straight-six with side valves; cylinders were still cast in pairs and it featured a non-removable cylinder head. Displacement was 525 c.i., giving it a 48.6 H.P. tax rating by North American Chamber of Commerce (N.A.C.C.). Quality of materials and workmanship were impeccable and among the best in the world.[citation needed] Such was its pricing: A typical open-bodied cost about $10,000 when the average Model T Ford Phaeton cost about $300.

In 1922 Locomobile was acquired by Durant Motors, which not only continued using the Locomobile brand name for their top-of-the-line autos until 1929, but still produced the Model 48 until the demise in 1929. Until the mid-twenties, this car was Locomobile's only offering. In 1925, the marque brought out their first new model, the 8-66 Junior Eight, with a more contemporary straight-eight-cylinder engine - and, more importantly, a lower price of $1,785.

1926 saw the introduction of the even smaller Junior Six, but this car stayed only for one model year. The larger model 90 that appeared in the same year was produced until 1929.

With the 8-70, Locomobile added one more eight-cylinder car. In the following year, the Junior Eight 8-66 was phased out.

For 1929, a new 8-86 and 8-88 came out, but it was too late to save the company. Locomobile died when its parent company, Durant Motors, failed. Production of the volume cars Durant and Rugby lasted until 1933, but that did not save Locomobile.

Locomobile model specifications[edit]

Locomobiles in fiction[edit]

A Locomobile is the setting for one of the final scenes of F. Scott Fitzgerald's first novel, This Side of Paradise, in which the protagonist, Amory Blaine, argues for socialism to the father of a college friend, who staunchly defends the capitalist ideal.

In the Spring and Summer of 1946, a seven passenger 1911 Locomobile touring car was driven from Boston to Los Angeles and back as a promotional tour for the Columbia Pictures Movie Gallant Journey. While not appearing in the movie, the Locomobile attracted much attention for the picture on the tour.

In Thomas Savage's 1967 novel The Power of the Dog, set in the 1920s, the Locomobile is estimated by protagonist Peter Johnson higher than the Pierce-Arrow: "... Those were the vehicles of the high and mighty, and he knew that only the Locomobile (fancied by old General Pershing, among others) rivaled the Pierce."

Clive Cussler's 2007 novel, The Chase, as well as the 2010 novel The Spy featured a 1905 Locomobile.

In Dashiell Hammett's 1925 mystery story "Scorched Face", the rich girls that the Continental Op is looking for were driving a Locomobile "with a special cabriolet body" when they disappeared.

Papa LaBas from Ishmael Reed's 1972 novel Mumbo Jumbo drives a Locomobile.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Wise, David B., "British Steam-Car Pioneers", in Northey, Tom, ed. World of Automobiles (London: Orbis Publishing, 1974), Volume 11, p. 1207.
  2. ^ Kimes/Clark, p. 853.
  3. ^ a b c Wise, p. 1207.
  4. ^ Kimes/Clark, p. 85.
  5. ^ Kimes/Clark, p. 854.
  6. ^ Kimes/Clark, p. 1453.
  7. ^ a b c Wise, p. 1208.
  8. ^ Wise, p. 1209.

References[edit]

  • Frank Leslie's Popular Monthly (January, 1904)
  • David Burgess Wise, "Locomobile: British Steam-Car Pioneers", in Northey, Tom, ed. World of Automobiles. London: Orbis Publishing Ltd, 1974. Volume 11, pp. 1207–9.
  • Kimes, Beverly Rae (editor) and Clark, Henry Austin, jr., The Standard Catalogue of American Cars 1805–1942, 2nd edition, Krause Publications (1985), ISBN 0-87341-111-0
  • Kimes, Beverly Rae (editor) and Clark, Henry Austin, jr., The Standard Catalogue of American Cars 1805–1942, 2nd edition, Krause Publications (1989), ISBN 0-87341-111-0
  • Bridgeport Working: Voices from the 20th Century. Bridgeport Public Library. Web. 13 Oct. 2011. <http://www.bridgeporthistory.org/companies/companies_output.cfm?companyid=8>.
  • Kimes, Beverly Rae, Pioneers, Engineers, and Scoundrels: The Dawn of the Automobile in America, edited by SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) Permissions, Warrendale PA (2005), ISBN 0-7680-1431-X

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Media related to Locomobile Company of America at Wikimedia Commons