Monthly Archives: September 2015

Electric cars are generally viewed as modern innovations

Today, a gasoline-electric hybrid car is generally viewed as a modern innovation. However, in fact, America’s first hybrid was born over 117 years ago. Yet, with all the innovations in today’s electric cars, we still face the same challenges of limited range per charge and a long recharge time.

Here’s an example. The Munson Company of La Porte, Indiana, is recognized as the first to produce a workable gasoline-electric hybrid car in America in April 1898.

Munson Buggy photo
Munson Buggy
The Munson Company of La Porte, IN

The Munson had many unique benefits:

  • It combined the good points of both the gasoline engine and electric motor.
  • Ten gallons of gasoline would furnish power to propel the vehicle 100 miles or more over ordinary, well-traveled roads.
  • No manual starting apparatus was required because starting was automatically controlled from the driver’s seat. This predates self-starters on gasoline engine autos by 14 years.
  • The electric motor automatically supplied the extra power required when the engine was taxed beyond its normal speed by driving conditions.
  • The required storage battery was 50 percent lighter in weight and, because it was almost constantly charged, would outlast the battery in conventional electric auto.
  • All of these features were accomplished mechanically, long before the advent of computerized controls.

Another example comes from Studebaker. The company’s first recorded sale of a car was an electric car in February 12, 1902. Auto production for the year was 20 electric cars. The cars had a top speed of 13 miles per hour and an approximate 40-mile range between charges with two passengers riding along. If this top speed seems ridiculously low, the standards of the age need to be considered. Electrics were primarily used in urban areas, where their main competition was horse-drawn carriages and buggies. Horse-drawn vehicles had a normal cruising speed of four or five miles per hour. Speed limits were very low in most urban areas. Some major cities were as low as four miles per hour. For 1902, the Studebaker electric was quite competitive.

1902 Studebaker Stanhope
1902 Studebaker Stanhope

One famous buyer of a Studebaker electric car was the inventor Thomas Alva Edison, who bought an early Stanhope, probably in late 1903 or early 1904. This purchase may have been simultaneous with his introduction of the Edison battery, which occurred in 1904. Studebaker was one of the first to adopt Edison’s new batteries. Studebaker produced 1,841 electrics over 10 years with production ending in 1912.

Interestingly, Munson’s 1898 brochure illustrates the problem the company faced by quoting Thomas A. Edison on the benefits of the gasoline engine car over an electric auto. “I believe in ten years a horse will be a rare sight. The automobile carriage is here to stay. It is now practicable, and will soon be cheap enough for general use. Gasoline will be the motive power, for it is more economical and a large supply of it can be carried. Electric storage batteries are too heavy, and besides they are not practicable.” Doesn’t this sound eerily familiar?

With all of merits of today’s gasoline-electric hybrids and plug-in electric autos, they are still plagued by the same problems – limited range per charge and a long recharge time. Only time will tell if electric cars rise or fall in popularity like they did 100 years ago.

For more information on Indiana’s auto pioneers follow this link.

Happy Centennial, Speedway Indiana

July 3, 2012, marked the centennial of the founding of the town of Speedway Indiana. This date commemorates the transfer of the deeds for the 240 acre site to Carl G. Fisher and James A. Allison, owners of the Globe Realty Company, and Lemon H. Trotter, their real estate partner.

The partners conceived Speedway to be a horseless manufacturing city adjacent to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway served by two railroads and modern thoroughfares. The city was designed to be attractive to skilled workers to provide steady employment for the nearby factories.

Allison Engineering
Allison Engineering Plant 1
Copyright ©2012 Dennis E. Horvath

The realty company laid out the residential section on a grid of streets between 16th and 10th streets and between Main and Winton. The east side of Main Street was platted for factories.

Fisher and Allison’s Prest-O-Lite Company was the first to build five buildings on the north plat near 16th Street. The charging building was located at the far end of the property to preclude damage to other properties from possible gas explosions. This facility opened in May 12, 1913. Swartz Electric Company, makers of automobile batteries and electric appliances, opened its plant about the same time. The Electric Steel Company completed facilities in 1915.

The lots on the west side of Main Street were specified for stores and offices. In late 1915, Allison became the sole owner of the Indianapolis Speedway Team Company and moved operations to a small shop on the corner of the Prest-O-Lite lot. The morning after America declared war on Germany in 1917, Allison instructed his chief engineer to find out how to get war orders going. Thus, the Allison Experimental Company was founded. Allison Experimental Company Plant 1 was built on the south side of 13th and Main Street in 1917 for the production of Liberty aircraft engines and other war material.

Other factories followed and the residential streets began to fill up. In 1926, the town was incorporated and experienced explosive growth during World War II, when the company now known as Allison Division of General Motors became a large manufacturer of military aircraft engines.

Speedway is experiencing renewal along Main Street in this new century. I wish a Happy Centennial to Speedway Indiana.

For more information on Indiana’s auto pioneers follow this link.

Celebrating the Studebaker Avanti

The Studebaker Avanti was simultaneously introduced on April 26, 1962, at the New York International Automobile Show, a shareholders meeting, and at a press preview in South Bend. Shortly thereafter, the company flew an Avanti prototype to 24 cities in 16 days to introduce Studebaker dealers to the new car designed by Raymond Loewy.

1963 Avanti Front
1963 Avanti
Copyright © 1962 Studebaker Corporation

In spring 1961, Studebaker’s new president, Sherwood Egbert, enlisted the famous industrial designer to design a car to give the company’s product line a shot in the arm. Loewy then sequestered John Ebstein, Robert Andrews, and Tom Kellogg in a California studio to design the advanced car in a very short period of time. The name they selected was Avanti, which means “forward” in Italian. The Avanti had the international look and feel of a high-performance GT coupe.

The sleek, fiberglass, Coke-bottle-shaped coupe bodies where mounted on the new convertible chassis with a standard high-performance V-8 engine rated at 240 horsepower. Additional engines were available for up to 289 horsepower. One of these versions would go from 0 to 60 m.p.h. in a scant 6.7 seconds. The Avanti interior resembled a plush airplane with instruments set in neat, easy-to-reach groups with two bucket seats and rear bench seat for two.

In spring 1962, the Avanti was named the honorary pace car with a Studebaker Lark Daytona convertible was selected as the official Indianapolis 500 pace car. I clearly remember Pole Day 1962. There was a great deal of chatter up and down pit lane as the Avanti drove around the track fulfilling its honorary role. There is a popular publicity photo showing this Avanti and three Studebaker executives behind Tower Terrace at the Speedway.

What a sensation! I was drawn to the Avanti’s aerodynamic Raymond Loewy styling, which I believe is timeless even today. Rodger Ward, winner of the 1962 Indianapolis 500, received a Studebaker Avanti as part of his prize package, “thus becoming the first private owner of an Avanti.”

Later that summer, Granatelli brothers – Andy, Joe and Vince – prepared a high-performance Avanti R-3 prototype to run on the Bonneville Salt Flats and set 29 American Class records.

It’s a great time to think back to the Avanti! If money was no object, an Avanti would be my first selection for a collectible automobile. One can hope, can’t we?

For more information on Indiana’s auto companies follow this link.

W. Hare & Son started in 1847

W. Hare & Son, one of the country’s oldest transportation dealerships, resides in Noblesville, Indiana, a few miles northeast of Indianapolis. The company continues to hold the title of the country’s longest-lived family-owned vehicle retailer. Today the Chevrolet dealership sells about 300 cars per month and employs 150 people. You can follow a record of its history through the murals around the walls of the main showroom.

Hare Chevrolet mural
Hare Chevrolet mural
Copyright © 2009 Dennis E. Horvath

The company’s story started in 1847, which beckoned Easterners to join the westward movement in the search for gold in California. Entrepreneurs like Wesley Hare knew how to make money from these events. He started building wagons, carriages and buggies out of his log cabin in Noblesville. Westbound travelers stopped here for their wagons. Soon he had a thriving business and added 45 employees.

The company gained its current name shortly after the Civil War ended in 1865, when he handed the business to his son E.M., who moved the operations into a four-story building, then the second-largest structure in town. The manufacturing output soon grew to about 700 buggies annually.

At the turn of the century, E.M. envisioned a great future with the advent of the new-fangled automobile. He started selling upstarts with names like Hupmobile, Studebaker and Cadillac. By 1912, these automobiles comprised most of his business. Bill Hare then signed a Chevrolet exclusive contract in 1921.

Like most other businesses, the Great Depression hit hard. Hare had to rely on its towing service to make ends meet. But, the dealership survived through these lean times.

Hare faced another nearly fatal blow during World War II. All U.S. car manufacturers stopped production of cars in order to concentrate on equipment for the troops. Hare had no cars to sell for three and a half years. Survival meant the dealership had to rely on lube jobs, tune-ups and tire sales.

Hare Chevrolet
Hare Chevrolet
Copyright © 2009 Dennis E. Horvath

Today the dealership has weathered all the past and present economic difficulties. In order to remain competitive, Hare had to keep up with the current marketing trends. Current managers Courtney Cole and Monica Peck, who are the great-great-great granddaughters of Wesley Hare, offer 50 service stalls, a photo booth for online ads, and hundreds of new Chevrolets in its sales lot.

The company still recognizes the importance of its past. As a reminder, one of Wesley Hare’s buggies hangs over the entrance to the showroom.

For more information about Indiana’s car culture follow this link.

Indianapolis Auto Row

In the 1920’s, a 10-block area along North Capitol Avenue in Indianapolis became the home to several segments of the auto industry. If you wanted a new car or service in Indianapolis, this is where you would come. So, let’s take a stroll along N. Capitol to visit sites and structures of that bygone era.

The genesis for Indianapolis Auto Row began with Carl G. Fisher relocating his Fisher Automobile Co. showroom to 400 North Capitol Avenue in 1909. The Fisher Gibson Co. followed in 1910 at 416; with the following firms over the next decade, National Motor Vehicle Co. showroom (1911-1912) at 426-428; Fisher Automobile Co. (1918) at 434-442; and Colonial Automobile Co. (1917) at 444-450. Along the east side of the 400 block of N. Capitol were: Peterson Keyes Automobile Co. (1915) at 401-411; Central Motor Parts Co. (1913) at 419-425; Gates Masters Co. (1911) at 431; and the only currently existing building the Gibson Co. (1916-1917) at 433-447.

Gibson Company in 2007
The Gibson Co. Building in 2007
Copyright © 2007 Dennis E. Horvath

The Cadillac Co. of Indiana/Automobile College at 500-514 N. Capitol was built from 1910-1911. The first floor housed a Cadillac dealership and on the second floor was the college that was reputed to be one of the first “technical” schools related to autos. Just north on the west side of the block was Cooper Tire Service built in 1910.

Continuing up the west side of the street to the 600 block of N. Capitol, we come to the William Small Co. (1915) at 602. At this site in 1920, Louis J. Chevrolet built four Monroe and three Frontenac race cars. His brother Gaston Chevrolet drove a Monroe to victory in the 1920 Indianapolis 500.

The Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. built its regional service center at 640 N. Capitol in 1913. Across the street on the east side was the Williams Building, known as a “cafeteria of auto parts companies,” built in 1916-1917 at 611-617. Just north was the Hatfield Ford Co. showroom and service center at 627 N. Capitol built in 1920. This building served as a Ford dealer into the 1970’s.

Stutz Motor Car Company
The Stutz Motor Car Company
Copyright © 2007 Dennis E. Horvath

Walking a few blocks north we come to the Stutz Motor Car Co. (1914-1920) at 1002-1008 N. Capitol and the Ideal Motor Car Co. (1911) at 221 W. 10th Street. The first Stutz automobile was built at Ideal for the inaugural running of the Indianapolis 500 in 1911. A Stutz Model A torpedo roadster served as the pace car at the 1912 Indianapolis 500. In June 1913, the Ideal Motor Car Company was reorganized as the Stutz Motor Car Company. Following the initial success of the Stutz Bearcat roadster, construction of new facilities commenced at the 1002 N. Capitol. Stutz production continued here until 1934.

Further along the street we have the Harry V. Hyatt Graham-Paige Co. at 1327 N. Capitol built in 1929. This building is a good example of a single-story showroom. In the next block was the Stutz Fire Engine company at 1411 N. Capitol built in 1919. Across the street was the HCS Motor Car Co. at 1402 N. Capitol built in 1920-1921. This was Harry Clayton Stutz’s last auto venture.

I believe this area deserves a more formal designation as “Indianapolis Auto Row” for its large concentration of automotive related sites from the first three decades of the twentieth century. Most people are unaware that they are passing by some Indiana automotive landmarks as they motor down North Capitol Avenue in a hurry to work or to an entertainment venue.

So, take a look during your next visit to downtown Indianapolis.

Discover a wealth of innovation and history with Indianapolis Auto Tours at this link.