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American Government Special Collections Reference Desk


Charles Duryea
The New York Times
December 19, 1909

New Offerings of Season's Models Will Show Many Novelties and Tendency to Luxuriousness.


Rising Prices, Better Quality and Demand for Improved Finish of Product Good for Trade.

American Motor Car Manufacturers' Association.

Motorists always wait with impatience the opening of automobile shows, as at that time the new offerings of the motor car makers are divulged for the first time.  Just what the big list of exhibitors at the Grand Central Palace affair will unfold in new wrinkles cannot be conclusively told until the opening on New Year's Eve.

Several things have conspired to force the season of 1910 to the front and permit at this date a better view of the coming year than is usual at this period of the year.  The shortage of goods during the past Summer cleared the factories and permitted new product to come out sooner.  The absence of vehicles on the sales floors of agents caused them to ask for the new product instead of asking that it be held back till the old ones were sold.  Several interesting and pleasant things are to be seen in this early view of the industry.

The gloom that fell in the middle of a National show two years ago, and for which the show itself received an unmerited condemnation, but for which the panic was to blame, and which would have been the same had the show been held in mid-winter, has gradually risen till during the past season it have way to buoyancy of the highest degree.  The old demand for highest grade and most luxurious automobiles was again felt by the trade.  The designer was again free to do his best rather than to trim the vehicle to the most economic production point, even at the sacrifice of features that were of pronounced value and likely to be desired by the public.

But this change, although felt last Summer, could not be taken advantage of at once.  The new design had to be waited for.  The 1910 market was the first that could be utilized.  A busy people and improved financial conditions permitted rising prices, better quality and larger numbers in the automobile line.  This optimistic feeling has been expressed in several ways, but the increased quality of the goods, the increased quality of the equipment, the increased number of makers and the large number of low-priced cars are some of the most plain expressions.

A reversal of policy shows plainly in many cases.  Instead of striving to get the product down to the market, as seemed necessary a year ago, the market now looks so different that the product is being pushed upward both in quality and price.  Even many of the makers who were building or looking with covetous eyes on the motor buggy as a product for the lowered market have now abandoned it and are marketing the conventional automobile.  The country buyer who feared to buy or had not the money to invest in the pneumatic-tired touring car a year ago, was then looking for some cheaper substitute.  With the return of prosperity, high-priced wheat, corn, cotton, and beef, the buyer is looking for service, style, and luxury, and everything that is best in motor car construction.

Still another element enters.  The foreign market has been undergoing more or less of a revolution and France, once the centre of things automobile, had given way to England and turned her attention to aeronautics or other sports.  England in turn has set a new pace by introducing a number of novelties not likely to cheapen the product, but rather to add to the cost and luxuriousness.  So on every hand the upwardly swinging pendulum is to be seen.  The buyer who expects to purchase this coming year will do well to get his order in early, lest he be unable to get his purchase through sheer inability of the makers and material supply houses to supply the amounts called for.  It takes months for material to pass through the factories and come out a finished product, and a little delay here and another there soon throws the delivery far behind expectations.

The economizing period through which the industry has just passed taught the value of light weight.  The reduced tire and maintenance expenses of the lighter cars has been very marked and has done much to widen the range of buyers.  And it is a well-known fact that once a man enters the ranks of the automobile users he is not happy until he has crept to the top and driven the most elaborate productions he can find.  This simple fact alone does much to stimulate designers to produce for next year better creations than they had last year.  The buyer who was pleased by the maker's ideas last year will likely be again susceptible, and, having prospered in the meantime, will buy their more luxurious structure.

Because of these things we find wheel bases again moving forward.  It seemed as though these had reached the extreme and would follow a downward course, but aside from the short coupled town cars this seems not to be the case.  Thus the Moline touring car and baby tonneau now uses a wheel base of 110 inches instead of 107; the 45-horse-power Moon is now 120, but was heretofore 112; the Pullman is now 112 inches, whereas it was but 107; the Mitchell is now 115 in the five-passenger touring car instead of 106; the National has been raised to 125 inches from 115; the Overland base has been lengthened from 108 to 112 inches; the Carter car has raised both models from 94 to 103, and from 103 to 110 inches; the Mora base has been extended two inches, being now 112; the Glide has jumped from 106 to 120, while the Speedwell has only raised from 120 to 121½; the Austin has jumped from 130 to 134, while the Reo has also raised to 108 from something like 100 last year.

This lengthening of base has gone forward with a shortening of motors in many cases.  The tendency seems to be toward lighter motors, and with all the cylinders cast in a separate piece.  This makes the motors shorter and does not require so much room in the bonnets.  This leaves more room for passengers, and the length of base has been used to the passengers' benefit in several ways.  In some cases the bodies have been lengthened and more leg room provided.  In others the seats for the rear passengers have been brought forward and gotten in front of the rear axle where the riding is easier.  This also makes room for wider doors and more easy entry to the tonneau.  In other cases the extra room has been given to hooded dashes, which, by extending backward over the driver's feet and legs, protects him from the weather and wind, and adds comfort as well as the sporty look so much affected by some users.

In many cases the added length has been utilized to introduce longer springs, which have in turn softened the vibrations and very much helped out the riding qualities of the respective cars.  The lighter weight of the past two years has also done much to better the spring action, and there is much evidence that in future comfort rather than speed will take precedence.

There is also to be seen a tendency toward larger wheel sizes.  The fact is slowly being recognized that the cycle was not the predecessor of the motor car and that cycle practice, such as wire wheels and smaller tires, was a mistake.  The former was quickly learned, but the latter has been a slower lesson.  A few years ago it was a surprise to find wheels of 36-inch diameter on any but the most high-priced foreign cars, but this Fall we find cars with 42-inch wheels and others, like the American Traveler, with 40-inch.

Some of the examples of increased wheel diameters are to be found as follows:  The Mora cars now have 34-inch wheels, where last year they had 32, and in one model have increased from 32 to 36 inches; the Speedwell now uses 36, where last year they used 34; the Reo has 34 instead of 32, as was their custom last year, and the Jackson has gone from 34 to 36.

Not only in wheel sizes but in tires do we find an increase.  Quite a number have increased the tire section, in spite of the rising price of rubber.  The Premier now uses 36 by 5, whereas last year the largest used on Premiers was 34 by 4½.  The Pullman cars no longer use 3½ but employ 4-inch on all models.  The Carter car is now equipped with 3-inch in place of 2½, and 4-inch instead of 3-inch.  The Mora has increased the section of the tires of one model from 3 inches to 4 inches, and has kept the tire sections the same on others while raising the wheel sizes.  The Glide now uses 4½, where last year 4-inch tires were thought sufficient.  The Speedwell now uses 5-inch instead of 4½, and 4½ instead of 4.

These are but a few of the visible changes for the coming year which indicate the trend.  Among the more mechanical details are to be found like improvements.  The industry is moving forward, and many of these changes are due to the experiences found in the great tours held in the West and South.  Makers got a chance to see what buyers of their goods were up against in those less developed sections, where more than a century of occupation had not been enjoyed, with the resultant improvement in the roads that did inevitably creep into the East.

The gospel of large wheels, lightweight, and large tires finds ready acceptance where the roads are bad.  It cannot be argued that the roads should be improved.  The automobile must take the roads as they are and let the road improvement follow, and big strides have been made in this also.  In general the improvements to be seen are more practical than many seen in former years, and indicate a better understanding of the roads and buyers than in the past.

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