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American Government Special Collections Reference Desk


The New York Times
April 19, 1914

The Proportions of a Car Are Important for Both Engine and Passengers.


Gives People and Not Baggage Best Position in Relation to Wheels, Says Emond.

The important practical function of an automobile body is to carry passengers comfortably, according to W. H. Emond, body designer for one of the automobile companies.

"To obtain passenger comfort, dimensions must be right for normal human beings, cushion springs should be so constructed as to carry their load without bottoming on rough roads, and back upholstery must be so shaped as to conform to the human figure, relieve it from severe shock, and make it unnecessary for the passenger to repeatedly shift about on a long ride in an effort to obtain an easy position," said he the other day.  "This last is the real test of upholstery design.

"There is, however, in addition to the mere body dimensions, and beside the relative merits of different spring suspensions, a still more important element for consideration in designing a car for riding comfort, and that is the general assembly, taking into account the general distribution of the weight above the springs and axles—to make it plain, the position of the wheels with reference to the load both of passengers and machinery.

"For the benefit of the engine and for ease of steering, assembly designers found years ago that it was essential to place the front wheel well forward; usually, in a water-cooled car, on a line with the front of the radiator.  For a similar consideration of passengers, European assembly designers are to-day placing the rear wheel well back, and the body designer, who in Europe is largely the assembly authority also, contributes further to comfort by keeping his passenger load well forward, allowing, of course, generous foot room, but no more.

"The manufacturers of many American cars seem not to have considered this matter of general assembly design at all, so far as passenger comfort is concerned.  The method seems to have been to place the front wheel according to accepted practice, then to make up their minds they will produce and advertise a certain number of inches wheel-base, and on a chassis so designed, place a body with a long tonneau compartment which projects the seat load far back of the rear axle.

"It is no wonder that a car so designed will completely use up its passengers within two hundred miles on just good, average roads, even without considering the spring suspension.  Every rough spot will throw the passengers off the seat, at a speed of twenty-five miles, and yet this long, roomy tonneau is featured as of great benefit to the prospective buyer.  There is plenty of room for suit cases and other baggage in the tonneau, forward of the passengers' feet—in fact, the luggage has the most comfortable spot in the body while passengers are tossed about in the overhang.

"Owing to the fact that European carrosserie designers in the last two years have turned out a variety of bodies having the shells built to include tires, wheels, folded tops and general luggage, in rear of the passenger compartments, the automobilists' eye has become accustomed to a considerable back overhang.  In fact, when lines are well drawn a considerable overhang is not objectionable in itself so far as appearance goes, but to place human beings out on the end of such a springboard and play snap-the-whip with them is nothing less than cruelty to the race.

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