If we were to go purely on what our school history books and popular culture suggest, we’d know the father of the mass-produced automobile to be, without a doubt, Henry Ford. However, sometimes, history gets muddled in the details, and certain figures don’t get their due credit. In the case of America’s burgeoning automobile industry, Ransom Eli Olds is an oft-neglected name despite the significance of his contributions to the motorcar and the American Industrial Revolution. He officially founded Olds Motor Works in 1897, although he had been tinkering with motorized transport for several years before that. By 1898, Olds produced only a half-dozen or so experimental cars and struggled to finance further development. Thankfully, help came in the form of a nearly $200,000 investment from lumber magnate Samuel L. Smith. Now flush with cash and with a new factory in Detroit, Ransom returned to experimenting and development of a production-ready automobile. He built 11 different cars between 1899 and 1900, seemingly unable to settle on the ideal formula for production. A fire at the new factory in March of 1901 proved to be somewhat serendipitous as only one car survived – the single-cylinder “Curved Dash” runabout.
Olds pinned all hopes on the little Oldsmobile, and the car did not disappoint. With input from Henry Leland of Leland & Faulconer Engineering, Ransom Olds carefully designed the Curved Dash Oldsmobile to be built using standardized, interchangeable parts on a stationary assembly-line. From a technical standpoint, the Oldsmobile was quite conventional. A basic cart-sprung chassis supported the centrally mounted horizontal single-cylinder engine while the two-speed planetary transmission drove a central chain to the rear axle. The body was pure buggy, with a two-place bench seat, tiller steering, and rudimentary top. While simplistic, it was elegantly designed and well-constructed. It was also reasonably affordable at $650 in 1901, which no doubt encouraged strong sales. Production started with just 425 cars in 1901, rising to 2,500 the following year, then 4,000, then 5,508. Such was its popularity that even as Olds expanded the line, the single-cylinder runabout remained in production through 1907.
In 1904, the Curved Dash Model 6C debuted, looking virtually identical to its predecessors, despite being an entirely new car. It was built stronger than before, with external drum brakes added to the rear axle to supplement the differential brake. The body retained the same distinct shape as before but was slightly larger overall. Other improvements included wood artillery wheels, a new carburetor, and a stronger gearbox. Much like the later Model T, all Oldsmobiles left the factory in the same color scheme of black with dark red trim and gold striping. Total production of the Curved Dash Olds may pale in comparison to Ford’s fifteen million Model Ts, but it still deserves the proper acknowledgment as America’s first “mass-produced” automobile.
This delightful 1904 Oldsmobile Model 6C Curved Dash comes to us from an extensive collection, and it presents with a crisp and beautifully preserved older restoration. The paintwork on the body, chassis, and steel mudguards is period correct and in superb order. Red accents on the body and lovely gold coach stripes that repeat on the frame and wheels give the car a handsome, upmarket appearance, along with the white rubber tires. The body details include a leather buggy top and optional Neverout kerosene carriage lamps. Following its superb restoration, this Olds earned an AACA National First Prize Senior award in 1998, and it remains in exceptional, show-ready condition today.
As with many horseless carriages of the era, simplicity is the name of the game. The runabout coachwork accommodates two passengers on a button-tufted leather bench, and the leather buggy top offers a modicum of protection from sun and the elements. Steering is by tiller, with other basic controls including two foot-pedals, and a hand lever for gear selection. The quality of the upholstery work is superb all around, and the materials appear taut and fresh despite the time elapsed since its restoration. Controls, fittings, and hardware also present in excellent condition.
The 7-horsepower, horizontal single-cylinder engine sits below the driver, powering a 2-speed planetary transmission and chain-drive rear axle. The engine and ancillaries are beautifully restored to a high standard, and even the rear axle is finished in gloss black and striped to match the body. Presentation is excellent, with jewel-like detailing and minimal signs of use on the mechanical components. The little Oldsmobile runs and drives, although due to its recent time on display in a private collection, some additional attention is recommended before tackling any significant distances. Beautifully restored to a high standard, this Curved Dash remains in outstanding condition and is suitable for continued show and display in concours events. As a pre-1905 vehicle, it is also eligible for dating inspection by the V.C.C. to allow entry into events like the London to Brighton Veteran Car Run and is sure to delight its next caretaker.
Offers welcome and trades considered