Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

1901-1907 Oldsmobile Curved-Dash

Development of the 1901-1907 Oldsmobile Curved-Dash

Over the next year, Olds Motor Works built some 11 cars, evident prototypes toward a two-cylinder seven-bhp "Oldsmobile" (a name registered in 1900) announced at $1,250. But the new firm attracted little interest, and was soon looking terminal.

Oddly, Ransom seemed more interested in playing with electric cars (he built at least two around the turn of the century) and garnering more patents for various inventions like a crude self-starter, which would be perfected by Charles Kettering a few years after William C. Durant added Oldsmobile to his fledgling General Motors in 1908.

Destiny intervened in March 1901 when a fire ravaged the Olds factory. The losses, valued at a then-staggering $72,000, included all of Ransom's prototypes-save a "one-lung" single-seat runabout with a gracefully curved front, or "dashboard" in carriage parlance.

A long-told story was that a worker risked life and limb to push this little car from a burning building, but subsequent research indicates the firm had already settled on this as its first product, and would have been able to build it from detailed drawings that survived the blaze.

Regardless, the Curved-Dash became the first production Oldsmobile, and was in production by late 1901 -- in Lansing. Though Olds Motor Works maintained a Detroit presence for a few more years, Ransom built a new factory near his hometown after the Lansing Chamber of Commerce simply gave the company the 52-acre site of the former state fairgrounds.

Appearance aside, the "Oldsmobile curved-dash runabout" was much like many other early century cars: simple and cart-like-truly a carriage without the horse. Its "drivetrain" followed that of Ransom's first gasoline car save for a single-cylinder engine, though still with side valves and water-cooling, and also placed beneath a two-passenger buggy seat.

A horizontal radiator was mounted under the floorboard, where a foot lever was provided for controlling speed. The ignition system included dual batteries with a suggested life of 3-4 months. Supporting the body, with the then-customary wood-and-fabric construction, were 55-inch-wide tubular-steel axles mounted 60 inches apart and connected on each side by a long truss-shaped leaf spring that was flattened in the middle for attachment to a rectangular frame of channel-section steel. Steering was by tiller, the steering wheel being far from universal yet.

Braking, or what passed for it, was by a foot pedal that caused a clutch band to grab a flange on the drive sprocket. There was also an emergency brake: a drum on the transmission jackshaft (between low and reverse) acting directly on the rear axle. Wheels were 28-inch-diameter wire- or wood-spoke units mounting three-inch-wide tires. With the four-gallon fuel and water reservoirs full, curb weight came to a feathery 700 pounds.

On the next page, learn about the later models of the Oldsmobile Curved Dash.

Want more information on cars? See: