1903-1907 Oldsmobile Curved-Dash
Easily repaired by most any blacksmith and able to withstand the rugged, rutted roads of contemporary rural America, the Oldsmobile Curved-Dash found immediate acceptance at its $650 asking price-stiff, but not outrageous for the time. Only 386 were built in trouble-plagued 1901, but Olds turned out 2,500 in 1902, enough to claim the title as the best-selling car in the nation's infant auto industry.
Olds repeated as number one in 1903 with higher sales of exactly 4,000. Useful accessories contributed to this success: a rear-facing "Dos-a-Dos" auxiliary seat ($25), folding top (with roll-up rear curtain) in either rubber ($25) or leather ($50), and a "storm apron," little more than a large, heavy blanket.
More significant to sales were the Oldsmobile's fine showings in the speed and durability trials so popular in the early years of "automobiling." In 1901, employee Roy Chapin -- later of Hudson fame and one of several Olds people who would leave their marks at other companies -- drove a Curved-Dash from Detroit to New York for the nation's second annual auto show as a publicity stunt. It took a week, but he made it, which in those days was all that mattered.
The following year saw Oldsmobile taking victories in a Chicago endurance run, two five-mile contests in St. Louis, a Chicago Automobile Club meet, and first-in-class in a New York-Boston reliability trial. In 1903, a Curved-Dash made news by trekking from San Francisco to New York City in 60 days. Two years later, cars dubbed "Old Scout" and "Old Steady" were among the finishers in America's first transcontinental auto race, a 4,000-mile jaunt from Portland, Oregon, to New York.
Olds Motor Works naturally trumpeted such feats as proving its product's reliability, and the U.S. Post Office lent its endorsement by purchasing Olds-mobiles as the first mail "trucks." But the little car was also simply portrayed as a sensible substitute for skittish old Dobbin. "Nature made a mistake in giving the horse brains," said one ad. "Science did better and made the Olds-mobile mechanically perfect." Another ad touted the Curved-Dash as "the original and best [automobile]. Noiseless, odorless, speedy, sturdy, safe ... flexible in gear, responds instantly to the will of the operator. Gets up and down stairs, and stops anywhere along the way."
The Curved-Dash also changed, if not very much, receiving a six-inch longer wheelbase and a bigger-bore seven-bhp engine for 1904, when it was redesignated Model 6-C (previously Model R). The price was still $650, but a pert $850 light-delivery "express" version arrived, and there was even a $450 "railway inspection" model with appropriate train-track wheels.
But bigger, more powerful cars were increasingly on the scene, and the Curved-Dash couldn't last forever. Ransom Olds disagreed, however, and departed the company in 1904, leaving money man Fred Smith to bring out the costlier, more elaborate Oldsmobiles he favored. These were just Curved-Dash variations at first, but two-cylinder cars bowed in 1906. By the time the last Curved-Dash was built, in 1907, Olds was offering four-cylinder cars and readying its first sixes.
Upshot Ransom ended up treading this same path when he moved -- literally down the street -- to start the Reo Motor Car Company in late 1905. Reo, a name obviously derived from Ransom's initials, was soon outselling Olds Motor Works, and would go on to become a major industry power, only to expire as an automaker in the Depression. Oldsmobile, meantime, fell from the number one sales spot after 1905 -- ironically, just as the ditty "In My Merry Oldsmobile" was becoming a hit -- and has not reclaimed it since.
But the happy little Curved-Dash had saved Oldsmobile from an early grave while establishing a reputation that served the make well for years afterward. In fact, the Curved-Dash is still sometimes trotted out when the Oldsmobile Division of General Motors wants to remind people of its long history as an automotive pioneer. Any why not? Few makes can claim a more felicitous start.
On our final page, you will find the specifications for the 1901-1907 Oldsmobile Curved-Dash.