Known as the 'Curved Dash' for obvious reasons, Ransom Eli Olds's gasoline-powered runabout was first offered for sale in 1901, following a fire at the factory that had destroyed every other prototype. Although conceived as a runabout for local trips, the Curved Dash proved equally adept at longer journeys, as evidenced by Eugene Hammond and Lester Whitman's epic transcontinental crossing of the USA in 1903, the first by a small car. Prior to that, Roy Chapin had driven a Curved Dash from Detroit to the New York Automobile Show in 1901, while in 1905 two examples 'Old Steady' and 'Old Scout' made another successful trip across the USA, travelling from New York to Portland, Oregon.
These formidable achievements had a powerful effect on sales. Over 11,000 of the three Curved Dash models ('R', '6C' and 'B') were constructed before production ceased in 1907, making it the first volume-produced American automobile. The Model 'R' runabout was powered by a single-cylinder, 1.6-litre engine of 114x152mm bore/stroke, mounted horizontally at the rear and producing 4½ hp at 600rpm. Later '6C' and 'B' models benefited from a more-powerful (7hp) 1.9-litre engine and all featured two-speed transmission and chain final drive.
Several improvements to the design were made during the course of production, but the engine's basic layout remained unchanged. Two mechanically operated overhead valves were set side-by-side at 90 degrees to the cylinder axis, and the rocker arms had roller ends. An ignition contact-breaker was mounted on the end of the camshaft, and sparks provided by a trembler coil. By 1902, the mixer-type carburettor had been replaced by a float-less design, while a manually adjustable valve in the exhaust system vented exhaust gases via the silencer box or more or less straight to the atmosphere, the two settings presumably being intended for town and country use respectively. Cooling water was contained in a reservoir above the engine and circulated by a crankshaft-driven pump, mounted on the side of the chassis. The radiator's copper piping wound its way back and forth beneath the floor.
Despite appearances to the contrary, the suspension's leaf-springs which linked the front and rear axles were not true half-elliptics like those fitted to the later model 'B' cars. On the 'R' and '6C' models, only the bottom leaf ran from front to rear, so it would be more accurate to describe these as four quarter-elliptics. Steering was by means of a tiller, a common enough method in the early 1900s, while there was a choice of brakes: one acting on the transmission, the other on the differential. The wheels were un-braked.
Robust, well-engineered and relatively simple to maintain, the Curved Dash Olds is a popular choice among enthusiasts seeking their first London-Brighton car. They are very good value for money when compared with the alternatives and are relatively easy to drive: possessing adequate power, a simple gearshift and light, precise steering. There are currently 120-or-so examples listed in the VCC's Members Handbook.
This 7hp Runabout was imported from the USA in 1994 and previously formed part of the renowned Michael Timms collection before being sold to Mr Jim Lunnon of Buxted, East Sussex in 1999. Mr Lunnon successfully completed several London-Brighton Runs with the Oldsmobile (known as 'Ernestine', see account on file) and eventually sold it to Mrs Rosemary Throssell of Lewes, East Sussex in 2011.
Easy to start and running quietly, the Olds is described as in generally good condition and has an entry in this year's London-Brighton Veteran Car Run (number '408'). The car is offered with VCC dating certificate (number '2108'), Swansea V5C document and a substantial file of history.