Few would argue that the greatest pre-World War I automobile in existence is the 1907 Locomobile "Old Sixteen." This 120hp Loco was the first American car to be victorious in the Vanderbilt Cup race in Long Island, besting a field of the finest factory cars from around the globe. Old Sixteen survives to this day in its original condition and is the rolling epitome of the heroic era of motor racing.
Even without this racing success, Locomobile would still have been regarded as one of the finest cars of the period, made to uncompromising standards of quality and without concern for cost. Locomobile's most famous feature which exemplified the quality of its construction was its solid bronze crankcase.
Locomobile originally rose to prominence producing steam cars to the Stanley brothers' design. These small carriages were the best selling American automobiles of the time. Recognizing that the future would not involve steam, Locomobile hired the brilliant designer Andrew Riker to design a new line of gasoline automobiles. A new factory was established in Bridgeport, Connecticut and 1905 saw the introduction of its first Gasolene (Locomobile's literature used this spelling) range.
Riker's designs were heavily influenced by the European manufacturers of the day. These new gas Locomobiles were designed with performance and speed in mind, taking from Europe the Panhard system of the engine up front, transmission in the middle, and the drive at the rear wheels. Powering these cars was a lovely T-head four-cylinder motor. The T-head engine offered excellent flow characteristics and allowed the builder to use very large valves. All of these early models drove the power through dual chain drive rear ends. By 1908 a new, more advanced mid-size offering was needed to fill out the line. This need was answered with the Model 30, the small shaft drive model provided a template for a large luxury model that would be the flagship of the company till the mid 1920s, the Model 48.
The Locomobile Model 48 was designed by Andrew Riker and introduced in 1911. It would remain in production almost until the end of the marque’s existence, yet today very few survive. Of undoubted quality and construction, some maintain that the Model 48’s low survival rate was due to the quality materials lavished upon it by Riker and Locomobile management. Old Locomobile 48s were simply too valuable as scrap to be preserved as old automobiles.
The centerpiece of Riker’s Locomobile 48 was its 6-cylinder engine, a massive affair with bore and stroke dimensions of 4½” x 5½”. The iron T-head cylinders were cast in pairs and bolted to a bronze crankcase which contained a drop-forged alloy steel crankshaft that was both statically and dynamically balanced and rode in seven main bearings. An aluminum intake manifold mated up with a bronze-bodied carburetor while the gearbox casing was cast in manganese bronze. The exhaust valves were chrome-cobalt steel. Coil and battery ignition were transferred through a pair of 6-cylinder distributors.
The Locomobile Model 48’s chassis members were pressed from chrome-nickel steel, then heat treated and hot-riveted together, and rode on chrome-nickel-tungsten steel leaf springs—semi-elliptical in the front and 3/4 elliptical at the back. It stood by 4-speed transmissions to the very end even as other manufacturers went with 3-speed gearboxes for their high horsepower engines with massive torque.
There were no shortcuts taken in the Model 48’s materials, construction methods or finishes.
This Locomobile received custom coachwork from the famed Demarest Company of New York. The carriage maker turned coachbuilder had a long standing relationship with Locomobile, having produced bodies for their cars going back to 1910 and before. Early on, Demarest made a reputation for bodying fine imported cars that were shipped to America as chassis. One of the most notable surviving Demarest bodies adorns a Panhard & LaVasseur Type Q on display at the Owl’s Head Museum in Maine.
This “six-fender” town car embodies the best aspects of formal American coachwork of the day. The exotic six fender treatment has a wonderful carriage-like feel and the crisp brougham sides on the body show off the builder’s skill and flair. This style of coachwork was the most expensive available, costing more than three times as much as an open car. With the high price tag came hardware of exceptional quality. The windshield frame and wind wings, as well as the door handles and interior fittings, are as fine as you will see on a car of this era. This bodywork represents the pinnacle of hand-built custom coachwork, quality, and styling.
The Locomobile offered here presents well and is in nice condition. The nickel work is excellent and the interior is lovely with a wonderful wooden headliner. Although the paintwork is a bit dated, it shows well. Mechanically, the car starts easily and drives quite well. Bonhams’ personnel recently demonstrated the car and found it to be a strong performer with a tight, low-mileage feel.
Whether to tour, show, or own purely as sculpture, this Locomobile undoubtedly would be a wonderfully satisfying car to own. It’s a great example of the quality and artistic style of American coachwork of a bygone era.