Self-driving cars are either the best or worst idea ever devised, depending on whom you ask. But having cars perform their own maintenance while you drive them is an unquestionably fantastic idea. Who among us can argue with timesaving technology that banishes under-car toil and maintenance into the past at the push of a button? No one, that’s who.
Enter the Auto-Lube system, or Automatic Multi-Luber, which was installed as an option on late-1950s Lincoln-Mercury cars. One touch of the dash-mounted button and Auto-Lube accurately distributed grease to front end components while you hurtled down the highway. A comforting green light signaled the process was complete.
As automotive front suspensions rolled beyond the straight axle into full independence, the number of joints increased, and lubrication requirements grew more demanding. By the 1950s, front suspensions were a morass of knuckles, pitman arms, ball joints, tie-rods and springs, all directionally controlled by a steering box. With this newfound sophistication and luxurious ride came complexity and ever more grease points. Regular application of grease kept these joints quiet and prevented the gnashing and resulting wear of parts allowing continued safe and trouble-free motoring.
Regular trips to the local mechanic for service or grumbling around on your garage floor with a grease gun kept front ends together. But hitting every zerk fitting with grease was a pain and often neglected on the consumer side. The process was made obsolete in the mid-’50s thanks to a partnership between Ford Motor Company and the Lincoln Industrial Corporation — the company that invented the lever-action grease gun.
The Auto-Lube system sent grease from a reservoir under the hood through a network of lines to each grease point on the front suspension. All the driver needed to do was push the button once a day while driving, and ball joints, tie rod ends and idler arms were supplied with a measured amount of fresh grease. The chassis lubricant reservoir supplied 250–300 applications and was easily swapped out when low or empty. Clunks, squeaks and undue component wear were suddenly things of the past. The dashboard lubrication system was also available separately for installation on late-model Fords and Chevrolets through authorized installers.
The Auto-Lube system may seem like a no-brainer given modern motoring’s demands, but it fell out of favor due to the usual cost constraints and consumer concerns. Slick ideas are best included at no extra charge.
Modern cars have banished front-end lubrication duties with ball joints and tie-rod ends that are theoretically lubricated for the life of the automobile or, less optimistically, the life of the component itself. Whether or not this zerk-free world plays out in practice also depends on whom you ask. The Lincoln Industrial Corporation still manufactures an impressive array of automatic lubrication products — just in case.