Get a taste of 1904 motoring with this Curved Dash Oldsmobile
Henry Ford’s Model T held the honor of longest production run (at least until the VW Beetle rolled around). However, the Model T wasn’t the first mass-produced vehicle to trundle off an assembly line. That title belongs to the Curved Dash Oldsmobile, which first hit the roads seven years earlier, in 1901.
Though its curved dash derived its name from a sleigh, this open-top Oldsmobile runabout isn’t exactly your ideal winter chariot. However, if you’re on the Canadian side of the border and fancy a generous dose of eccentricity while puttering around town, this 1904 Curved Dash 6C might be calling your name.
This refurbished example currently stands at $31,000 with three days left on Bring a Trailer and, whether in practicality or price, is now primarily a collector’s piece. When new, however, Curved Dash Olds brought combustion-powered independence to many because of their accessible, $650 price tag. (Today, that’s under $30K in Canadian dollars, and sub-$20,000 in U.S. currency.) For comparison, the first Model Ts would ring in at a couple hundred dollars more in 1908; once various wrinkles were ironed out in production, that figure would drop.
So what exactly is this thing, anyways? It’s a wooden body finished in fresh, glossy black and sporting carmine red trim. Metal fenders shield you from various dirt and gravel flung by the 28-inch, artillery-style wheels, which are finished most elegantly with gold pinstriping. Even the axles get decorative gold rectangles on their glossy black finish. Bet you haven’t seen that level of detail recently.
The driver sits on the right side of the two-seat, leather-trimmed bench, facing not a wheel but a steering tiller. Yes, there are pedals for the throttle and brakes to stop and go, but before you do either of those things, there’s an entire litany of levers and buttons and cranks to follow. Prime the carb, get the oil flowing, put the car in neutral, crank the wooden-handled lever, remove the handy stick you’ve jammed onto the decompression button, and—you’re running, not driving. You’ll need to figure out the spark advance and compression release levers mounted alongside the seat and acquaint yourself with a two-speed planetary transmission. Which also comes with reverse, once you get the hang of that tiller. Then you’re driving!
Curved Dash Oldsmobiles sported a grand total of one cylinder, but happily this 1904 model got a significant bump in displacement (95.4 to 117.8 cubic inches) for a final output of 7 hp. All seven horses chuff along via a gravity-fed brass carburetor, and power is sent to the rear wheels via chain drive (which you’ll need to lubricate before each outing). Leaf springs run the entire length of the body, carriage-style, plus a smaller pair mounted on the front axle under the dash.
We’re not exactly sure how many miles are on this grand dame, but it stayed with its original family until 1982, and clearly has been respectfully maintained. The restoration was completed in 2006 by Fawcett Motor Carriage Company of Whitby, Ontario, with the help of Curved Dash Oldsmobile Club founder Gary Hoonsbeen. The car currently resides in Batiscan, Quebec, Canada and is a perfect ticket to delighted, mystified stares when chug-chugging onto a vintage car show—or simply through your downtown.