Best of Deals Car Reviews Repair Shops Cars A-Z Radio Show

Locomobile: Talk about distracted driving!

I’m reading this detective novel “The Spy” by Clive Cussler, set around 1912 New York City/Washington DC area. His detective at one point has to get somewhere quickly so he hops into a 1906 Locomobile racing car, hosting a 16 liter 4 cylinder engine. Seriously, not making that up. 4 liters displacement per cylinder. My Corolla’s displacement (1.6 L) is less than half of just a single cylinder in the Locomobile. There’s more info about this interesting early car in the link below.

At one point the detective has to pump up the fuel pressure. What? I got to wondering what that meant. The link shows that the driver’s assistant (apparently driving this car was a 2-man job normally), the assistant had the job to keep the fuel tank pressurized to the proper psi by monitoring a gauge on the dash and when it got too low, hand pumping a gadget similar to a bicycle tire pump. You can see the air pump in the photo in the link, laying on the left side of the floor. The air pressure forced the fuel to flow from the gas tank to the carburetor. There’s also 4 oiler knobs on the dashboard. The assistant would have to pump those once in a while to keep the engine parts lubricated. A sole driver with no assistant would have quite a set of tasks to do, doing the jobs of both the fuel and oil pump, in addition to steering & watching where they are going. Braking, well let’s just say better to not presume applying the brakes would do much good. Sure seems like a fun car to drive, but talk about distracted driving :wink:

Besides pressurized fuel tanks, a very common method of supplying the fuel in the days before GM popularized the mechanical fuel pump in the 1930’s was the vacuum tank. There was a tank in the engine compartment, mounted up high. It was supplied with engine vacuum. That vacuum pulled fuel from the tank in the rear. There was a float valve in the tank that admitted vacuum to the tank when the fuel level dropped. Fuel was supplied from this tank to the carburetor by gravity. I’ve been told this system was troublesome at best.

Long time Clive Cussler fan. Quite a “Car Guy”.


Interesting! Always has fascinated me how early performance race cars could handle high speeds with the suspension, tires, steering, etc. of the time.

Side note, ooooh a Cussler novel I’ve missed…but not for long. :grin:

This was the reason early Indy cars had two people. That and to watch for overtaking cars. It was quite revolutionary when the first driver mounted a rear view mirror and went solo. Early race cars also used castor oil in the crankcase. It provided good lubrication but had to be drained after the race before it cooled and turned to jelly.

Manual pressurized gas AND oil tanks were common practice even in street cars back in the 1900’s.

As for big displacement race cars, it was the only way to make horsepower. 10, 12, 16 liters of displacement wasn’t uncommon. Even 21.7 liters

In 1913, Peugeot changed that with the first DOHC, 4 valve per cylinder 4 cylinder racing engine. 3.0 liters, 90 hp. Finished 2nd at the Indy 500 in 1914 beating the factory 5.65 liter entry and setting anew qualifying record of 99 mph.

Watch some of the racing movies from the early thirties, you will see the mechanic performing these duties while the driver concentrates on driving.

Just to correct some misinformation provided by Jay Leno, and to include some history that would have been relevant:

Princeton University’s colors are Orange and Black, not Yellow and Black. The official colors of the university are probably the result of NJ’s early connection with the Royal House of Orange-Nassau. In fact, the original building at the school is Nassau Hall. Hence, the “orange connection”.

Jay failed to mention the Roebling family’s business, prior to entering the automotive field. They were master metallurgists, and they revolutionized the building of bridges in The US during the 19th Century. Their most famous creation was The Brooklyn Bridge.


Ahh I love Clive Cussler novels, and particularly the classic cars that get featured in them!

Often the cover has a picture of Clive with the car mentioned in the novel.

1 Like

Most of the time the classic featured in the novel is from his own collection. His first main character Dirk Pitt only drove a car newer than about 1960 if it was from the motor pool (Jeep Cherokee’s mostly) and would just happen to know how to operate whatever antique car he came across during the plot of the novel. The Issac Bell series is the only one i haven’t read yet.

1 Like

In NUMA aqua

Yes I know, and I’m honestly rather envious of Clive’s collection! That J2X Allard (along with most of them honestly) is beautiful!!