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Top Speed in 1925

I just finished listening to the show where the caller asked about top speeds on highways in 1925. I wasn’t around then but I do listen to an old time radio show that plays radio commercials from the 1920, 30’s, etc. There is one commercial for Goodyear tires talking about having a blow-out at “today’s top speed of 35 mph”. I remember asking my father about how fast cars could go then. He told me that they could go very fast, 60+, but it was just insane to do that because the roads were not as good as today, but the tires were horrible. Im guessing that you would not want to assume that you could average 40 mph from kansas to chicago.

A classmate of mine in the 50s had a late 20s Model A Ford, which he kept in good shape, as he workded in a garage in his spare time.

The top speed of this car was 60 mph, and at 45 it was working hard.

I’m 70. My father used to tell about going from Chicago to St Joe, Mich. in an Oakland in the 20’s in a day or day and one half. About 80 miles today. Paved and unpaved roads, right angle turns, slow traffic ahead, farm equip. etc and lots of tires changes, as in patching inner tubes.

I got to chat with some guy who had fully restored model T’s once. I asked them how fast the cers could go. One of their wives pointed out that the question should be how fast can they stop. The answer is not very. Braking systems in th '20s were pretty poor.

Back in those days, there was a much greater difference in the top speed potential between cheap cars and expensive cars than there is nowadays. The garden-variety cheaper cars strained to go more than 45 mph, whereas someone driving a Peerless, Packard, Pierce-Arrow, Locomobile, Lincoln, Cadillac, Imperial 80 or other high-priced car could–in theory–drive with ease at 60 mph.

In fact, those luxury marques could achieve 70-80 mph, even though there was really no place where they could be driven at that speed given the roads of those days. And, if one was to take them up to that speed, a blow-out would undoubtedly follow shortly, due to the construction of the tires.

The bottom line is that the common denominators with virtually all cars in those days was the pathetic nature of both their brakes and their tires. Yes, a few cars had hydraulic 4-wheel brakes, but even those more advanced braking systems were not really capable of stopping a car in any kind of reasonable distance.

So–the reality of motoring in those days was that most folks didn’t drive their cars faster than 35-40 mph. Any sustained speed faster than 35-40 mph was truly unsafe in those days of narrow roads, unbanked curves, poorly equipped cars, and a relative absence of road warning signs.

I got a laugh out of C&C’s answer to that question: 75 miles on the back roads of Kansas in 1925 would take quite a bit more than 1 1/2 hours. I’d guess 30 mph average, so 2 1/2 hours, easy. As others have said, tires were much worse, and in '25 the roads would be, too. Unless they were desperately fleeing something, they wouldn’t be pushing 50 mph.

My Dad’s family bought their first car, a new Model T Ford in 1922 when my Dad was 18. On a long, slightly downhill stretch of road with the family of 6 in the car, he got it up to 49 miles per hour.

Back in those days, a “super highway” was one paved lane. When you met another car, one car or the other pulled off onto the berm. A decent road was gravel and some roads were just two ruts that you followed. My Dad reported that if you averaged 25-30 miles per hour, you were doing well. His family made the trip in the Model T from Rock Island, Illinois to Southern Minnesota every summer. The trip took 2 days, camping out overnight along the way.

As were suspensions.

Even into the early 1950’s, there were some pickup trucks that would do well to go 60 mph. I had a one ton 1950 Chevrolet 3800 pickup truck that I’ll bet would be hard pressed to go 60. I never knew because the speedometer was broken the whole time I owned the truck. The Studebaker pickup trucks with the 169 cubic inch Champion engine were screaming at 45 mph back in the late 1940’s. I think that the top speed on a 1949 Nash 600 may have been just close to 70 mph. A friend of mine bet me that my 1947 Pontiac wouldn’t go over 65. I won the bet–I coaxed it up to 72 mph. It’s no wonder that people thought the 1932 Ford V-8 would really fly. It probably could hit 80 mph.

You know this really all should be under “The Show”.

Keep in mind that the 1925 Buick in question was a lot higher line car than a Model T. The Ford had a single brake band that applied pressure to a drum that rotated with the output shaft of the transmission. By acting on that drum, ONLY the rear wheels were used for braking. In some instances when the brake band was worn, it was common practice to apply the REVERSE pedal. Yes the transmission was pedal and lever operated. It was not good for the tranny, but it would stop the car more quickly in an emergency.

The 1925 Buick would have had four wheel brakes, but they were mechanical, not hydraulic. Buick did not use “juice brakes” until 1933. Ford held out with mechanical brakes until 1939. A lot of earlier Fords have been converted to hydraulic brakes, including my 1930 Model A Sport Coupe. They were a GREAT improvement.

As far as the caller’s question about how long it would take to get from Emporia KS to Manhattan KS in 1928, I’m not sure, but I am certain that there were no paved highways that extended very far from either town in those days. A lot of city streets were not even paved. Those that were were usually brick. Even US 50, which was not known as US 50 in those days, was only paved a few miles east and west of Emporia. The roads in and out of Manhattan KS were improved by gravel. My father was a student there in the late 1920s and early '30s. He commuted the 160 miles to his boyhood home by train on the few ocaisions that he went home during the school year. VERY few students had cars. Shoot, a lot of their parents still farmed with horses. He only had one friend who had a car. It was a year old Model “A” Ford that his parents gave him as a HS graduation present in 1929.

Here is a link to a 1926 map of Kansas: You can zoom it for detail.

My guess is that a trip from Emporia to Manhattan KS would have easily taken three to four hours in those days. Flat tires were quite common. Fourteen second pit stops were not. If the author wants to add a dose of reality to her book, she might add a flat or two which the girls would probably have to fix and pump up by hand themselves. That’s not “put on the clincher rimmed spare” that’s fix the flat! There wasn’t likely to be a lot of traffic out there to solicit for help. Triple A couldn’t be called with a cell phone, and battery operated compressors had not been invented.

I’d love to read the book when it’s done.

By one ton, are you talking about a small flat bed truck? I thought they were still 3600s like the 3/4 tons. They were rated at 105 HP at 3600 RPM. The 1/2 tons were 3100s, rated as having less HP at 3100 RPM and called 3100s. We had a 3/4 ton when I was a young driver. I got it up to 75 once, but the oil pressure suffered from my excursion. I know my dad was leery of letting me take it on long drives after he dropped the pan and removed a shim or two to tighten the babbit bearings. 60 MPH was OK. 50 was better.

As for the Nash 600, I still have one from 1950. They were renamed “Statesman” that year, but were the same car. The 600 designation came from Nash’s claim that the car would go 600 miles on a tank of gas. I actually drove mine 90 MPH shortly after I bought it in 1975. I don’t think I’d try 90 today, but in 3rd gear overdrive it is comfortable at 70. So is my '50 Ambassador. Perhaps the 600 in your memory was an automatic. Those dual range Hydromatics did sap the power.

I live in Emporia and my son attends K-State in Manhattan. We’ve made the trip countless times and it usually takes about 1 hour and 15 minutes at today’s speeds and highways. It’s only been in recent years the highways have been paved. Before that, the flint rock (Flint Hills Region) on the roads was a huge problem for tires…

Do you find it faster to go through Americus like I used to 40 years ago, or do you go US-50 to K-177 and north. The girls in Emporia were always prettier and more plentiful. It was a “teacher’s college” after all…

My 1950 Chevrolet pick-up was the 3800 series 1 ton. It did have a pick-up bed, but it was longer than the bed on a 3100 half ton or the 3600 3/4 ton. It seemed to me that the engine was rated at 92 horsepower, but after all these years, I could be wrong. I do know that the GVW was 8800 pounds.

Nash came out with the Airflyte design in 1949 and continued the model names of 600 and Ambassador. The 600 had a 172 cubic inch flathead engine while the Ambassador had a 234 cubic inch overhead valve engine. Both engines were 6 cylinder. The same body style continued with slight modifications in 1950. However, the 600 series was renamed the Statesman. The engine displacement of the flathead engine increased from 172 cubic inches to 184 cubic inches. The small Rambler was introduced and it used the 172 cubic inch flathead engine. The General Motors Hydramatic transmission was introduced on the 1950 Ambassador. In 1951, the Hydramatic became available on the Statesman.
I was guessing somewhat at the top speed of the 1949 Nash 600. It may have been closer to 80 miles per hour.

I really liked the looks of the Airflyte Nashes back in that time period. The design was to reduce wind resistance and the Nash had a lower coefficient of drag than any other car on the market. It may be that in good tune, a 1950 Statesman could hit 90 mph.

As I remember from road tests, these car had top speeds of somewhere around 83 mph; they dragged a lot of weight around for their engine size and power. A Chevy stove bolt 6 had a top speed of about 83-85 mph as well.

Fords were faster with their V8 (flatheads), and had a top speed of 88 mph. Speedometers were wildly optimisic in those days, and Ford owners I played pool with swore the needle “swung” to 100 mph on the straightaway. At least it kept these guys from speeding.

The Buick Century, introduced in the mid 50s, actually could reach 100 mph with their new V8.

I recently lived in Emporia, Kansas, and frequently drove to locations north of there (e.g. Topeka, Maple Hill, Alma, Paxico). That region is the Flint Hills, so driving involves a lot of up and down hill work, winding roads, and sharp turns. Also, looking at the 1926 road map provided in a previous post, it is clear that there were no major roads that would have been a straight shot between Emporia and Manhattan. Using the 1926 map’s legend indicating “unsurfaced main routes,” which presumably would be faster than the “other thoroughfares,” I would probably go from Emporia to Admire, to Eskridge, to Halifax, to Alma, to Wamego, pick up the “Macadam and gravel road” in Wamego and take it through St. George to Manhattan. That route, according to Mapquest, is 85 miles, and is estimated at 2 hours and 3 minutes. I know Mapquest time estimates tend to be longer than reality, but it doesn’t sound too far off to me based on my experiences of driving many of those roads under modern conditions with paved roads, highway signs, warning signs, etc. The hills, winding roads, sharp turns, and frequent slowdowns as you pass through small towns makes it hard to average 60 mph on those roads today under modern conditions. I would expect that it would be much slower in the 1928 setting with dirt roads, worse tires, and the other factors other posters have mentioned. And don’t forget occasional farm machinery, or even animal-drawn equipment on the roads back then. And if it’s winter and there’s snow on unplowed dirt roads, or its been rainy and the roads are muddy?

Anyway, I found this question interesting, but I agree that I think the time such a trip would take would be longer than estimated on the show. The question doesn’t seem to depend on the mechanical capabilities of the cars so much as the limitations of what roads existed in rural Kansas and the conditions of those roads in 1928. I was in library school at Emporia State University, and I worked in the University Archives, so I’m familiar with a fair amount of the history of what was the Kansas State Teachers College of Emporia in 1928. Sorority girls on a road trip with a bootlegger? How scandalous! I’m very curious about Beth’s book.

Actually a little before 1925, but makes for amusing reading nonetheless…

“In fact, those luxury marques could achieve 70-80 mph, even though there was really no place where they could be driven at that speed given the roads of those days. And, if one was to take them up to that speed, a blow-out would undoubtedly follow shortly, due to the construction of the tires.”

This was the problem…There were very few miles of paved roads in 1925… But this was the “Gilded Age” and they were paving them fast…There were NO V-8 Fords in 1925…Car wrecks, even at 35-40 were often lethal…Nobody cared…Humanity was emerging from The Dark Ages! Life was GOOD!

I couldn’t begin to imagine how long it’d take those cars to get up to 30~60 mph. I remember watching the original Gone in 60 seconds where a guy commented he tuned his old 50s era v8 Thunderbird(or whatever he was racing) to make it fast with a 0 to 50 time of 12 seconds. My 4cyl Civic would do 0-60 in just under 10 seconds

"You know this really all should be under “The Show”.

Thank you, weblackys, for allowing this thread to appear in both places.