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#147;WHEN R.E. OLDS AFTER STRANGE ELECTRIC

Written by Donald and Kenneth

The Olds Motor Vehicle was founded August 21, 1897. Executive Officers were L. Smith, his two sons, Fred L. and and Ransom E. Olds. While the new building was being constructed in R.E. plunged into the of a line of gasoline-powered vehicles to be by the new firm. After spending money and over a year of R.E. was forced to re-think his vehicle program.

His initial were found to be too mechanically not particularly dependable, and so expensive few, if any, were Unproven vehicles selling at the end of the price range obviously t have wide appeal for the buying public in 1898/99.

The s re-evaluated plans called in for developing a one-cylinder gasoline-powered that was to sell in the $1000 range. This proved to be a and difficult task. Even at the price, sales were few and far

In time however, this developed into the world Curved Dash Oldsmobile. By achieving a $650 selling this model soared to sales success in the months the March 9, 1901 factory

A second, much less-known by R.E. at this same was his decision to make what he city vehicles powered by Though previously rejected by he now reasoned that a line of could quickly be put on the market, as were to be primarily assembled proven components that planned to purchase from manufacturers. The electrics would reach a segment of the buying not at all interested in owning a gasoline-powered Well over half of the vehicles registered in America in were electric.

Consequently, the market for the sales of vehicles envisioned by Olds to be reasonable in hindsight. Further, any generated from their would do much to soothe the flow worries of his backers, and would provide the needed for him to bring to market his second of less expensive and simpler to gasoline vehicles.

The new electric was quickly put into operation, and in a time, several electrics assembled, tested, and offered for Although found to be very easy to operate and of high construction, the necessarily high price drastically limited sales appeal. With a price of over $1600 for the costly model, the Olds were not cheap by any standards of the Still, R.E. saw enough potential for them that the Company placed several orders for electric parts and

Also, a large area on the floor of the factory was outfitted the equipment needed to assemble a number of electric vehicles.

as significant production of electric was getting underway, disaster the entire automobile operation of the renamed Olds Motor On March 9, 1901, the factory was totally destroyed by fire. all but one of the existing Old s vehicles, both and electrics, were destroyed in the

This catastrophe brought an and total end to R.E. s hopes for a successful line of electric

Some post-fire historians stated that there is no evidence that any Olds were ever sold. also point out that knowledgeable, first hand have stated that a handful of electrics at best ever produced. Thus, make the case that the project was not, and never had (even in R.E. s mind) a and all out attempt to produce and sell an and significant number of electric They quote the fact (in 1954,) Theo Barthel, s official book-keeper in 1901, that he recorded a total of 5 electrics on the official company report for the year of 1900.

often quoted is Fred s 1928 published account proclaimed that R.E. did Chase after strange Gods for a short while, and may even sold one or two of what obviously, and in hindsight, perceived to be a and ill-conceived undertaking.

These draw the conclusion that the electric project was at best, a minor footnote in Oldsmobile s and storied history and is not important to warrant more than a mention in passing. Other compelling evidence, more un-covered or re-discovered, calls for a different and possibly more conclusion.

The following brief of events in the Olds electric story are presented in as accurate a order as can be yet determined, and will to shed new light on the Olds vehicles themselves. It will expand their significance in the history of Oldsmobile vehicle

A pre-1901 Olds sales shows many fanciful renditions of a number of never and obviously never built Of the many fanciful artist that are included in this only two drawings do closely actual vehicles under by R.E. They are a four electric Cabriolet and a small powered Runabout that is having a straight dash configuration.

There are no prices or texts covering either of vehicles included in this catalogue. If the Olds Motor had any other saleable gasoline vehicles ready to market, t they logically have pictured in this catalogue?

A pre-1901 sales catalogue shortly after the fanciful mentioned above) features Olds on the cover. He is shown at the of an electric Stanhope. Also inside the catalogue are pictures and covering two electric vehicles.

quite possibly for the first several pictures of prototype Dash gasoline vehicles are as well.


A pre-1901 one page price sheet that the two-passenger Stanhope model at and the five-passenger Phaeton model at $1750. A number of gasoline-powered vehicles are also listed at ranging from a low of $1000 for a runabout to $2,750 for a four Brougham. Obviously the new lower gasoline powered vehicles as by R.E. aren t up and running or offered to the public as of yet.

A 1900 dated trade article states that Motor Works has placed a order for batteries with the and Sigler firm of Cleveland,

In 1900, the company at both the and Cleveland Auto Shows a Stanhope electric. R.E. takes the vehicle to the Chicago The vehicle is given very reviews by the automotive reporters the two shows.

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Doesn t it stand to that Olds would shown their proposed new of gasoline vehicles at these as well if they were for production?

The fairly recent and identification of a number of actual Olds factory photographs show a number of electric (certainly more than being tested and driven on the River island of Belle A close study of these identifies at least 7, and perhaps electric vehicles existing in

A newspaper account appearing one day the factory fire quotes Automobile Department Superintendent Grant Murray as saying over 20 electrics, either or in varying stages of assembly destroyed in the fire. He further that a large amount of parts and materials stored at the were also destroyed. One interesting statement of Murray is one Olds electric vehicle the fire because it was being by an Olds official and therefore was not at the site.

There exists a photograph of a Olds electric Phaeton driven in a Detroit parade in of 1901. R.E. Olds is at the and Fred Smith is his fellow

This is some four after the fire.

In the 1960s an vehicle is recovered from a in Lansing, Michigan. It is subsequently as an Olds electric Phaeton. A of this newly found and sole-surviving Olds electric much about the fine and high quality workmanship R.E. lavished on his line of vehicles. To begin with, bought the high styled and executed bodies for his electrics one of the leading body firms in the Sievers and Erdman Coach Company. The bodies were with patent leather and dashboards; nickel trim on all hardware and top quality goatskin upholstery.

The highly lacquered wooden bodies featured gold hand striping and contrasting purple cloth bands along all exposed edging.

The mechanical features of the included: instruments by Weston; by the Eddy Company of Windsor, hard-rubber tires by Goodyear Company; top grade Sarvin and hubs; and an Olds designed and controller unit for changing Showing nice attention to details, the control arm and the tiller furnished with sterling accented ebony handles. In a high quality, beautifully vehicle that puts to the contention that the line of electrics was only developed as a and cut rate proposition. That it did not and succeed sales wise was a

It died principally because of the not because of any inherent weakness wise in it s make-up. But for the fire, it likely that it could successfully found it s own segment of the and thus co-existed with Curved Dash gasoline

Obviously, the entire history of the electric vehicle project is far complete at this time. All of this article are invited to feedback covering new or corrected concerning the Olds electric presented in this article.

history shows the demise of all electric vehicle companies was a few short years down the the Olds electric could certainly have had more a couple of good years of at the turn of the century. The sudden and overwhelming success of the Curved Oldsmobile immediately after the left Olds with no to even consider re-introducing the or any other model. Thus, fine car, like of other American vehicles, into almost total

It is gone but should not be forgotten.

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