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1909 Cartercar Model H Touring - Sold
VMC Stock ID: 132175
Mileage: 3539
VIN: H980
Engine: 201 cubic inch inline-4
Transmission: Carter Friction Drive
Gear Ratio: N/A
Wheelbase: 100 inches
Wheels: 33x3.5
Tires: 33x4 Universal blackwall
Exterior Color: Gray
Interior Color: Black leather
  • Vehicle Details & History
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1909 Cartercar Model H Touring

It has been in the same family since the 1950s, and it’s obvious that its authentic looks have always been prized above the need for a flashy restoration.
J. J. Best Banc & Co.

In the early days of motoring, manufacturers sprang up almost daily, either migrating from other industries or splitting off from existing companies. Enthusiastic entrepreneurs were eager to join the burgeoning auto industry and brought with them new ideas for a machine which did not yet offer any kind of accepted standards. Byron J. Carter left the Jackson Automobile Company and formed his own company, calling the product the Cartercar. The Cartercar’s claim to fame was the unique friction-drive transmission, perhaps an ancestor of today’s CVT and a stunningly simple solution to a complex problem in the early days of motoring. The transmission was so innovative that Cartercar was purchased by Billy Durant for General Motors, but by 1915, improvements in gearbox technology sadly made it obsolete and Cartercar disappeared forever.

This 1909 Cartercar Model H touring is one of perhaps 4 or 5 still in existence and remains in almost entirely original condition. It has been in the same family since the 1950s, and it’s obvious that its authentic looks have always been prized above the need for a flashy restoration. It has recently been recommissioned by noted brass car expert David Heinrichs of Heinrichs Vintage Car Shop, so it runs and drives remarkably well for a 103-year-old machine. Showing wonderful patina, including upholstery and a top that were replaced more than six decades ago, it is a fantastic example of one of the more interesting footnotes in American automotive history.

As far as we can discern, the gray paint on the bodywork of this Model H is completely original. It’s beyond being shined and buffed, but it’s tenaciously clinging to the bodywork, which is a combination of steel and wood. Most of the touring body is wood, and as such it remains in outstanding condition with no signs of rot or damage thanks to decades in protected, heated storage. The steel components, including the fenders and hood, are in similarly good shape, with even the bright red pinstripe clearly visible and accenting the body’s unique curves. The two rear doors fit well and latch securely, the hood doesn’t vibrate or rattle, and the car still feels tight and well-assembled as it ambles down the road. Up close you’ll note some flaking, which is to be expected, but given the hobby’s appreciation for originality, it would be a crime to repaint this car.

As expected of a brass-era car, there is a lot of brass trim, all nicely preserved with a soft patina. A weekend of dedicated polishing would easily bring back the luster, but as it sits today, it has a great all-of-a-piece look where no component out-shines any other. The headlights are still acetylene-fired with a tank mounted on the driver’s side running board, with the cowl lamps still fed by kerosene. All the light fixtures are in excellent shape, although one of the headlights has a crack in its lens, but fortunately it’s just simple plate glass that’s easily replaced. The original honeycomb-style radiator shows evidence of leaks in the distant past, but remains tight today and is topped by a vintage Boyce Moto-Meter that still works. And even the horn works with a jaunty “honk-honk!” whenever you squeeze the bulb.

According to the current owners, the black leather upholstery and long-grain vinyl top were replaced before their father acquired the car in the mid-1950s, yet it all remains in excellent condition. The seats look virtually untouched save for some mild discoloration around the edges, and the top remains supple enough to fold without worrying about damaging it. Original rubber floor mats are fully intact, and the wonderfully simple wooden dash and coil box are nicely finished. An accessory Stewart speedometer has been fitted, and shows 3539 miles, but there’s simply no way to know whether it is authentic. However, given that there is a “seasonal” trip odometer that only reads to 99 miles, it’s quite possible that cars of this vintage were never driven great distances. The gas tank lives under the front seat, while the rear seat offers modest storage behind a matching wood door. Accommodations are comfortable for four, tight for five, and the commanding driving position makes this car a lot of fun to drive.

Now you may be wondering about that unique Cartercar friction-drive transmission and how it works. There are plenty of resources out there that will explain its operation, and even if you are not familiar with early brass cars, you’ll be able to expertly pilot this Model H with just a 5-minute lesson. Controls are simple: the pedal on the right is the brake and the pedal on the left is the “clutch” that applies the driven disc to the flywheel. The lever to the right of the driver’s seat is the “gear shift” which moves the driven disc across the flywheel’s face to select the speed. The farther forward you push the gear lever, the “higher” gear ratio you select, and by pulling it all the way back, you move the disc to the other side of the flywheel for reverse. Select your “gear” and apply the clutch and the car moves. Release the clutch and it stops. Both the clutch and brake pedal have ratcheting locking mechanisms, so once you’re underway, you can lock the clutch in gear and focus on the road. Throttle and spark controls are on the steering wheel, and we’ve found that it’s typically best to set a single engine speed and adjust road speed using the transmission. In practice, it’s quite easy to master and requires no special knowledge or skills.

Mechanically, the Cartercar used a 201 cubic inch inline-four that was typical of the era, with two pairs of cylinders with side valves and a single updraft carburetor. Priming cups are included but we’ve found they aren’t needed if you give the engine a few gentle turns with the crank before engaging the ignition, but in the dead of winter 1909, they were surely a lifesaver. Dave Heinrichs was commissioned to bring the Cartercar out of its slumber and today the car starts with a single pull of the crank and settles into a sweet 300 RPM idle. It makes all the usual chugging mechanical sounds typical of an early brass car, and it’s remarkably smooth for such a simple machine. Like the Model T, cooling is by thermo-syphon, but it stays cool as long as you’re moving, and seems content to idle at low speeds almost indefinitely. The carburetor is gravity-fed, and the valves are exposed making it a neat educational experience to watch the Cartercar idle.

Starting is easy. Connect the battery in the running-board mounted battery box (there is no generator, so you’ll need to charge it periodically). Energize the ignition by turning the dash-mounted switch, and gently turn the crank a few times (remember to use a thumbless grip for safety!) and listen for the coils to buzz to tell you they’re working. One or two quick upward pulls on the crank is usually all it takes for the engine to spring to life with a subtle chug-chug-chug. Frankly, this is the easiest-starting brass car we’ve ever seen, a tribute to the rugged hardware, excellent care, and Mr. Heinrichs’s skill.

The friction-drive transmission works as it should, and the chain drive is silent thanks to a great deal of lubricant that bathes the entire assembly. It appears that lubrication is a total-loss system, so expect it to leak and keep a careful eye on oil levels, but it does not seem excessive. And given the car’s modest performance, the braking system is remarkably effective with its combination service and parking brake setup. The frame is wearing its original red paint, and the ornate black pinstriping throughout is a wonderful throwback to the carriage trade. The original wheels wear Universal-brand tires that are surely decades old, and it’s quite possible that the spare (made by the Falls Rubber Company of Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio) is original to the car. Don’t drive on it, but we’ve never heard of Falls Rubber Company, have you?

This car also includes an original owner’s manual, a small booklet full of dense text describing the operation of the Cartercar and all its features, including a tantalizing section called “Trouble: How to Locate and Eliminate It.” Perhaps it’s a bit of an exaggeration, but there’s wonderful verbiage like “Indeed, serious trouble with a Cartercar is a thing so remote that it need not be considered.”

Brass fans, this is a fantastic piece of automotive archeology in exceptionally well-preserved condition. The friction-drive transmission alone is worth the cost of admission, but in the bargain you get a rare and innovative machine that seems to run extremely well. Given the simplicity of its operation, it would be a fantastic brass car for the first-time hobbyist, and will surely be welcome at any event where its condition will be the source of endless wonder and speculation. From an era when practically everything was an innovation, the Cartercar stands out as a truly unique machine whose only flaw may have been being born too early.

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