Over the years there have been a multitude of products that may have seemed like a good idea at the time, at least to someone, but in retrospect appear to be little more than a bizarre practical joke. Since it has played such an important role in society, for almost a century, the automobile makes for an excellent case study of such contrivances.
W.F. Drake was not a man who believed in putting all of his eggs in one basket. Hence his company, Drake Motor & Tire Manufacturing Company, was the picture of diversity. The company produced tires, automobile bodies, whole automobiles, trucks, tractors, rubber by-products and sheet metal items. Not surprisingly capital was spread quite thin and as a result the company was but a flash in the pan, 16 months from open to close, and only a special built car, with polished aluminum hood, for silent screen star Mildred Reardon, survives to mark its existence.
Then there was the motorized chair for those “in need of comfortable transportation for short journeys.” Produced in Chicago the motorized chair was just what it said it was – a single passenger, three wheeled, battery-powered chair. Bodies were available in metal, oak or “stylish rattan”.
Take two eccentric brothers, both master mechanics, add a life long love for the works of Jules Verne and stir in the incredible carnival like atmosphere that was the auto industry during the first decades of this past century and what do you get? The Hungerford Rocket!
Daniel and Floyd Hungerford, of Elmira, New York, were well known in their hometown, as well in surrounding communities, for their mechanical prowess long before they had left their teen years behind. So there was little surprise when the brothers opened a machine shop, became quite successful in their chosen field of endeavor or decided to build an automobile of their own design.
Their first, and only vehicle, began life as a 1921 Chevrolet. The addition of an incredibly advanced, streamlined teardrop shaped body was but the most obvious modification. Under the futuristic body there was a complicated three-speed gearbox, and dual clutch, system that allowed the driver to operate the car in conventional mode, with a highly modified Chevrolet engine providing power, or in rocket mode that gave the vehicle a comfortable cruising speed of more than 70 miles per hour.
First tested in 1929 the vehicle was driven thousands of miles as the brothers vainly tried to sell the concept of aerodynamic body design and rocket propulsion. The only regret ever voiced by the brothers was in the choice of chassis. Daniel once lamented that if they could have used a Duesenberg or Locomobile frame they would have been able to use two or more rockets instead of one.
The Stenard, apparently only one was ever built, was so unique it is best to allow the words of A.F. Stenard to describe it. “The concept is a locomotive for the road. Every locomotive feature has a part to play in its operation. The cylinder and connecting rods, to the rear wheels, that correspond to the driving parts of a steam locomotive are actual pumps that compress air to 125 lb. of pressure in the tank behind the cab. This compressed air is used to inflate tires and blow the whistle. The “steam dome” in front of the cab affords access to the gasoline tank. The “sand dome” provides an opening for ventilating the motor. The “smoke stack” is the opening to the radiator. “
The Stenard’s engine was a 40 horsepower four cylinder of unknown origin. The car made is debut in 1917 and during the following seven years it was driven to New York City, from Chicago, on several occasions. Then, in late 1924 the bizarre Stenard “road locomotive” disappeared, never to be seen again, into the mists of time with the announcement that the vehicle, with A.F. Stenard at the wheel, was about to embark on a trek to sunny California.
Unique ideas and strange visions of what the automobile could, or should, be were not limited to the early infancy of the automobile nor were major automobile manufacturers immune.
In the mid 1960’s Chrysler spent untold millions on developing a practical turbine, much like that of modern jets, engine for automobile use.
Henry Ford, during the late 1930’s and early 1940’s, experimented heavily with a plastic type product produced from soybeans. While radio knobs and like were among the more realistic applications for the new material Ford even went so far as to design, and build, entire automobile bodies for experimental purposes.
Stories abound about magical fuel systems, kept hidden by major auto producers and oil companies, which enable automobiles to travel hundreds of miles on a gallon of gas or even on water. Truth is stranger than fiction and today, as I write this; experimental busses that separate hydrogen from water for fuel are being tested.
At some point in the future will this be viewed as one of those things that seemed like a good idea at the time or will it be seen as the idea that delivered us from our dependence on dinosaur blood? As with many of the ideas from the infancy of the automobile only time will tell.


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