"Everyman's Car"

1908 Brush Runabout - National Automobile Museum

Part 2 of a three part installment by guest blogger, Flat Tire Jack:

Return to Gallery 1 to study the 1908 Brush Runabout.

A.P. Brush was an engineer of note in the pioneering days of automobile development. His contention was that the successful $500 transportation tool should not be a large car made small but rather a fresh design with low weight and simplicity as the guiding force. “Everyman’s Car” as he termed it, should have a wood frame, wood axles, coil springs in all four corners, a single cylinder engine, two speeds forward and seating for two under a surrey top with a platform out back for freight or in a pinch, the mother-in-law. Honest! Windshields, headlights, seat belts, heaters, and USB ports would have to wait for another time.

Old A.P. hit the nail on the head. Production ran from 1907 through 1912 with over 20,000 units produced before his financier swept the Brush Runabout into a new venture, United States Motor Company. U.S.M.C. was to compete with the emerging multi-line auto companies but insufficient funding led to its early demise.

What were these little tiddlers like back then? Could a Brush roadster really replace the horse and buggy? Were the critics’ chidings “Wooden frame, wooden axles, wouldn’t run!” true? Would Old Dobbin keep his job?

A.P. knew a thing or two about this emerging market. He was instrumental in the engineering developments of the Oakland Motorcar Company and of the one cylinder Cadillac before starting his own venture. He placed his bet and took it to the winner’s window. His ingenious single cylinder engine was economical in operation delivering 40+ miles per gallon. It was reliable as proven in numerous tests and events completed back then with perfect scores for endurance and economy. The scourge and stigma of one cylinder engines then was an uncomfortable vibration. A.P. solution? A counter rotating balance gear to cancel out harsh vibrations. This was 1907 mind you, significantly ahead of Porsche’s balance shaft as utilized on their four cylinder inline engines in the 80’s. Great stuff.

The 10 horse power single also delivered a respectable 20-25 mph pace in high gear all day long that would keep Dobbin back in a trail of dust from this roadster. No vet visits, no stalls to clean up on Saturdays, no flies buzzing around all summer long; things were looking up. Note: Dobin, exit, stage right. Were these things actually useful though? Could a man actually go anywhere or do anything with a Brush Roadster? Let’s take a look at history for that answer.

Enter one Sid Furgeson, “A Real Aussie Bloke” as he is known today, and navigator Francis Birtles. In 1912, they successfully trans-navigated Australia in his Brush west to east across the expanses from Perth to Sydney. Last year the Veteran Car Club of Australia repeated the feat with a group of Brush runabouts and other makes to celebrate the centennial of the initial crossing. Proving they still have what it takes.

An example of an American case for the Brush Roadster’s utility and reliability is contained in the history of the Abernathy Boys.

See you next time.

Photo of Sid, Rex and Francis in the Australian outback (Photo Courtesy of VintageCarHeritage.com)