While the cars were powered by a six-cylinder engine, power for the wheels was based upon the same electromagnetic principle that propelled the Battleship U.S.S. New Mexico.
Automobile author Henry B. Lent described the drive mechanism thus:The drive mechanism had no direct connection between the engine and the rear wheels. Instead of a flywheel, a generator and a horseshoe shaped magnet were attached to the rear of the engine’s crank shaft. On the forward end of the car’s drive shaft, was an electric motor with an armature fitted into an air space inside the whirling magnet. Electric current, transmitted by the engine’s generator and magnet attached to the armature of the electrical motor, providing the energy to turn the drive shaft and propel the engine’s rear wheels. Speed for the car was controlled by a small lever adjacent to the steering wheel.
The first Owen Magnetic was introduced at the 1915 New York auto show when Justus B. Entz‘s electric transmission was fitted to the Owen automobile: “R.M. Owen have leased the large new three story fireproof building at the corner of Fifth avenue and One Hundred and Forty-second street, New York, where they will build the new Owen Magnetic motor cars.” Walter C. Baker, of Cleveland, Ohio, owned the patents on the Entz transmission, thus each of the 250 Owen Magnetic automobiles produced in New York was built under license. The former Owen plant still exists and is presently a self-storage facility.
The car became as famous as the company’s clientele, which included Enrico Caruso and John McCormack. Owen Magnetics were advertised as “The Car of a Thousand Speeds”.
t’s a common misconception that Hemmings Motor News for its first half-century or so only ran old-car classified ads and nothing else. That’s certainly how Ernest Hemmings started the company in 1954. However, not long afterward, he started to feature readers’ cars and, as it turns out, the first car he featured remains in the same family 60-plus years later.
With our headquarters in Bennington, Vermont, still closed, we can’t dig through our archives to confirm that Harlan C. Cratty’s 1916 Ford Model T coupelet appeared as the first featured car in the October 1958 issue of Hemmings Motor News, but we kinda don’t need to with the photos and information that Cratty’s grandson, Phil Berg, recently sent our way.
Those materials include a letter that Ernest Hemmings (then, as always, in Quincy, Illinois) wrote to Cratty (in Omaha, Nebraska) on September 30, 1958, in which Hemmings conducted some business with Cratty—the sale of a pair of camshafts for $2—and then thanked Cratty for the photos of his T. “It is our aim to have a feature car each month and as your fine car is very usual (sic) thought it would be good to start out with,” Hemmings wrote. He probably meant to write unusual.
Before the days of the automatic gearbox, the petrol-electric transmission enjoyed a certain vogue, particularly as it was invented in the era of the non-synchromesh or ‘crash’ gearbox. However although the petrol-electric was easy to use, it was also expensive to build, bulky and heavy, which made it more suitable for commercial vehicles (such as the Tilling- Stevens) than for the private car.
There were one or two notable exceptions to this general rule, however, and one of the more ingenious electric transmissions was conceived just before World War 1 by Ray M. Owen of the Baker, Rauch & Lang company of Cleveland, Ohio, who were renowned for their Baker and Raulang battery electric cars.
The Entz Transmission
Owen adapted the Entz transmission, which was designed for use in the new generation of oil-engined battleships (such as the 1919 New Mexico), for automotive use, and began production of a luxury car with this form of drive in 1914. Under its original name of Owen Magnetic, the ‘Car of a Thousand Speeds’ was not very successful, but by 1920 J. L. Crown had taken over the design rights, and was producing cars in a factory at Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.