Jay Leno's Owen Magnetic
|If the Volt looked like Jay Leno's 1916 Owen Magnetic, Government Motors (GM) wouldn't be able to produce them fast enough to satisfy demand rather than having them languish on dealers' lots and scheduling a plant shut-down this summer. The "wow" capacity of the Magnetic alone would potentially induce car buyers to charge over to Chevy dealerships and drain their accounts. The Owen Magnetic was one of quite a few turn-of-the-last-century electric and hybrid cars. I have written before about the purely electric cars that were produced by Ford and other companies back in the 1910s and 1920s. They were green when green wasn't cool (*). Women drivers loved them because it was not necessary to hand-crank the engine. |
The Owen Magnetic is more like a Prius than a Volt from the standpoint of locomotion. It uses a gasoline-powered engine to drive a generator that charges a battery that powers the electric motor. There is no mechanical linkage between the engine and the wheels other than the motor shaft. The Owen Magnetic is more like the Volt than the Prius, though, from the standpoint of price. It was so expensive for the available performance that not many were sold. The Owen Magnetic was unlike either the Prius or the Volt from the standpoint of appearance and luxury. It is beautiful whereas the Prius and Volt are butt-ugly. The Owen Magnetic was plugged in ads as "The Car of a Thousand Speeds."
I look forward to Jay's column in Popular Mechanics each month. His famous humor combined with an incredible knowledge of auto mechanics and history always makes for an interesting read. Per Jay, "The Owen Magnetic's technological leap was its electromagnetic transmission. Invented by the wonderfully named Justus B. Entz, an electrical engineer from New York who once worked with Thomas Edison, the electromagnetic transmission compactly housed both a 24-volt generator and an electric traction motor. The crankshaft of a 75-hp gas engine was attached to the generator, which sent juice to the traction motor, which in turn powered the rear wheels." The Owen Magnetic also broke new ground in regenerative braking since, "with the Owen Magnetic, you rarely have to get on the brakes unless you need to stop completely, like at a stop sign. If you're going 35 to 40 mph, you engage "regen" and you coast, or freewheel. As soon as you hit 25 mph, you feel the transmission go eeehhhhrrr! And the car slows right down to 3 or 4 mph. Plus, you can watch gauges that show the batteries charging." I'm wondering whether Toyota is paying royalties to Owen heirs for use of that intellectual property (IP) in the Prius.
A sophisticated "relay-and-wiring shift mechanism," commanded by a multi-position shifter on the steering column, is mounted under the hood alongside the steering column. "I haven't opened mine up because it seems to work fine. And, quite frankly, I'm frightened to poke around in there. A plate on it says, 'If something goes wrong, do not attempt to work on this yourself. Send it back to the factory.' Who would want a car that a blacksmith couldn't fix?" Car and Driver writers don't produce lines like that in their reviews!
So, why didn't the electric and hybrid cars of yesteryear dominate and flourish rather than fossil fuel powered internal combustion engine vehicles? Simple, the technology simply was not ready for prime time. Neither is it ready today. I wish it was, but it's not. When a battery-powered Boeing 747 can transport 400 people and a full payload of cargo from New York to Tokyo, then we will be able to say we have arrived and the dinosaurs can rest in eternal peace.
- Here is the page for the 1916 Owen Magnetic on Jay Leno's
- Here is an article on 100-year-old-electric vehicles on his Jay Leno's Garage website.
- Here is Jay's article on the Owen Magnetic in Popular Mechanics.
Note: If this private collection wasn't owned by someone as universally admired as Jay Leno, the "99%" would claim he was just a rich guy (1%) who has more than he deserves at their expense. An effigy of his head on a pike would be a fitting tribute. Jay uses the fruits of his labor to help preserve and restore history, as do many self-made wealthy people. The "99%" never want to pay to "share" in the results of others' works. Yes, there are plenty of scumbag rich people, but have you looked at the actions of some of the non-rich?
The Owen Magnetic from Jay Leno's Garage
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Posted May 3, 2012
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