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The 1914 Twombly Cyclecar: Almost a Toy

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I have always had a love of machinery: wheels connecting to rods, pulleys connected to shafts, engines connected to wheels.

Cars: The Most Popular Boy's Toys Ever Invented

Three hundred and fifty years ago, the first steam-powered vehicle was given to the Chinese Emperor as a gift, supposedly as a toy.

Approximately two hundred and fourteen years later Karl Benz introduced the Benz Patent Motorwagen, powered by petrol: the internal Combustion engine.

Today, cars are still the ultimate boy's toy. Hobbyists research the evolution of a classic vintage vehicle and take pride in owning it and showing it. And taking it for a drive to the local car show on a weekend.

Here's a wonderful toy: the 1914 Twombly Cyclecar, small and lightweight and (originally) inexpensive, a dead end in the evolution of modern transport but the perfect pastime for those who love engines.

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1914 Twombly Cyclecar

Above you see one of three known remaining 1914 Twombly Cyclecars, owned by Mervyn and Margaret Kroll-Brisbane. It was built by the Driggs-Seabury Ordinance Corporation in Pennsylvania.

What Was a Cyclecar?

Cyclecars were inexpensive automobiles, made in the early 1900s, seemingly a cross between a car and a motorcycle.

A number of auto makers manufactured these unique vehicles to address the needs of buyers who were looking for a means of transportation lower in cost than conventional automobiles. Additionally, registration taxes were based on vehicle weight and engine displacement. Lighter in weight and with smaller, less powerful engines, Cyclecars were less costly to buy and taxed at a lower rate.

The concept was that this type of vehicle offered the promise of mobility for everyone. "Speeds up to 50 miles per hour." The tandem two-seater configuration and engine type gave the impression that the vehicle was actually a hybrid type of motorcycle-automobile combination. Cyclecars of various manufacture were all powered by either a single-cylinder engine, a V-Twin enginer, a four-cylinder engine or a motorcycle engine.

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A typical cyclecar, such as one type manufactured by the Pennsylvania firm of Driggs-Seabury Ordinance from 1913 to 1915, had two seats in tandem displacement and an underslung body.

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Cyclecars enjoyed limited popularity for a time and were even entered in races restricted to these vehicles. During the brief heyday of the cyclecars, they were manufactured in many countries such as Austria, Belgium, Canada, Czechoslovakia, Germany, Italy, Sweden, Spain, France and England. In fact, the most prolific producers of cyclecars were English.

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The End of the Cyclecar

The demise of the cyclecar was hastened by the Ford Motor Company’s Model T. Ford advertised the Model T’s advantages over the cyclecar one of which was the Ford being sold at a price very near to the cyclecar. Additionally, the Model T offered superior comfort and roadability. By the early 1920s, the cyclecar was but a curious memory.

Vehicle Specifications

Motor: "Twombly" type'A' 4 cylinder, 4 cycles, water-cooled, cast en bloc, thermosyphon system. 12-14 H.P Positive oiling mechanical valves located on the left side of the motor. High-grade Bronze bearings throughout.

Transmission: "Twombly" straight-faced friction with 2-speed driveshaft and single chain drive to rear axle, giving 6 speeds forward and 2 reverse. Bearings of high-grade Bronze

Rear axle: "Twombly" Live unbreakable type differential and solid shaft from wheel to wheel, differential casting acting as an emergency brake. Axle surrounded by a seamless steel tube. Hyatt roller bearings Exclusively.

Front axle: Drop forged I beam section, chrome-nickel steel bearings. Bearings annular ball.

Suspension: "Twombly" underslung giving the low centre of gravity and perfect balance.

Frame: Pressed steel channel section

Springing System: Rear - Cantilever 36 inches long

Front: Semi-elliptic, 30 inches long.

Wheels: 8 x 2 ½ extra heavy wire

Tyres: Extra heavy clincher non-skid rear - Corrugated front.

Brakes: Service, in a different case. The transmission acts as a powerful emergency brake.

Gas: Tank In cowl, 5-gallon capacity.

Ignition: Heinze high tension magneto.

Carburetor: Longuemare

Lubrication: Splash and force-feed

Radiator: Cellular, nickel.

Steering: "Twombly" adjustable gear steering wheel 14 inches. Irreversible worm and sector.

Control: Hand and foot. Gas throttle lever on dash and foot throttle accelerator. Contracting brake band on the differential casing. Transmission can be used as a powerful emergency brake.

Wheelbase: 100 inches

Road clearance: 9 1/2 inches -

Weight: 600 pounds

Stock Colour: Sulphur Yellow with black and nickel trimming.

Equipment: includes two oil sidelights and one tail lamp. Horn and complete set of tools.

Extra Equipment:

  • Top: One-man top with envelope and side curtains $25
  • Windshield: $12
  • Speedometer: $12
  • Electric lighting: 2 head lights, 1 tail lamp, storage battery and dimmer, independent push buttons

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