With his curved Dash Oldsmobile, Ransom Eli Olds is generally considered to be the father of mass production. He pre-dated Henry Ford's Model 'T' by a number of years. As early as 1887, Olds had developed a steam car in his Lansing facility, however it was not a success. By the close of the 1800s, he followed the general trend and shifted from steam to gasoline power. The Olds Motor Vehicle Co. was founded in 1897 and began manufacturing the new 5 horsepower model on an exceptionally small scale. Later, with financial backing from lumber millionaire, Samuel L. Smith, changes were made including and experimentation took place. Even with the changes and the capital injection no great success was achieved. In March of 1901 a fire at the factory broke-out and just one gasoline-engined runabout was rescued from the blaze. It was a simple curved dash, single-cylinder engined runabout.
The rear-mounted, four-stroke-engined runabout drove through a spur-geared two-speed transmission with center chain drive. Two steel longitudinal springs ran fore and aft, forming side members, and the lightweight vehicle weighed just 700 lbs. Suspension was comprised of cantilever springs. The vehicle had high ground clearance and a wide track, making it an ideal vehicle for the rutted roads on which it traveled. A buggy top was offered as an option along with 'Neverout' oil lamps.
With the continued financial support of the Smith family, Olds developed mass production techniques, and output rose from 425 units in 1901 to around 4,000 in 1903. Around 5,500 vehicles were produced in 1904.
By 1903, the curved-dash Oldsmobile was America's best-selling car. It was joined by other Oldsmobile models in 1904, including the Touring Runabout, soon nicknamed 'French Front' for its little hood on the front. The hood suggested a front-engine layout, but it actually housed tanks for fuel and water. At the very front was a brass radiator cooling the engine. The engine, in similar fashion to the Curved Dash, was still mounted horizontally under the seat.
The 'Model N' Touring Runabout was the first olds with a steering wheel. It was larger than the curved-dash with a wheelbase that was 13-inches longer. There were seating for two and the only colors offered were either dark red or dark green. Brass side lamps were included in the $750 price, which was jsut $100 more than the curved-dash. The engine, which is shared with the curved-dash, featured pressure-feed lubrication and jump-spark ignition. It had single chain drive and the same longitudinal leaf springs on each side but added a small transverse leaf spring at the front. By Daniel Vaughan | Sep 2012