Posts Tagged With: hybrid cars

Briggs & Stratton Dabbled In More Than Lawn Mowers

When I think of Briggs & Stratton, I think lawn mower. A 3-or 4-horsepower Briggs & Stratton was one of the first small engines I took apart as a kid. Those engines were known, then as now, for their simplicity, durability and reliability. Today I still prefer mowers with a Briggs and Stratton engine.

But, what I never knew about the company, was it manufactured go-kart type vehicles in the 1920s.

1920s-era Briggs and Stratton Flyer vehicle on display in the Wayne County Museum (Richmond, Ind.)

1920s-era Briggs and Stratton Flyer vehicle on display in the Wayne County Museum in Richmond, Ind.

Flyer Buckboard

I saw my first (and only) Flyer two-seat vehicle in the Wayne County Indiana Historical Museum in Richmond. The museum, which has an eclectic assortment of items — from a horse treadmill to a bona fide Egyptian mummy — houses about 15-20 early 20th century vehicles in a climate-controlled building behind the main exhibit area. This building alone is worth the $7 admission price. The building showcases vehicles, like the Davis automobile, that were manufactured in the region. They have two large electric vehicles from the early 1900s, but the gem for me is the first item you see when you walk in the door — the Briggs and Stratton Flyer Buckboard.

The vehicle has the look and feel of an old wooden sled with wheels. Two very small bucket seats sit on top of the wooden slats. The vehicle is barebones — no doors or windshields — just five wheels, two seats, a steering wheel and a gear stick (which is actually a lever to lower the fifth wheel).

Motor Wheel

When the automobile industry was in its infancy, lots of approaches were used to propel a vehicle forward. The one used by Briggs and Stratton was the Motor Wheel. Just like the name suggests, it was a wheel that included the motor. Sitting on top of the Motor Wheel was a half-gallon gas tank. Advertisements from that era said the vehicle could travel up to 25 mph and would get 80-100 mpg.

They accomplished those numbers with a 2hp motor. As Farm Collector notes,

At the peak of its popularity, the Motor Wheel was a versatile unit used to power bicycles, scooters, “flyers” (a small, two-seat, low-slung wooden buckboard with steering wheel and four wheels) and railway inspection cars. A photograph in the Briggs & Stratton archives even shows an ice skater using a Motor Wheel to tow her around the rink.

But, little did I know, that after a couple of failed ventures, it was the Motor Wheel that launched Briggs & Stratton into American history as the largest producer of small gasoline engines. The motor used in the Motor Wheel would eventually serve as the base model for their stationary gasoline engines.

And That’s Not All

Briggs & Stratton hybrid concept car.

Briggs & Stratton hybrid concept car.

When I began researching information about the vehicle, I stumbled upon another gem concerning Briggs and Stratton. They manufactured a hybrid vehicle — one that used an electric motor and a 18hp Briggs and Stratton engine in the late 1970s. Although the vehicle was not the first hybrid, it was ahead of its time.

But, unfortunately for the company, the prototype received poor reviews — mostly due to its lack of power. The vehicle could travel 300 miles on a tank of gas, had a fiberglass body and, (whether good or bad, you decide) looked a little like an AMC Pacer.

It also had six wheels. The extra wheels were a support feature — the car had 1000 pounds of batteries. Lithium Ion batteries were not invented until the 1990s so the vehicle used lead-acid batteries — like the ones used to start vehicles.

For a short history of Briggs & Stratton download the company’s publication (pdf).

Categories: American History | Tags: , , , ,

Semper Vivus: The hybrid car you’ve never heard of

I have always had an interest in alternatively styled and alternatively fueled vehicles, which is probably due, in part at least, to the wide variety of cars my father owned during my childhood. Eventhough they were the normal family cars, they were always at least one generation behind the current model. So we had station wagons with rear-facing seats (69 or 70 Chevy Impala), a 1964 Ford Fairlane station wagon — still one of my favorite cars — but we also had Pontiacs, Oldsmobiles, Opels, Mazdas and Datsuns.

But, my all-time favorite car to drive as a teen — was the ugly, green box-shaped Fiat. I think it was a 1973 model, but its defining feature was its 4-speed on the floor — with a second gear that did not work. Eventually, third gear would give way and the driving challenge was shifting from 1st to 4th without either: a.) blowing up the engine or b.) causing it to stall out when the car went into 4th gear at too low of a speed.When the hybrid car was first introduced in the U.S., I looked at one (Toyota Prius), but the technology was new (I would later learn in fact the technology was old), so I opted for a conventional car. But a couple of years ago, I purchased my first hybrid — a 2012 Toyota Camry. Overall I am pleased with the car — and it has consistently delivered the advertised gas mileage (41/39). [Click here if you want to read my in-depth review of the car].

The first hybrid — which used technology that today’s Chevrolet Volt mirrors — was a Porche. In 1900, Prof. Ferdinand Porsche introduced the Semper Vivus — a vehicle that combined electric powered wheels and a gasoline engine to recharge the vehicles battieries. The vehicle was in some ways an extension of a previous electric model he had perfected, the Lohner Porsche. The Lohner Porsche was an all-wheel drive vehicle with each wheel powered by an electric motor.

Prof. Ferdinand Porsche realized his electric vehicle would travel further if he used a gasoline (which they always seemed to call petrol back then) generator to charge the batteries. The vehicle never realized any serious sales, though, since it was nearly twice the price of comparable gasoline-powered vehicles. Only 11 were sold.

What I found interesting, though, were some of the challenges Prof. Ferdinand Porsche faced still exists today — the two primary ones being vehicle weight and battery storage capabilities. Of course, great strides have been made since his era. We now build cars from lighter weight materials and battery technology continues to improve as modern hybrids shift from nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) and lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries. Tesla has even created vehicles with swappable batteries packs — and they can be switched out in the same amount of time it takes to fuel a gasoline car.

1900 Pieper Hybrid

1900 Pieper Hybrid

The hybrid style that mimics most current hybrids — like the Prius for example — came a few years later and was patented by Henri Pieper. He applied for a U.S. Patent for a parallel hybrid system in 1905 and received it in 1909. The design uses both the gasoline engine and the electric motor to power the vehicle as needed. In the case of the Pieper vehicle, it had an electric motor that charged a battery pack. The battery pack was used to give the gasoline engine a boost when climbing steep hills — or other situations when more power was required.

Today’s hybrids continue to push the technology envelope. The Ford C-Max Energi concept car is even using solar power to keep the electric battery charged. But, they have a twist since solar panels on a car currently can’t produce enough electricity to warrant their inclusion — Ford’s version includes a portable charging station that utilizes a Fresnel lens to intensify the effectiveness of the panels. They assert, the sun could power as much as 75 percent of all trips made by the driver.

If that turns out to be true — that is impressive.

Categories: American History | Tags: , ,