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Question, open cars vs. closed cars, production numbers


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OK, so on another thread there's a discussion of when inside sun visors first came into use in automobiles.

There's a comment about the industry realizing the public wanted more enclosed vehicles, from a comfort standpoint.

The first enclosed automobiles (coupes, sedans) were late oughts or early teens, correct?

The question is, what year did production of closed cars equal, or exceed, production of open cars?

It would be interesting to know either overall, or by specific make.

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The closed car share of production grew over the years, but remained a minority well into the twenties. In the case of the Model T, open cars were always a majority, even at the end. In the 1926 model year, Ford's touring and roadster production was 706,984, while coupes and sedans totaled 661,405. In the 1927 model year, which ended in May, open cars were 176,959 and closed cars were 170,974. Things changed drastically in the fall when the new 1928 Model A was introduced. The vast majority of Model A's were closed cars.

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Good thread, David. Here is a related question - Obviously the main reason open cars dominated early production was cost ( and to some degree, I would imagine, weight and performance, but really, cost.) at what point did open cars overtake closed cars from a pricing perspective and begin to be seen not as the most basic option, but a luxury of sorts?

Steve J. points out closed "A"s outnumbered open versions by a landslide but if I remember right, roadsters, even roadster pick ups, were actually still cheaper. But I think prices were closer though, enabling the practical people or people lviing in colder climates to justify the extra cost?

Any relation to these trends and road development allowing more consistent year round use?

Would make for an interesting short essay. :)

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Steve,

From my reading, another reason for most early cars being open models was the lack of the ability to do large steel stamping for closed car roofs. When the technology improved, it was easier to produce closed cars.

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Good thread, David. Here is a related question - Obviously the main reason open cars dominated early production was cost ( and to some degree, I would imagine, weight and performance, but really, cost.) at what point did open cars overtake closed cars from a pricing perspective and begin to be seen not as the most basic option, but a luxury of sorts?

Steve J. points out closed "A"s outnumbered open versions by a landslide but if I remember right, roadsters, even roadster pick ups, were actually still cheaper. But I think prices were closer though, enabling the practical people or people lviing in colder climates to justify the extra cost?

Any relation to these trends and road development allowing more consistent year round use?

Would make for an interesting short essay. :)

Yes this would certainly make for an interesting essay, but I'm not certain it would be "short." Take into consideration that before 1926, the year of the first Federal Highway Act, there were very few miles of paved roads anywhere in the country, and those rarely extended more than a mile or two outward from the more or less major cities and/or regional trade and distribution centers. In the general sense "paved" until the mid 1930s typically meant anything more substantial than dirt, i.e.; gravel. The construction of highways using concrete, asphalt, and paving brick after 1926 lead to the common reference in rural America to such highways as being "the hard road." A term that was still commonly used 1940s when I was a kid growing up in East Texas. Not being aware of the era of mostly dirt and gravel roads it took me a while to grasp that terminology.

One would also have to take into consideration that the U.S. economy was primarily agricultural in nature and the lifestyle of most Americans was greatly influenced by the still somewhat primitive nature of life on the farm. People were used to the harsh realities of the extremes of winters and summers, keeping in mind that most adults even in 1930 had grown up with horses, horse drawn wagons and buggies still being a major factor in every day life. All a round about way of saying much of the population probably didn't even think about the comfort advantages of an enclosed vehicle. When one got up every morning in the winter during periods of sub freezing weather to milk a bunch of cows by hand having a enclosed vehicle was not necessarily seen as a necessity.

If anything the nature of the transformation of road surfaces influenced the clearance of vehicles and the nature of wheels and tires. I would tend to believe the commonality of the fully enclosed car was the result of body building companies like Budd and Iona investing in stamping equipment that could take a single sheet of steel and transform it in one noisy stroke to an entire roof turret. That single innovation would have made the labor intensive building of bodies with wood and folding touring tops economically unsustainable.

Edited by Jim_Edwards (see edit history)
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The first enclosed automobiles (coupes, sedans) were late oughts or early teens, correct?

The question is, what year did production of closed cars equal, or exceed, production of open cars?

Good topic David, I do not have all my statistics at hand but I am pretty sure as a general talking point I have read that in 1920 open vs closed was like 85% to 15% and by 1929 that number was reversed.

Steve Jelf's point about Model Ts is an excellent one that I would not have automatically thought of, that being that Ford's open car production was so large that it would skew the total numbers. I suspect that if one kicks out Ford numbers the tipping point of closed cars is probably much sooner. High priced cars probably already had a higher that usual proportion of (expensive) closed bodies and by 1922 when the medium priced Essex coach came out the ball was already rolling to lower price points.

I suspect that even in 1919 when GM bought a stake in Fisher Body they were looking to see this happen in the near future and it certainly did, causing the loss of many smaller body builders. Good topic, Todd C

PS--Matt's point about the roof stamping is correct and it was a very big deal in body construction. But by the time it happened in the mid- 1930s the closed car was already dominant so it did not actually move the market, it just improved the product IMO.

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My two cents worth; as a roundabout date - the mid 1920s. As a general rule, in the early 1920s, open bodies predominated and by the late 1920s, closed bodies predominated. From around 1929, open bodied cars became more of a lifestyle thing and that is why you find the more pretentious names for the body styles - phaeton and convertible victoria etc. By the 'high classic' era around 1930, open body high end cars were around the same price as their closed stable mates and even the cheaper makes' open cars were not a lot lower priced. Of course there are no hard and fast rules and there are always exceptions.

I agree with the comments regarding improvements in road and vehicle technology. I think as time goes on people always expect something better - in all things - and the change to closed bodies was one result.

I was looking up something recently about car bodies and came across this - Fisher Body Company, Fisher Body, Fisher Body Division, Fisher Brothers, GM, Fred Fisher, Albert Fisher, Charles Fisher, Fleetwood, General Motors, Standard Wagon Works, Coachbult.com - in regard to Fisher Body, particularly the comment re the prices.

Edited by nzcarnerd (see edit history)
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Early closed bodies were extremely labor intensive, as basically they were a skeleton (a somewhat complex one at that) of wood, usually skinned with thin sheet metal. Amazingly, that construction continued into the 30's, with all steel becoming prominent only in the late 30's (although some manufacturers were more or less all steel long before that).

Pre-1915, or Horseless Carriage era, closed bodies seem extremely rare, and many of those are town car style, only partially enclosed.

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David, an exception to your rule on pre-1915 seems to be electric cars. At least every one I have ever seen has been closed - although admittedly I am not an expert and that is based on personal observation only. :)

Steve, another good point--I do not think I have ever seen an electric car with an open bodystyle. Thinking about it I would bet factors may have been:

A. They were aimed primarily at women for city use.

B. They would have had sufficient torque to move the heavier body at low speed.

C. They were relatively expensive anyway so the extra cost could be covered.

Just my $.02, Todd C

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Great point on electric cars, and true.....closed is the rule.....seems like I saw an early electric roadster once, but the name and place escape me, does anyone know of one?

Todd, I think ABC are right on.....plus you had to hide all those batteries, and a "sporty" open car would have a hard time with that!

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Columbia (Pope Manufacturing Co., Electric Vehicle Co.) produced open electric runabouts, surreys (we have a 1903 Mark XIX), wagonettes, Victorias, etc. as early as 1898. While researching our 1913 Argo electric, I learned they produced an open roadster from 1912-1916. There's a 1913 Argo electric roadster in PA.

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Hyman Classic Cars has a 1909 Waverly Electric Roadster in inventory.

So they have--I guess I have now seen one. In fact, I have two firsts today--an open early electric car and an early electric car asking $89,000---whew! Todd C

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Closed cars were available from the beginning but did not become popular until the 20s. It was the Essex coach that put the closed car over. In 1922 they offered the 2 door Coach model for only $300 more than the touring car. The next year it was $100 more, in 1924 they were the same price, and by 1925 the Coach was cheaper than the touring.

Nothing like it had been seen before. The Essex Coach became a best seller and other makers soon followed with lower priced closed cars of their own.

Before 1930 closed cars outsold open cars even in the cheaper makes. By 1937 the traditional roadster and touring were dead. Convertibles continued to be made, in small numbers, at a cost considerably higher than their sedan counterparts.

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No, quite a few makers offered a closed car quite early. Cadillac offered a coupe from 1910, and a Berline Limousine with a fully enclosed driver's compartment in 1912 and an inside drive sedan from 1914. I am sure other makers were up there too although often they were custom bodies. Buick's first sedan was the 1916 D-47. Of course the bulk of production would have been touring cars.

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No, quite a few makers offered a closed car quite early. Cadillac offered a coupe from 1910, and a Berline Limousine with a fully enclosed driver's compartment in 1912 and an inside drive sedan from 1914. I am sure other makers were up there too although often they were custom bodies. Buick's first sedan was the 1916 D-47. Of course the bulk of production would have been touring cars.

By 1920 there were a flock of makers offering a fully enclosed sedan, some of them names long gone and more or less forgotten. Dodge offered this beauty in 1919. Wonder how far back one has to go to discover the first fully enclosed sedan. Maybe a bigger challenge would be identifying the first fully enclosed sedan to be offered with a heater.

amer524.jpg

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The Standard Catalog says Franklin's first production sedan appeared in late 1913. Model T coupes were made in small numbers as early as 1909, and the center-door sedan was a standard Model T offering in the 1915 model year. I have seen a 1913 Cadillac 3-passenger coupe on tours.

Gil Fitzhugh, Morristown, NJ

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Even Ford, the cheapest car on the market, offered closed models (sedan and coupe) before 1920. But they cost TWICE AS MUCH as the roadster and touring. Naturally, most buyers bought the cheaper models.

Closed cars were also heavier, more prone to developing squeaks and rattles, and nervous persons did not fancy being surrounded by all that plate glass in case of an accident.

Hudson (Essex) deserves credit for putting the closed car over with the public. But other developments, like safety glass and better and cheaper methods of making car bodies counted too.

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Closed cars were also heavier, more prone to developing squeaks and rattles, and nervous persons did not fancy being surrounded by all that plate glass in case of an accident.

Once again Rusty mentions an important issue we had overlooked, that the plate glass was also a problem that had to be overcome. Slightly less of a problem in slow speed city driving, but a concern on the open road in a vehicle prone to vibration and vulnerable to stones and other debris.

Indeed there is no question closed bodies were widely available even in the teens, and even in Fords. But the high price was the biggest problem. Todd C

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If memory serves, I believe the first "safety glass" was on Stutz, with a wire mesh imbedded in the glass. The early 30's saw the first true safety glass, maybe someone with more information on that could expound on it.

Great point, I would think that safety glass contributed greatly to the closed car movement....

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1931 Dodges had optional safety glass called "non-shatterable" in the parts book.

Safety glass was standard for the windshield on a '33 Plymouth but you had to pay extra for the rest of the windows to be safety glass. My car definitely had non-safety glass on the side windows. I've replaced all of that with safety glass.

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And now I've read that, due to a 1917 lawsuit, Ford had "hardened" glass (what we'd now call tempered, in that it would shatter in small pieces) starting in 1919 on all Ford cars. Just the windshield I would think? Can you Ford guys verify?

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Most cars of that time initally got safety glass in the windshield only. My unrestored 1934 Buick Series 40 has a broken side window which is obviously not safety glass.

The question remains as to when all cars went to all safety glass. Maybe there was some regulation which forced it?

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What about the inertia remaining from the fact that it was difficult to control a horse from a closed cab?. One can see by the slow evolution of early design, that people were still fixated on being pulled by a horse, there was once a farm tractor which used reins for steering, built for the old school farmer. Not sure if accessories included a whip! Can someone tell me what that is hanging down by Henry Leland's left leg in Southpaw's picture??

Perry

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Cadillac 1905

image1.img.png

This car is Oceola, Henry Leland's personal car. It was built in late 1905 on a 1906 chassis. Cadillac offered a coupe on the bigger four cylinder chassis in 1906 and in 1907 and 1908 offered a coupe on the single cylinder chassis. The single cylinder 1908 Model T Cadillac coupe cost a third as much again as the touring. There wasn't a sedan though. According to one story, being nearly as high as it was long, Leland's coupe would 'fall over' easily especially in the snow.

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  • 2 months later...

What amazes me is how long the car makers stuck with the wood skeleton, these were complex and somewhat labor intensive even in an assembly line. The roof structures could have easily been built out of metal with a splice or two instead of a rather complex soft top. The wood coach builders must have had considerable influence and metal prices must have been excessive compared to wood with the price of labor being irrelavent. If we were to start over today (with technology from the past) i'd bet there would be little or no wood involved.

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