James B.

First True Unibody question...

Recommended Posts

I am sure that this question has been bounced around more than once but possibly not quite this way?   I am wondering what was the 'first' true unibody automobile both in America and worldwide?

 

I see mentions of various "frameless" cars dating as far back as 1904 but they are basically center backbone tube designs not unlike Tatra.  There is also a 1917 mention of a car built by a company called the Ruler Motor Car Company (an offshoot of Hayes) which had a type of front subframe attached to the unitized body via a ball joint setup.   Cars like the Nash 600, Lincoln Zephyr, and Chrysler Airflow are "unitized" and not true unibody because, as they advertise, are "unit body and frame" construction and have full exposed perimeter frames, some welded to the body and some not truly integrated into the body.

 

The Citroen Traction Avant could be a first contender so could the Cord 810 as the American entry unless there are other more obscure offerings, even one off, which I am seeking?

 

Any ideas?

Jim

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites


Benefits of AACA Membership.

25 minutes ago, 41 Su8 said:

1923  Lancia Lambda

 

Thanks 41 Su8

 

I knew of this one as well but it is also considered unitized and one author stated that it is "not quite" a unit body.  That it is basically a bathtub with cutouts - with 2mm thick side panels rather than body framework to lighten the weight.  Even so, a contender but think there has to be other earlier examples prior to 1923, like the 1917 Ruler, since it was being experimented with then?  The Ruler did have a metal framework body.

 

Edited by James B. (see edit history)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Another possible is the 1907 Adams-Farwell model 8A Gentleman's Speed Roadster.  It too was to have been unibody with a front subframe but no examples exist today and have not run across a photo of it.  Only a handful were built.

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

First Lancia patent on this was filed in Italy 31 December 1918. It refers to "a car in which the body is a self-supporting shell without a separate chassis".  The prototype had its first outing on 21 September, 1921.    You cannot describe it as a "bathtub with cut-outs".  The tunnel for the tailshaft, et cetera, open at the bottom, is a very important aspect of the whole structural entity.  I have a 6th Series Lambda.  The only vehicles with a conventional chassis that Lancia made then would have been commercial vehicles.   Open cars always required particular attention to strength and rigidity; and Lancia often provided "platform chassis "variants for the work of custom body builders.   Harrahs had a 5 cylinder, vertical crankshaft, rotary engine mounted in the back, and I believe it was fully restored to running order.  On a rotary, the crankshaft is fixed ( and is therefore effectively the engine mounting); and the rest of the engine rotates.  The power output would have been more difficult than for the WW1 aircraft that were powered by rotaries. With the later more powerful rotaries, the gyroscopic precession became an important factor in control; and they would turn in combat much more quickly in one direction than the other.  This was handy to get around onto the tail of an enemy fighter, but predictable.  It might have been smarter to build them in left and right hand rotation variants in mixed squadrons perhaps, to confuse the enemy.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Although very rare and somewhat odd, the Fulton Airphibian (1946) and Taylor Aerocar (1949) were certainly true unibody automobiles, with the flying accessories removed of course:D.  Several years ago, I was lucky enough to witness the last flying Aerocar's landing at the airport at the Ocean Reef Club in Key Largo.  The aircraft was flown to Key Largo for Ocean Reef's annual "Vintage Days" weekend event featuring world class collector cars, aircraft and boats (yachts).  I watched the Aerocar owner remove the aviation bits, after which he drove the "car" to the car show venue.  Although probably not the earliest unibody "car" it is just about the most interesting.  Only six Aerocars were ever built.

 

Here are a couple of pix.

 

Cheers,

Grog

Aerocar I.png

Aerocar II.png

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
3 hours ago, capngrog said:

I watched the Aerocar owner remove the aviation bits, after which he drove the "car" to the car show venue.  Although probably not the earliest unibody "car" it is just about the most interesting.  Only six Aerocars were ever built.

 

Here are a couple of pix.

 

Cheers,

Grog

Aerocar I.png

Aerocar II.png

 

WOW I would tend to agree with you on that Grog! thanks for sharing it...... makes me wonder is an air frame considered unibody?  mmmmmm

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks Ivan (I will get back to you about the Lambda) and Grog with the aerocar.    Aircraft design is considered monocoque and some auto manufacturers had coined their body designs the same.  In fact, the 1913-1919 Lagonda 11.1 used a riveted monocoque body.  And, the 1903 Vauxhall had some sort of the same using heavy plate monocoque design but just now looking into it.  Would it predate the Lambda  as official 'unibody'  designs?

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The 1903 Vauxhall looks like it had a tub-like construction not unlike the Lancia.  I read that the Lambda design was inspired by ship hulls or a flat bottom boat so in a sense is a tub (bathtub may have been a bit general).  Some newer cars used carbon fiber or fiberglass tubs, like the newer Aston Martin Lagonda's of the 1970s.

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
6 hours ago, James B. said:

Thanks Ivan (I will get back to you about the Lambda) and Grog with the aerocar.    Aircraft design is considered monocoque and some auto manufacturers had coined their body designs the same.  In fact, the 1913-1919 Lagonda 11.1 used a riveted monocoque body.  And, the 1903 Vauxhall had some sort of the same using heavy plate monocoque design but just now looking into it.  Would it predate the Lambda  as official 'unibody'  designs?

 

Yes, contemporary aircraft fuselage (body) construction is, for the most part, of the monocoque or stressed-skin type, like the Aerocar..  Earlier aircraft and many modern light aircraft use a wood over steel frame fabric-covered fuselage.

 

Cheers,

Grog

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Who-ever wrote the wikipedia article says the 1922 Lancia Lambda was the first true unibody car.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
22 hours ago, Spinneyhill said:

Who-ever wrote the wikipedia article says the 1922 Lancia Lambda was the first true unibody car.

 

The problem with Wikipedia..  since this an open source where anyone can write and edit, the information on it is only as accurate as John Q. Public who wrote it.  Not that I am discounting the Lambda but I would like to know how these other earlier models fall into place within the scheme of things?  What makes them either unitary or not so they can be dismissed?

 

1901-1905 Lanchester (I believe this is more semi-unitary since part of the body can be removed from the frame)

1903 Vauxhall (many authors consider this as the first attempt using solid plates and like the Lambda, had shipbuilding cues being designed by a marine engineer)

1913 Lagonda (it is said this was more of an attempt to lighten the car for taxes rather than design - more monocoque)

1917 Ruler (has a engine subframe attached to the body)

 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 1/28/2017 at 7:01 PM, Ivan Saxton said:

First Lancia patent on this was filed in Italy 31 December 1918. It refers to "a car in which the body is a self-supporting shell without a separate chassis".  The prototype had its first outing on 21 September, 1921. 

 

Ivan, you are always well versed in automotive history and it looks like in your signature that you own one of these wonderful cars, a real piece of history (Lambda).  With the other examples I mentioned, how do you believe they fall in place compared to the Lambda?  You should know better having an insight with a real car as reference.  Do you have a link for the 1918 patent?  I find the US version patent # 1694546 applied 1922 in Italy and issued in 1928.  

 

Thanks!

Jim

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Just wanted to add.  After some more research, it looks like there is a difference between the early use of the term unit-body and unibody.  Unit-Body apparently meant just the "body" being unitized and placed on a frame or platform.  If I am reading it correctly, H. Jay Hays, who also built the 1917 Ruler Frameless, was basically calling the design Unit-Body meaning that the body was built as a whole from steel rather than in pieces using a wooden frame.  The Ruler had a "platform" chassis in which was attached to the body by a ball-and-socket on a front body brace and by the rear spring attachments in the rear.  This sounds similar to the British Lanchester design.   The Vauxhall is still a contender though.  As for an American entry, this brings in the Cord 810 as a early possibility then the Nash 600.  Suggestions? 

 

Thanks!

Jim

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I have never seen any of those you just mentioned,  Jim.  You are trying to scratch my distant memory for things that either I am not familiar with, or that I never committed to memory.  If Lagonda fits your criterior, you can almost certainly put that down as one of the earlierst American efforts. I have an idea that his name may have been Wilbur Gunn, or similar; but I have no idea where the idea came from.      I can certainly take a few Lancia Lambda structure photos, that show form has function.  If I pull the seat cushions out of the 1953 Lancia Aurelia B22, you would know that the same design philosophy was in that too.  Aurelia was the last with the vertical sliding pillar front suspension.  B22 was the hottest 4 door saloons.  They did not make many hundred, and the 2litre even that the early 4 door GTs like that driven by Bracco in the 1951Mille Miglia.   At 850 miles he was about 3 minutes behind Villoresi's 4.2 litre V12 Ferrari which was able to stretch the margin to 20 minutes because the torrential rain stopped, and the roads were straighter and less challenging.  The Aurelia is still a highly desireable road package.  All the team drivers seem to have been exceptional;  but Count "Johnny Lurani was recorded as saying that Bracco "Flits round corners like a bat".    Several years ago, Geoffrey Goldberg came out here for the bi-annual Lancia Register meet at Castlemaine in Central Victoria.  You might be lucky enough to still get  a copy of his superb book on those cars, and Francesco De Virgillio who was one of the main engineers who was responsible. At the end of the 1951 LeMans 24hour race Briggs Cunningham came across to look at the most impressive Lancia.   Apparently he expressed surprise that they had already managed to clean the engine down. Most of the Italians knew little English; but they laughed. He visited the factory and bought a new Aurelia B20 2 door GT, plus a complete spare set of mechanicals.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I take this moment to invoke the "Old car rules for who did what first" :

 

Everything was done originally in Europe, for a few, titled/privileged buyers. They made something like 4 cars with this feature, therefore they are first.

 

In America, we apply the rule that your 3rd grade teacher applied to chewing gum in class: if you didn't bring enough for everyone, none for you. What this means is that if you didn't mass-produce the feature or technology over tens of thousands of units so that everyone could have and enjoy it, it doesn't count.  

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Interesting thought that everything was originally done in Europe. There is probably a lot of truth to this statement; however, at the risk of going off topic, please say which European manufacturer had a column mounted gear shift before Packard did on it's very early trucks.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
7 hours ago, A. Ballard 35R said:

Interesting thought that everything was originally done in Europe. There is probably a lot of truth to this statement; however, at the risk of going off topic, please say which European manufacturer had a column mounted gear shift before Packard did on it's very early trucks.

 

Packard did file a patent in 1901 and on 1902 cars but was a H shift on the floor.

1905 Autocar used it as did Pierce Arrow about the same time until two-fork selective transmissions came into use.

1918 Apperson had a shift on top of the column instead of the floor as the "Pre-Selecting Mechanical Gear-Shift."

I also know that in 1938, it was being used the first time as a $10.00 option named 'Safety Gear Shift Control' on GM cars.

 

Were you thinking different?

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
12 hours ago, mrpushbutton said:

I take this moment to invoke the "Old car rules for who did what first" :

 

Everything was done originally in Europe, for a few, titled/privileged buyers. They made something like 4 cars with this feature, therefore they are first.

 

In America, we apply the rule that your 3rd grade teacher applied to chewing gum in class: if you didn't bring enough for everyone, none for you. What this means is that if you didn't mass-produce the feature or technology over tens of thousands of units so that everyone could have and enjoy it, it doesn't count.  

 

mrpushbutton... I like your analogy but it doesn't quite fit with this situation.  Yes, if it was "one for all or all for one".  But in the world of scientific invention breakthroughs, there can only be "one" first.  

 

It is like 'who" invented the first petrol powered vehicle?  (The word Automobile did not show up until later).  Some say it is Siegfried Marcus, who was working with gas powered engines in the 1860s.  That he created a crude powered cart in 1864 and a more refined vehicle in 1875 (one source has an actual date of March 9, 1879).  Some now say 1888 due to a engine delivery date and is still dubious.  But, since he was Jewish, Nazi Germany destroyed records and we only have scraps of information to go on...other than an order dated 1940 by the German Ministry of Propaganda to have Marcus' name stricken as the inventor of the Automobile and put Gottlieb Daimler and Carl Benz 1889 version in his place... which is what many use to this day.  But even the 1889 motor car was a one-off so, is it the "first" since it was not mass produced?

 

Even that could be debated since the 1889 Panhard - Levassor company was created solely for automobile manufacturing, the Benz Motorwagon.  Or the 1890 Peugeot who made 4 cars that year and 65 more in 1891. Or when Oldsmobile, in 1901, sold 425 cars and 2,100 cars in 1902 citing the first mass produced and sold car?  Any ideas on that aspect a well?

 

Jim

 

 

 

Edited by James B. (see edit history)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

There is a newspaper picture from the 1940's (?) of a Packard truck with a column shift, I believe an "H" pattern. The picture was published around the time that gear shifts were moved from the floor to the steering column. The caption was one of those "you think it is new but actually done many years ago" topics, The picture is in one of my father's scrapbooks that he put together in the 1930's when he first started collecting early Packards. Unfortunately, I am away from home and cannot scan the picture and post it. 

 

I am still curious as to whether or not this steering column shift had already been used on European cars.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
2 hours ago, A. Ballard 35R said:

There is a newspaper picture from the 1940's (?) of a Packard truck with a column shift, I believe an "H" pattern. The picture was published around the time that gear shifts were moved from the floor to the steering column. The caption was one of those "you think it is new but actually done many years ago" topics, The picture is in one of my father's scrapbooks that he put together in the 1930's when he first started collecting early Packards. Unfortunately, I am away from home and cannot scan the picture and post it. 

 

I am still curious as to whether or not this steering column shift had already been used on European cars.

 

Here is a half page ad for the 1905 Autocar showing "Finger-Reach Control" including gear-shift, and all other functions on the column.  I am sure it was a juggling act for these early cars and so not very popular then.

 

 

ad-1905-autocar-franklin.jpg

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Think it is more of a cultural difference. Americans will find 2,000 ways that don't quite work and go broke while Europeans will pick one and refine it until it does. Neither way is better or worse, just different.

 

I spent much of my career studying things that did not work then (usually a lack of materials) and applying them to modern problems (difference between an engineer and an inventor).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 2/3/2017 at 9:45 PM, James B. said:

 

mrpushbutton... I like your analogy but it doesn't quite fit with this situation.  Yes, if it was "one for all or all for one".  But in the world of scientific invention breakthroughs, there can only be "one" first.  

 

It is like 'who" invented the first petrol powered vehicle?  (The word Automobile did not show up until later).  Some say it is Siegfried Marcus, who was working with gas powered engines in the 1860s.  That he created a crude powered cart in 1864 and a more refined vehicle in 1875 (one source has an actual date of March 9, 1879).  Some now say 1888 due to a engine delivery date and is still dubious.  But, since he was Jewish, Nazi Germany destroyed records and we only have scraps of information to go on...other than an order dated 1940 by the German Ministry of Propaganda to have Marcus' name stricken as the inventor of the Automobile and put Gottlieb Daimler and Carl Benz 1889 version in his place... which is what many use to this day.  But even the 1889 motor car was a one-off so, is it the "first" since it was not mass produced?

 

Even that could be debated since the 1889 Panhard - Levassor company was created solely for automobile manufacturing, the Benz Motorwagon.  Or the 1890 Peugeot who made 4 cars that year and 65 more in 1891. Or when Oldsmobile, in 1901, sold 425 cars and 2,100 cars in 1902 citing the first mass produced and sold car?  Any ideas on that aspect a well?

 

Jim

 

 

 

Of course, there is also the truth that doing something first and doing something best are two different things. When I worked at Chrysler they loved to trumpet the things they did first, yet they hardly did well compared to the competition. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I actually invented the internal combustion engine as a young child. I had sketches of a crankshaft and everything. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that IC engines actually worked exactly as I had designed my engine. Honestly, I was shocked to learn that engines worked by exploding a substance in a confined space to turn a crankshaft. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now