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How drivable are 1920s car?


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I want to add a 1920s car to my small collection, I mean an original, not a modified car. Never driven one and never even had a ride on one of them. The oldest one I have driven is my 33 Ford model B. The mechanical brakes need a lot of anticipation to stop on time. Please provide your opinion on marques other than Ford. Most have wooden spokes wheels and I know they are to be driven much slower than current traffic.  I would like a car that is as responsive as possible for some weekend drives on low traffic county roads. Why would the number of cylinders matter if speed will not be more than say 35-40 mph? I live in western South Dakota and you can guess, there are lots of hills around here, especially in the most scenic routes!! I am a very conservative driver I must say. Thanks for your input. Manuel 

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I find that every car has its own feel in the drive it gives.  I am certain the cars from the ‘20’s will be no different.  Take it easy at first, get to know its idiosyncrasies and it’s limitations and have fun.   Remember that when these cars were built there were very few paved roads so it survived many years of being on dirt and pothole roads.  There is not much it hasn’t seen to date, just be respectful to the ‘ol gal’.  

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I have a 1925 Maxwell/Chrysler touring. It has wooden spoke wheels and mechanical rear brakes, and a four cylinder engine. You are right; stopping requires awareness and forethought. If they are not carefully adjusted one wheel or the other often locks up in a ‘hard’ stop. Wooden wheels need periodic inspection for deformities/cracks. A failure of a spoke could be problematic in a hard turn or one at speed. A low compression engine will not win you any road races. Getting “off the line” in first gear is fine, but getting up to speed through the other two gears takes time. Going up small hills is fairly easy, but steep hills (for my car) is a toss up. Third gear lugs, second gear revs the engine but the speed is pretty much the same in either gear. There are no synchros in the trans so double clutching when upshifting is pretty much required and down shifting is an art. It is an open car so driving in inclement weather is not fun/comfortable. If the suspension is in good shape and tires balanced 35-40 mph is easily doable. I’ve driven mine at 45+ for a number of sustained miles with not a hiccup. The biggest thing to remember is that the car is around 100 (+/-) years old and should be treated as such. Good luck on your purchase and Happy Motoring!

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I drive a 1929 Cadillac dual cowl phaeton every chance I get (weather depending). I am cognizant of my surroundings, traffic, lights, stop signs and traffic. It's a learned activity with great rewards of driving a vehicle that is part of our automotive history.

 

I enjoy my rides and drives in my car. I never miss an opportunity to use my Cadillac. If you get a car of this vintage, take your time to learn the nuances of you car before you drive in  traffic. Now you are ready to use and enjoy your new purchase.

 

brasscarguy

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If the '20s car is a closed body model it will be a lot noisier than something from a few years later - after a while you get accustomed to the noise though. It gives you an appreciation of how much quieter later model stuff is.

 

Steering is another thing. Any turning of the wheel has to be done while moving.

 

In a few weeks we will be going on a weekend winter rally with the 1929 Plymouth - along with probably 150 other similar era cars - probably more than half will be Ford As. The cut off date is 1931. Even though many spell the rally name in the plural it is actually singular - named for the original destination of the event - Irishman Creek Station, where the late Bill Hamilton di the initial development work on the jet boat.

 

 (137) irishman Rally - YouTube

 

Edit - I just looked at few of those videos that I had not seen before. Personally I think it is a pity they added music. I think the cars make their own music.

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Good tips. I know how stiff the steering is and near impossible if wheels are not moving. Learned that with the model B.

 

I started reading about double clutching and found many good posts with instructions. Thanks for alerting me about it. I have no trouble learning how to apply correctly.

 

What about brakes, 2-wheels vs 4 wheels vs early hydraulics?  Is a real difference among them in performance?  I am now checking 2 different Chryslers, a 27 and a 28, and one has 2-wheel mechanical brakes and the other has 4-wheel hydraulics, but both with same 4 cyl engine and body style.

 

Keep sharing your wisdom!  Thank you

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3 hours ago, Doctor's Pontiac said:

Why would the number of cylinders matter if speed will not be more than say 35-40 mph?

 

It only matters if it matters to you! In the prewar era, SMOOTH was a big deal. Yes, people loved their bucking snorting model T's, sometimes more than anything else. If you were going to step up a bit, and learn shift a crashbox, you probably wanted smooth.

 

Since the musclecar era, we tend to think of a faster car as being lighter. Not before the war. A fast car was a BIG car. The roads were terrible. If the wheelbase was long, and if the car was heavy in relation to the wheels, that was smoother. Maybe you could go a little faster while being smooth. If you were on a concrete highway (lucky you!) and your wheelbase was long enough, maybe you would feel the expansion joints only once instead of twice.

 

A four cylinder engine is not naturally in balance. It is close because as one piston goes up, another is coming down, but the distance from the crank is different. The vibration does not completely cancel, at least not without balance shafts, and no automaker I am aware of did that in the 20s. People also used to drive around in high gear all they could. The best car was the one that could pull a given hill without downshifting.

 

Six cylinders are in almost perfect balance naturally. Remember that the engine is probably mounted to the frame solidly with no rubber. It's smoother. There are also more impulses per RPM when it is lugging down pulling some hill. Some automakers dug in with their fours insisting that bigger cylinders pull hills better, total engine size and all else being equal. That's probably true, but the six might also be a bigger engine, and its smoooooooth.

 

An eight isn't as perfectly balanced as a six, but it's not bad, and it has more impulses per RPM than the six. It's really smooth. It's probably bigger and has a bit more power than the six. You're doing pretty good in the stock market, right? It's not 1929 yet. Go ahead, splurge...

 

 

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11 minutes ago, Doctor's Pontiac said:

What about brakes, 2-wheels vs 4 wheels vs early hydraulics?

Nothing from the 20s stops like now, but 4 wheel brakes stopped so much better than two that some of the earliest ones had a sign on the back to warn other drivers.

 

92fead6aa11b0fe827a9d4566f493337a8db465c

 

 

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There are some big differences between early 20’s to late 20’s. I currently drive 1926 and 27 Chev 4’s I also have a 1929 Chrysler 65 there is a huge difference between these cars. The Chrysler has 4 wheel hydraulic brakes the Chev has 2 wheel mechanical, the Chrysler stops sooo much better. As far as fun goes I still get a huge kick out of the Chev and probably have more laughs in it. But as far as refinements and easy driving the Chrysler probably wins and is still a lot of fun, Just more dignified but dignified fun is not what I’m always looking for🤣
Try and drive a few different ones or at least go for a ride in a few first before committing to anything, I think there are more affordable 1920’s cars on offer at the moment then there has been for sometime at least that’s what it seems like to me.

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1 hour ago, Vintageben said:

There are some big differences between early 20’s to late 20’s. I currently drive 1926 and 27 Chev 4’s I also have a 1929 Chrysler 65 there is a huge difference between these cars. The Chrysler has 4 wheel hydraulic brakes the Chev has 2 wheel mechanical, the Chrysler stops sooo much better. As far as fun goes I still get a huge kick out of the Chev and probably have more laughs in it. But as far as refinements and easy driving the Chrysler probably wins and is still a lot of fun, Just more dignified but dignified fun is not what I’m always looking for🤣
Try and drive a few different ones or at least go for a ride in a few first before committing to anything, I think there are more affordable 1920’s cars on offer at the moment then there has been for sometime at least that’s what it seems like to me.

I'm the Buick pre-war section there's a 1920 Buick for $6000 with a rebuilt motor and new tires.I wish I had the room for it, sounds like a good deal.

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I have a 1916 car as my only pre-war car.  But here

are some general points:

 

---There is a substantial difference between a 1920 car

and a 1929 car.  A magazine article of that decade said

that average road speeds were increasing 1 m.p.h. per year.

In 1928, a survey found that 90% of people never drove

more than 40 to 45 m.p.h.

 

---Cars of that era typically don't have adjustable seats.

I found that a Model T had insufficient legroom for me to

operate it comfortably;  sitting in a 1927 Stutz offered 

plenty of legroom.

 

---Inexpensive cars were quite unrefined.  There was a

very noticeable difference between low-cost cars then

and moderate-cost cars, such as a Buick.  This situation is

far different from the 1970's, say, when a Chevrolet Caprice

drove as smoothly and had as much power as a Cadillac.

 

If you have the roads for the lower speeds, you should

have plenty of fun with a 1920's car.

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I had a 4-cylinder Chrysler with 2-wheel brakes. It was a good utilitarian car and would make a dependable driver, but be aware, it was old technology even in its day. The Chrysler model numbers were said to represent top speed. In 1928 you could buy a Model 52 (4-cylinder) or models 62, 72 and 80 (I believe) , all 6-cylinder models. My Model 52 would run 52 mph if you push it but was not happy doing it. I always considered it to be a Model T at heart. And remember how you used to lock the rear brake on your bicycle and the bike would skid along seemingly even speeding up? That's the feeling you get when you step hard on the brake pedal of a car with 2-wheel brakes. It stops, but your heart might skip a beat

 

The 6-cylinder Chryslers were leaders in technology. The 4-cylinder models were old tech even in their day. Chrysler bought out Maxwell in about 1925 and the 4-cylinder Chryslers were essentially Maxwells in Chrysler clothing. 

 

I'm not disparaging the 4-cylinder Chrysler/Maxwell. It was a sturdy, dependable, long-lasting vehicle, but be aware there is a vast difference between it and the "true" Chryslers.

 

Don

 

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8 hours ago, Bloo said:

Nothing from the 20s stops like now, but 4 wheel brakes stopped so much better than two

Agreed.  Buick started 4 wheel brakes in 1924.  I can lock-up all 4 wheels on a dirt road in my 1924 Buick. 

And the Buick 6 cylinder engines have dynamic balancers.

 

24 PU at 07 BCA National.jpg

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Before you buy anything see if there are local car club members who will take you for a ride in their 1920s cars. Just to ride in one and see what the driver has to cope with will give you great insight. When in the 1920s do you want to be - by 1928, 1929 there was a world of difference in cars then even 5 years earlier.  A 1928=1929 Plymouth has the juice brakes on all 4 wheels , so if sorted properly will be a major difference over other cars. They have a lot of "pep" from that 4 cylinder engine as well. The biggest issue is to get the car properly sorted mechanically in all aspects: brakes, cooling, wiring etc. Many people do not spend enough time and $ to get a car sorted out properly , then assume "it is just an old car so that is the way they were" WRONG. Mechanical brake cars can stop just as well as juice brake cars IF the cables are all "fine tuned" to the proper level.

Cars can be reliable - a friend drove his 1929 Plymouth roadster from his home in New Jersey to Detroit and back to celebrate an anniversary for a car manufacturer - this was in 1957!!!!

Go for a ride in several different makes of cars of the era you want to consider.

Edited by Walt G (see edit history)
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There is a big difference between 1920 and 1929. And even bigger difference between a Duesenberg, and a four-cylinder car. So there’s quite a variation.

 

This is a 1929 eight cylinder car. We were driving it in 85 degree weather in Palm Beach traffic a few weeks ago. No problems at all.

6F9F7DFC-7DFD-4084-884B-EC4F8F181AD6.jpeg

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36 minutes ago, alsancle said:

There is a big difference between 1920 and 1929. And even bigger difference between a Duesenberg, and a four-cylinder car. So there’s quite a variation.

 

This is a 1929 eight cylinder car. We were driving it in 85 degree weather in Palm Beach traffic a few weeks ago. No problems at all.

6F9F7DFC-7DFD-4084-884B-EC4F8F181AD6.jpeg

Yeah, AJ, but you forgot to mention that your car was one of the most expensive, if not *the* most expensive, cars on the American market in 1929!!  🙂

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Good, with all this information I think I will look for a late 20s with brakes on all 4 wheels. Can not afford the very luxurious marques. Exploring Chrysler, Buick, some of the orphan ones (any Nash or Studebaker owner who may chime in?), even a 6 cyl Stovebolt Chevy. No rush. As suggested, will try to identify an owner who lives nearby and hopefully can have a peak at his/her car in person. I think old car owners are usually happy and proud to show their cars. Enjoy all the comments, thank you, and hope to get more!! Manuel

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For what they're worth, some general recommendations, though not based on personal experience, might be helpful to narrow down your search choices.  As has been already stated, late 1920's cars were more refined and had four-wheel brakes by then.  The six-cylinder engine was considered a better powerplant, appropriate for medium-priced cars and even prestige/luxury makes.   Both Packard and Pierce-Arrow fielded 288 ci sixes for their entry-level models. 

 

Studebaker offered their 120" wb Special Six with that displacement but also their 354 ci Big Six on the same chassis.   Either would be a good choice though the latter with plenty of torque on hand could be an especially satisfying performer.  The early 1928 Commander Series GB and late 1928 Commander Series GH have the 354 ci Bix Six engine, on 120" wb, range in the 3,600 lbs range.  With approximately 30K units produced, finding a good one shouldn't be too difficult.  The Antique Studebaker Club is a great group devoted to the pre-war models, would be a good resource to tap.

 

Good luck in your pursuit and acquisition.

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51 minutes ago, Grimy said:

Yeah, AJ, but you forgot to mention that your car was one of the most expensive, if not *the* most expensive, cars on the American market in 1929!!  🙂

Good point George. It was $10,000, but the chassis was only half of that. Most of it was for the custom body.

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For the money, I would look for 29 Franklin. They almost all look good, and they’re quick. Plus the club is very active and supportive. I have never owned one personally, but they have a great reputation.

 

Most importantly, there are some reasonably priced ones. You’re not showing out huge money.

 

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If you look at a 1929 Franklin check the cylinders for cracks in the valve seat. ( for the larger engine series 135 and 137) . the 1928 series 12b Franklin on a longer wheel base model had a steel frame/chassis. The wood chassis is great but may by now nearly 100 years later be sagging a bit at the cowl . I am not putting down the cars at all just making all aware of possible issues due to age.

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2 hours ago, Walt G said:

If you look at a 1929 Franklin check the cylinders for cracks in the valve seat. ( for the larger engine series 135 and 137) . the 1928 series 12b Franklin on a longer wheel base model had a steel frame/chassis. The wood chassis is great but may by now nearly 100 years later be sagging a bit at the cowl . I am not putting down the cars at all just making all aware of possible issues due to age.

 

See Walt,  that was why I said 29!   The wood chassis reminds me of the prewar Stanley.    Would you agree with the club support comment I made?  It seems pretty active to me.   I just like the styling.

 

49197_Front_3-4_Web.jpg

Car Franklin 4-door Sedan 1929 for sale - PreWarCar

Sinclair Powell 1929 Franklin Victoria Coupe | Mac's Motor City Garage

Speedster - Variations on a Theme, pt.2 — ClassicSpeedsters.com

 

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The Buick’s of that era are a good choice, good parts availability at a reasonable price and very active club. They sold well at the time because they were a good balance 

 

my 1922 Cadillac will happily run at around the 45mph mark with squirts above that and the brakes when properly adjusted stop it ok. They were rubbish when I first got even though the lining had been replaced, just that far out of adjustment

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Cars are like women……….good chassis, good looks, and fun to ride are all attributes that will add cost. Just like a lady! All three……….and your gonna pay Heidi Klum numbers.

 

In reality drivability is where it’s at……..you want to drive a car in its “sweet spot”. Driving a small car that is under powered and always wrung out from displacement/gearing issues is NO fun. There are some great giant nickel cars that are not expensive……….take your time and look around, go for a few rides, and drive as many as you can. I have a Model T from 1915 and a late model V-12 Pierce. Both fun…….but worlds apart. 
 

Do yourself a favor……buy a finished car that is sorted and can drive down the road for 100 miles without any issues. You will have a much better experience.

Edited by edinmass (see edit history)
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42 minutes ago, alsancle said:

Would you agree with the club support comment I made? 

Yes, I totally agree that the H.H. Franklin Club is a very strong organization and has been for decades. Many "hands on" members who understand ( truly) what has to work on an air cooled car ( direct air cooling - all cars are air cooled some have to navigate a radiator that is cooled by air) . Nothing to be afraid of at all, just different. Just be aware of what I stated about the cylinders on the 1929 series 135 and 137. The last photo you show is a 1930 series 147, and that is Charles Lindbergh behind the wheel ( yes he was a Franklin owner as well) the 1930 to 1934 era cars had a totally different redesigned engine so far as cooling the cylinders. Wonderful cars to drive - long trips especially. I have driven assorted year Franklins ( mostly the 1930-32 era) for over 50,000 miles.

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7 hours ago, Walt G said:

If you look at a 1929 Franklin check the cylinders for cracks in the valve seat. ( for the larger engine series 135 and 137) . the 1928 series 12b Franklin on a longer wheel base model had a steel frame/chassis. The wood chassis is great but may by now nearly 100 years later be sagging a bit at the cowl . I am not putting down the cars at all just making all aware of possible issues due to age.

 

Since some of you mentioned Franklins, I did a quick search and found this 1929 series 135 for sale. Looks very stately design and has all the features discussed to provide better drivability. I think the color choice is very awkward, more of what I would expect on a hot rod. Priced right but don't think I will be happy with that flamboyant color, unless it happened to be an original option. But this is a great reference for market value of a marque that I have never considered before, although this particular car may not be very representative because of the color or other factors not described in the ad. 

https://franklincar.org/forsale/index.html

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I understand it is possible to replace the frame rails on wooden framed Franklins. This involves removing the fenders and running boards, setting the cross members on jack stands, removing one frame rail and bolting on a new one. Then putting everything back, and doing the other side. Not exactly easy but doable. I believe plans or blueprints are available from the Franklin club. I should think the hard part would be finding a source of half inch thick ash planks, seven of them laminated together make one frame rail.

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Clicked on the link 5 times to download to see what you looked at and it would not appear on the screen so can't comment anything helpful for you so far as what may or may not be correct on the car. If the car has wire wheels different styles were used by Franklin in the 1928 thru 1934 era. same for lamps(head and tail ) etc.

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Tried again and 6th time was the winner! Car has correct wheels and lamps, but besides the totally wrong color there are other non authentic things about it that if you wanted to stay original to the build you would have to locate and correct. Spark and throttle levers at center of steering wheel seem to be missing, running boards are ?, dashboard was painted wood grain, and there may be other matters. I am not being critical just trying to observe what was done and there when now as opposed to what is now not there  over 90 years later.

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9 hours ago, Doctor's Pontiac said:

Since some of you mentioned Franklins, I did a quick search and found this 1929 series 135 for sale. Looks very stately design and has all the features discussed to provide better drivability. I think the color choice is very awkward, more of what I would expect on a hot rod.

The lack of chrome on the front bumper really lets down the look of the car.  That stands out and catches my eye more than the color does.

 

Craig

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I was taught to drive in a 1932 Ford 8 , wouldn’t think it was much different to a 20s car , managed it can’t actually remember how difficult it was , hill starts we’re always hard for me and more recently  I used to get really stressed when driving my manual 53 Buick with no handbrake 😫

Edited by Pilgrim65 (see edit history)
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The sedan A.J. shows is a 1930 - totally different car engine wise then the 1929 and earlier  Franklins so far as engineering goes how the cylinders were cooled ( earlier air was directed from above to blow directly down on the cylinders from above , in 1930 and later they were cooled with air being blown across the cylinders from left to right) All great cars.

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I keep going to this one also on the H.H. Franklin website. I seem to be drawn to the series 9 and 10 Franklins. Being a series 10 it's not for those in a hurry (going or stopping) but speaks classic Franklin to me. I would expect quite a bit of sorting to get it back into peak form. The Demi-sedan is interesting. and for $9,950.00 it seems a bit of bargain.

 

Car

 

Car

 

Car

Edited by Terry Harper (see edit history)
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1 hour ago, edinmass said:

That purple is a fantastic anti theft device. 

I am always curious about the thought process and justification for using a color like that. Years ago, when painting a car was affordable, it wasn't the game killer it is today. I often wonder where cars like this eventually end up. Island of Miss-fit Toys?  Rotting in the back yard?

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37 minutes ago, Terry Harper said:

I am always curious about the thought process and justification for using a color like that. Years ago, when painting a car was affordable, it wasn't the game killer it is today. I often wonder where cars like this eventually end up. Island of Miss-fit Toys?  Rotting in the back yard?

Justification is always called “making it my own“.

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49 minutes ago, alsancle said:

Justification is always called “making it my own“.

 

They could have painted it a dark blue, and just tattooed "I'm Stupid" on their forehead. I would have believed it when I read it. 

Edited by edinmass (see edit history)
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