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Phelps (1903-1905) - First Backbone Chassis?


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I didn't see a forum for brass era cars so posting here.  Many books and references cite the British 1904 Rover (designed by Edmund Woodward Lewis 1870-1941) as the first vehicle utilizing a backbone frame (think Tatra style) but I have run across another vehicle released a year earlier made in Stoneham, Massachusetts (USA) as the Phelps Motor Vehicle.  The body tilted up to access the mechanics and was a car built to order.  The founder Lucius Joshua Phelps (1850-1925) was an enigma.  Phelps was an inventor and his business partner a lawyer.  The cars were not advertised, expensive, and sold in Boston.  One car ran an endurance race and won two gold medals. But all of a sudden, Phelps upped and abandoned the company in 1905 to get out of the automobile industry.  He was a world traveler and in 1925, left from his son's house in NJ to NY to board a train and vanished never to be heard from again.   Does anyone know how many Phelps cars were built between 1903-1905?  And since Rover did not introduce their cars until December 1904 and Phelps in January 1904, I would say Phelps was the first backbone frame vehicle unless you know of an earlier vehicle (other than horse drawn wagons)?

 

Eric

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BTW, his business partner Elliot Cabot Lee (1854-1920) was once the president of the Automobile Association of America.  When Phelps left abruptly, Lee didn't have a car to sell and changed the company name to Courier Motor Co. in 1905 but never made any cars under that name (there was another company named Courier in Ohio around the same time).  Then he started the Shawmut Motor Co. which made cars from 1906-1908.

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The more I research the more I believe that I am correct and here is why. Many references to the Rover car company history state that they first decided to enter the motor car business on December 16, 1903 and revealed their first prototype on July 11, 1904. By this time Phelps was already building and selling cars. Even though Rover clubs and books state they invented the backbone chassis this can't be true since the Phelps, even if it was limited production and short-lived, was actually the world's first unless someone finds different?  There is also a patent for Phelps' backbone design registered in 1903 and ads for sales in late 1903 while Rover didn't start selling until December 1904.

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Very interesting history there! I enjoy reading a bit about obscure marques of automobiles. I do recall reading something about the Phelps a long time ago. I was probably in high school at the time. Nice to see this.

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