August/September 1979 | Volume 30, Issue 5
“Simplicity and Silence will characterize the 1912 Cartercar” began the copy in the company’s advertising brochure of that year. But however simple and quiet the machine may have been in operation, no automobile of the era enjoyed a more complicated and elaborate promotional campaign. In an age when most automobile manufacturers were content to draw public attention by fielding a racing team and running an occasional advertisement in Leslie’s or The Saturday Evening Post , the Cartercar Company ran out a line of ballyhoo with a vigor that most of its competitors wouldn’t adopt for years. One of the thousands of automobile companies that have dropped into obscurity since the beginning of the century, Cartercar was founded in 1906 by Byron J. Carter, shown here at the wheel of an early model of his four-passenger touring car. A skilled mechanic, Carter had developed a special friction transmission which, according to him, was infinitely superior to anything else on the market. He set about demonstrating its virtues—and those of the car he built around it—with exceptional energy. Carter made no claims for the speed of his auto; what he was selling was strength, toughness, and flexibility. He sent his car to state fairs, ran it up library steps and down cog railway inclines, lashed it to massive traction engines, and bulled it ahead through snowstorms. He had every accomplishment photographed, and ran the pictures in his brochures: a sampling of them appears on the opposite page. Occasionally, Carter would manufacture a bizarre situation to show special virtues of his machine: its ease in starting was demonstrated by the midget Count Magri, who cranked it up while his wife, General Tom Thumb’s widow, looked on; its supernatural smoothness allowed Mr. Doan, a tightrope walker, to teeter his way over ten miles of countryside on a rope fixed above the body of the auto. Carter’s campaign was effective enough to sway at least one highly knowledgeable car owner. William Durant, the founder of General Motors, was so impressed by the frictionless drive that in 1909 he bought the patent and the company. Six years later, he quietly shut down the whole enterprise.