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Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

1908 Stevens-Duryea Model U Limousine: What Should a Car Look Like?

December 19, 2020 Archive Insight

Long, tall boxy maroon automobile
THF90991

Early car buyers knew what motor vehicles should look like--carriages, of course! But automobiles needed things carriages didn’t: radiators, windshields, controls, horns, and hoods. Early automakers developed simple solutions. Brass, often used for carriage trim, was adopted for radiators, levers, and horns. Windshields were glass plates in wood frames. Rectangular sheet metal covers hid engines. The result? A surprisingly attractive mix of materials, colors, and shapes.

Page with text and two illustrations of cars
Although the Stevens-Duryea Company claimed its cars had stylish design, most early automakers worried more about how the car worked than how it looked. / THF84913

Page with text and two images of cars, one head-on view and one from the side
To build a car body, early automakers had to shape sheet metal over a wooden form. Cars made that way, like this 1907 Locomobile, often looked boxy. / Detail, THF84914

Image of car and text
Some early automobiles looked good. But even the attractive ones looked like an assembly of parts, like the Studebaker shown in this 1907 ad. / THF84915


This post was adapted from an exhibit label in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation.

design, Driving America, Henry Ford Museum, luxury cars, cars

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