Trucking

FreightWaves Classics: Autocar manufactures rugged trucks

GVW Group LLC is an industrial holding company founded in 1993. We provide investment, growth and strategic expertise to “scalable early stage, high growth, medium sized companies”.

Our current industries include manufacturing, distribution, technology, big data, engineering and energy efficiency.

The company purchased Autocar and Xpeditor truck models from Volvo Trucks North America in 2001, and founded Autocar, LLC, which was founded in Pittsburgh in 1897. Autocar’s mission is to manufacture the world’s most powerful and demanding service trucks. Autocars are also the oldest surviving vehicle nameplates in the United States.

Autocar logo. (Image: Autocar)
Autocar logo. (Image: Autocar)

Early

In 1897, Lewis Semple (“LS”) Clark manufactured the “Autocar No. 1”, a “tricycle with a single-cylinder gasoline engine.” Autocar No. 1 is currently located at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. Later that year, Clark founded the Pittsburgh Automobile Company with the help of his two brothers, their father and friend William Morgan.

Their first project was the second autocar, manufactured in 1898 and called the “four-wheel runabout car.” They named the car “Pittsburgh” and it is owned by the Henry Ford Museum. In 1899, Clark and his partners moved the company state-wide to Ardmore, Pennsylvania. They also renamed the business to Autocar Company.

The first truck in the United States was manufactured by an autocar in 1899. (Photo: Autocar)
The first truck in the United States was manufactured by an autocar in 1899. (Photo: Autocar)

Autocar manufactured the first commercial motor truck in the United States in 1899. The autocar delivery wagon was capable of carrying a “700 lbs load” and was equipped with a 5 or 8 horsepower motor. The wagon’s “under-seat engine” design maximizes cargo vehicle area. This was a precursor to the cab-over engine design used in all autocars.

The first auto car truck was “dedicated”. The purpose was to carry the cargo and the driver who delivered it. It was so easy to use that any driver “is safer than driving a horse.”

Early 1900s

In 1901, Autocar was the first car in North America to use a shaft drive. By 1907, Autocar Company had hired 1,000 men working in two shifts daily. The company has succeeded in manufacturing and selling automobiles. In the same year, the company announced that it would manufacture an “innovative model XVIII truck.”

Autocar engineers have developed many important inventions that are still in use in the cars and trucks manufactured today. Among them:

  • The first left-handed vehicle where center drive was common
  • The first American shaft-driven vehicle to replace chain drive
  • First double reduction rear axle for smoother power transmission
  • The first American porcelain insulated spark plugs later sold to AC Champions
  • First circulating oil system

Autocar owners decided in 1911 to focus on the manufacture and sale of trucks. That year, the company produced the last car. Since then, “Autocar has custom-designed trucks to provide dedicated tools to the most demanding commercial and municipal customers.”

A 1907 auto car truck was used to deliver beer. (Photo: Autocar)
A 1907 auto car truck was used to deliver beer. (Photo: Autocar)

During World War I, Canadian armored vehicles used autocar chassis. Immediately after World War I, the autocar bow tie emblem was first used (1919). By 1921, autocars had manufactured and sold three different truck models. Their capacities ranged from 1-1 / 2 to 6 tonnes, had several different wheelbases, and had both traditional and under-seat engine designs.

By the late 1920s, the company had increased its workforce to 2,600. The company has focused on the “tough occupation and transportation market”. As technology evolved, autocars were able to build heavy-duty trucks with improved features such as a “blue streak” 6-cylinder engine, a unique axle and 12-speed transmission, a closed cab, and a four-wheel drive system. ..

1930s and 1940s

Autocar launched the Model U, an “engine under the seat” truck in 1933. It was 7 feet shorter than the traditional truck model and was equipped with a dedicated door and special hinges. It was first purchased by the Washington, DC City Garbage Department to pick up trash along that route.

Early auto car garbage truck. (Photo: David Penoff / ClassicRefuseTrucks.com)
Early auto car garbage truck. (Photo: David Penoff / ClassicRefuseTrucks.com)

When the war broke out in Europe and the United States began to build up its military power, autocars began using diesel engines before most competitors. In 1939, the company began offering its customers a 672 cubic inch, 150 horsepower Cummins Diesel HB-600. These diesel-powered trucks were more cost-effective than gasoline-powered models and could also carry heavier cargo.

Before and during World War II, Autocar produced “more than 37,000 armored half-tracks, all-wheel drive prime movers, and standard production models” for the military. Autocar military trucks were known for their “simplification of maintenance and power in rugged terrain.”

In its prewar history, the company manufactured only 70,000 units. Autocars ranked 85th among US companies in the value of World War II military production contracts. Civilian production began again in 1944, with post-war sales increasing significantly.

An auto car truck made for the military. (Photo: Zandoshi / Wikipedia)
An auto car truck made for the military. (Photo: Zandoshi / Wikipedia)

1950s

Autocar introduced the all-steel Autocar Driver Cab in 1950, designed to improve operator comfort and productivity. By 1953, Autocar’s network of dealers had more than 100 locations, which was one of the reasons White Motor Company acquired Autocar that year. Production of car trucks has been transferred to a new plant in Exton, Pennsylvania. This factory is 40 km from Ardmore.

Under the White Motor Company, Autocar was known for “custom engineering.” This means that each track was designed to the end user’s specifications. The go-kart truck was equipped with either a White Mustang engine or a Cummins or Detroit diesel engine.

1950s auto car dump truck. (Photo: Autocar)
1950s auto car dump truck. (Photo: Autocar)

Autocar has launched the AP series ultra-heavy trucks for on-road and off-road construction, mining, logging and oilfield applications. The autocar AP40 has a capacity of 40 tons and was the largest single-cylinder vehicle in the world when it was introduced. At the other end of the scale, the autocar brought its A model to market. It utilized an aluminum frame and cab to reduce the weight of the vehicle.

1960s and 1970s

During this period, Autocar custom-designed “some of the dirtiest, toughest, and toughest professions I can imagine, some of the biggest and worst trucks ever used.” The autocar pamphlet boasts the following: And everything about autocars is tuned for unusually harsh and even dangerous conditions. “

The company continued to innovate. Among its unique models was the AP19T with a total cargo weight of 900,000 pounds. It was equipped with a V12 Cummins diesel engine, a 30,000-pound tubular front axle, and a 200,000-pound tandem rear axle. Autocar also announced the CK64 half cab, which is used in construction-related applications and carries “concrete mixers, stone blocks, 35-foot booms”. The current Autocar ACTT is a “descendant” of the custom-designed Autocar CK half-cab vehicle.

Large autocar tractor in the early 1960s. (Photo: Autocar)
Large autocar tractor in the early 1960s. (Photo: Autocar)

1980s

White Motor Company relocated its Autocar production facility to Ogden, Utah in 1980. The following year, AB Volvo acquired White Motor Company, including Autocar. The new company was named Volvo White Truck Corporation. But the role of the autocar hasn’t changed – it continued to produce custom-designed, demanding service trucks.

In 1986 Volvo White acquired General Motors’ heavy-duty truck business. Changed the company name to Volvo GM Heavy Truck Co., Ltd.

In December 1987, the last autocar with an autocar driver cab (first manufactured in 1950) was produced.

Autocar DK-64 tractor. (Photo: Mr. Choppers / Wikipedia)
Autocar DK-64 tractor. (Photo: Mr. Choppers / Wikipedia)

1990s-2000s

The 100th anniversary of the autocar was celebrated in 1997, but Volvo built the last autocar in October 2000.

As mentioned above, GVW Group LLC purchased the Autocar and Xpeditor truck models from Volvo Trucks North America in 2001. The truck production facility was relocated to Hagerstown, Indiana in 2003. Autocar gained a leading position in the garbage market 70 years after launching its first model. U for that market in 1933.

2001 model garbage truck. (Photo: Autocar)
2001 model garbage truck. (Photo: Autocar)

In addition, Autocar has custom designed the Xpeditor for a variety of demanding applications such as mobile cranes, concrete pump trucks, paint stripers and gravel conveyors.

Under the Xpeditor nameplate, the company announced the Autocar ACX Low Cab-Over in 2008. The truck had many “firsts”, including “ergonomically designed cabs, B-pillar corner rear windows, and integrated body controls.”

In the same year, the autocar ACTT was introduced as a custom designed class 8 yard truck. These terminal tractors were built to increase productivity while withstanding ongoing harsh duty cycles. Earlier this year, Autocar introduced an all-electric terminal tractor with no emissions for the drag market.

Autocar electric tractor used in the terminal. (Photo: Autocar)
Autocar electric tractor used in the terminal. (Photo: Autocar)

2010s

The Autocar ACMD was the only medium-duty cab-over engine truck manufactured in the United States when it was introduced as a Class 7 professional truck in 2012. Since then, the ACMD platform has been extended for more applications, including two Class 8 formats.

Autocar began manufacturing Autocar DC conventional trucks in 2019. It was first introduced by the company in 1939 as the best heavy-duty truck. As mentioned above, it was a diesel-powered work truck. The DC-64 has joined the ACX® and ACMD® Cab Over Trucks and ACTT® Terminal Tractors as the fourth line of autocars.

In 2021, 124 years after its founding, Autocar is America’s oldest vehicle nameplate and the only truck maker focused on harsh professional applications.

Vintage auto car dump hoist. (Photo: Jim Duel / flickr)
Vintage auto car dump hoist. (Photo: Jim Duel / flickr)

Author’s Note: Much of this article is based on the autocar history timeline. Thanks to Autocar for making this information and many historical photographs publicly available.



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